Who is USAID Really Helping?

As hearings begin for the 2012 Farm Bill, Washington is being urged to re-think its foreign food aid policies, procedures, and spending.

Currently, food aid coming from the USA makes up about 1/2 of the world wide total. Of this large amount of cereals, pulses, and vegetable oil 40% comes from just three large firms. As it stands today, the Farm Bill (with its $2 billion budget) is set to benefit these three companies more than the world’s hungary.

At the moment, food is purchased by USAID (US Aid for International Development) in the USA and shipped to where it is needed. This transportation accounts for 60% of the total cost of aid and takes 3-6 months to arrive at its destination. Once it has been delivered, a portion of the food is sold by aid agencies at local markets to fund their development projects in the area–this is called “monetisation”. This has cyclical consequences: not all the food goes to the hungry–> local markets are flooded with American products, which are preferred by consumers–> local growers can’t sell their produce at a fair price–> local growers become impoverished and become part of the hungry. In this way, more than 1/3 of every dollar spent on foreign food aid is wasted and benefits large corporations instead of the world’s hungry.

If the world’s hunger is to be reduced, it is essential that there is a re-evaluation of budgeting and goals. Analysis of a pilot project to buy US food aid in the country it is needed showed that purchasing some grains and pulses locally would result in a +50% cost savings and would allow the products to get to their destinations 60% (14 weeks) faster than if they were shipped from the USA. This is particularly imperative with the soon expected food emergencies, such as in Sudan where the traditional model of food aid would not be able to bring enough supplies quickly enough for the 400,000+ people already displaced by clashes. Furthermore, this would create positive cyclical consequences: locally purchased foods–> local farmers benefit by selling to US aid and being able to sell their products at a fair price at local markets–> local farmers don’t go hungry–> less food aid is needed–> greater savings in USAID dollars over time. As well, this would help decrease the USA’s giant biological footprint.

Furthermore, NGOs are pushing for more “untied” USAID dollars for more sustainable and creative ways of fighting world hunger than just providing handouts. However, strong agriculture lobbying groups will prove this to be a challenge as they have in the past. For example, a push by the Bush administration in 2005 for Congress to let USAID purchase 1/4 of the food donated locally failed.

Luckily, there has been a recent international trend which is shifting towards cash-based aid and buying from producers in developing countries. Perhaps now the times will be more favourable for a long needed paradigm shift when it comes to foreign aid.

MALNUTRITION

Asma Lateef, director of the Bread for the World Institute, says USAID should also aim to meet key nutritional goals, especially for pregnant women and children under the age of two. This comes as the negative and permanent ramifications of inadequate nutrition within the first 1,000 days of a child’s existence are becoming widely recognized.

“At a minimum, we should begin to include goals on nutrition as a measure of the impact of U.S. food aid,” says Lateef. “It’s really important to have a discussion on how food aid can be better aligned with broader development goals.”

Information derived from:
http://www.trust.org/alertnet/blogs/alertnet-news-blog/washington-urged-to-stop-wasting-food-aid-dollars

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Stunting- An Ignored Global Crisis

Picture this: sentencing an infant to death or a life shorter than their peers, with poorer cognitive capacity, increased risk for disease, and a reduced ability to learn at school and earn as an adult.  This is what over 180 million children under the age of 5 are being subjected to; a life with persistent challenges.  These children’s bodies and minds are being limited by stunted growth as a result of chronic malnutrition.

In comparison to their non-stunted peers, a stunted child will be subjected to various developmental challenges that threaten their life outcomes. Beyond the fact that they will be shorter than their non-stunted peers, stunted children will be 5X more likely to die from diarrhea due to the physiological changes in a stunted body. These children will suffer from impaired brain development with fewer interconnections and smaller brain cells, resulting in impaired function, which leads to significantly reduced learning abilities.

These developmental implications on growth have received far too little attention for far too long.  When the critical stages of development occur (utero to 2 years) without the right type and amount of nutrients, the physical and cognitive damage is PERMANENT.  The bright side of this is that IT CAN BE PREVENTED– and at a relatively low cost.

This problem can be addressed by providing expectant mothers, newborns, and very young children nutrients including proteins, fat, vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, iron and zinc.  This approach has been ranked as the most effective way to advance global welfare. Thanks to the leadership of many governments, economic growth in some countries, and the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, there has been progress: prevalence of stunting in the developing world had decreased from 40% in 1990 to 29% in 2008. (http://www.unscn.org/en/scaling_up_nutrition_sun/)

Countries are investing more into national strategies to reduce stunting, but there is more that must be done to correct the poor health outcomes of children who have poor nutritional intakes. Food Aid programs must work at multiple levels to improve the state of family and community food security.  After all, if families are food insecure and hunger is an issue, the additional food aid will be shared to provide some food for all family members.  Without addressing this fact, there will be no improvement to children’s nutritional status and stunting will still be a nutritional global crisis for millions.

The ideas were originally from an article in TIME-Ideas The Global Crisis You’ve Never Heard Of: Stunting

http://ideas.time.com/2012/01/31/the-global-crisis-youve-never-heard-of/#ixzz1ldf3fxhQ

Kenya: Orange-fleshed sweet potato

The Rome-based Global Crop Diversity Trust and the International Potato Center (CIP) in Peru are finalizing a US$1 million five-year renewable grant to support, maintain, conserve, and make available sweet potato varieties.

WHY?
Sweet potatoes grow in marginal conditions, requiring little labor and chemical fertilizers. It is a cheap, nutritious solution for developing countries needing to grow more food on less area for rapidly multiplying populations.

“Conserving available farmers’ varieties is urgent for exploitation for traits such as drought tolerance in the face of climate change,” Dr. Robert Mwanga a sweet potato breeder for sub-Saharan Africa at CIP.

A SUPER FOOD
The orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are a particularly important source of beta-carotene, carbohydrates, fiber, and an inexpensive source of vitamin A. Research shows that just 250 grams of the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes can provide the recommended daily requirement for vitamin A. This is particularly important in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, where Vitamin A deficiency is a leading cause of blindness and premature death among pregnant women and children under five. With its cocktail of benefits – especially for women and children, who are most vulnerable to malnutrition, disease and hunger – it is important to initiate projects to enhance farmers’ uptake and adoption of orange fleshed sweet potato technologies.

DIFFERENT COLOURS=DIFFERENT HEALTH BENEFITS
Varieties exist with a wide range of skin and flesh color, from white to yellow-orange to deep purple-fleshed roots. The various colours are a rich source of Anthocyanins, which are compounds that have medicinal value as Anti-oxidants and Cancer Preventing Agents.

INCOME DIVERSIFICATION
Patrick Makoha, the Secretary for Siwongo Drainage and Irrigation Self-help Group, Busia, Kenya started multiplying orange fleshed sweet potato vines from less than a quarter acre, which have expanded to seven acres in three years. He earns US$ 293.5 a month from the sale of the potatoes and US$ 195.7 monthly from the sale of vines. Multiplication and distribution of clean planting materials or vines has many levels. It involves individual farmers, farmer groups that manage secondary multiplication sites, national agricultural research institutes, and supply-side partners such as extension and non-governmental organization staff that do the monitoring. So far, about 10,000 farmers across the five countries- Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda- have been reached by the project with planting materials and training on the technologies.

 A DELICIOUS SNACK
In Rwanda, the nutritional value of the orange-fleshed sweet potato has gotten non-governmental organizations working with people living with HIV/AIDS to urge their clients to grow and consume this vegetable.

To read more about this interesting story, go to: http://www.freshplaza.com/news_detail.asp?id=91228

~~Stay tuned for updates about the wonderful things happening around the world~~