Saturday, August 18, 2007

Is It Food Aid or Just An Agricultural Subsidy?

US food aid is 'wrecking' Africa, claims charity - Independent Online Edition > World Politics

Critics of US food aid subsidies say they help cause obesity among Americans and starvation among Africans.

Now Care, one of the world's biggest charities, has announced that it will boycott the controversial policy of selling tons of heavily subsidised US produced food in African countries. Care wants the US government to send money to buy food locally, rather than unwanted US produced food.

The US arm of the charity says America is causing rather than reducing hunger with a decree that US food aid must be sold rather than directly distributed to those facing starvation. In America, the subsidies for corn in particular, help underpin the junk food industry, which uses corn extracts as a sweetener, creating a home-grown a health crisis.

The farm lobby meanwhile has a stranglehold on Congress, which has balked at making any changes that would interfere with a system that promotes overproduction of commodities.

Critics of the policy say it also undermines African farmers' ability to produce food, making the most vulnerable countries of the world even more dependent on aid to avert famine.

Under the system Washington buys tens of millions of dollars of surplus corn and other products from agribusiness. The food, which can only be exported on US flagged ships, is then sold by charities to raise money to pay for emergencies.

Globally, about 800 million are chronically hungry and the number is rising every year. US farmers love the present system, but it is slow and unresponsive when there are food emergencies.

Care has caused a huge upset in the American charitable sector by deciding to phase out the practice. It has also upset US agribusiness and shipping interests, which benefit to the tune of some $180m a year from the practice.

Attempts to get Congress to end the policy, as it debates a new farm bill that will last for the next five years, have failed.

Alina Labrada, a spokeswoman for Care said: "I don't think that Americans who generously donate want people to go hungry at their expense."

Care's decision has led to a rift with some of the biggest US charities, including World Vision, Feed the Children and Africare, who rely on the system to fund a large part of their budgets. They argue that it keeps hard currency in impoverished countries and stops food prices rising.

The US claims to be the world's most generous provider of food aid, giving $2bn annually. Much of that aid lost in the overheads of shipping it to Africa.

Not only does subsidised US food hurt African farmers, but food purchased in the US regularly takes four months to reach the destination where there is an emergency. In contrast food bought locally takes only days to arrive.

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