Imagine there is a major crisis unfolding. While one region in the affected country is in crisis, there are available food supplies and resources in another. In situations like this, USAID disaster response professionals have several key decisions to make — all with the goal of helping as many people as possible in the most rapid, efficient and effective way possible. Does it make sense to bring in food from the United States? Should we purchase food locally to distribute to those in need? Should we provide people the means to buy the food themselves? Using all the resources available under its Emergency Food Security Program, USAID strives to respond to crises with the most appropriate tools to best meet the needs of vulnerable populations. Here are some recent highlights:
In Syria, humanitarian needs grow more pressing every day, but the conflict means importing large quantities of food aid can be impractical and downright dangerous in certain areas. Without the flexible resources provided through the International Disaster Assistance account, USAID would not have been able to respond initially to the Syria conflict. The flexibility to use emergency food assistance tools like vouchers and local and regional purchase has provided much needed help to those fleeing the conflict. In Kilis refugee camp on the Turkey-Syria border, we’re supporting a program that gives debit cards to families so they can shop for their own meals at local stores. And wheat purchased regionally in Turkey is now being milled to stock bakeries in Aleppo with much needed bread.
Last year in Rwanda, USAID and the UN World Food Program fed more than 72,000 people, including 61,000 refugees fleeing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while supporting smallholder farmers within the country. By purchasing the food locally, USAID and WFP were able to save considerable time and money: saving $243 per metric ton on corn and $899 per metric ton on beans and getting food to refugees in just two months versus three to six months for U.S. food aid.
At the height of the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa, in the hardest hit areas of southern Somalia where militants ruled and blocked traditional in-kind food distribution, food aid couldn’t reach everyone in need. But through cash transfers and vouchers, we were able to help more than 90,000 families (PDF) in inaccessible and insecure areas buy readily available food from markets in their communities.
In Haiti, a pioneering food assistance program provided 20,000 earthquake-affected households with electronic vouchers to buy rice, corn flour, cooking oil and beans from participating local vendors. This not only helped Haitians in need, but also developed local private enterprise, by bolstering functioning markets and partnering with three Haitian companies – two banks and a cell phone company.
USAID was able to help those in need when providing U.S.-grown food assistance was either not possible or less appropriate due to market conditions or timeliness issues. We did so by drawing from the International Disaster Assistance account, which provides the Food for Peace program with resources to buy food locally or regionally, or provide support directly to beneficiaries to buy food in their local markets. In FY 2013, much of these flexible funds will go towards the large-scale response for the Syria crisis, leaving too little in flexible resources left for emergencies in the rest of the world.
Through the President’s Food Aid Reform Proposal, USAID is seeking to expand the flexibility of these resources so we can meet the needs of hungry people around the world in as efficient and effective a way as possible. Recently, the Senate passed the Coons-Johanns Amendment to expand USDA’s flexibility for local and regional purchase in a non-Food for Peace food assistance program.
Senate approval of the amendment is a recognition of the program’s demonstrated success (PDF) and the value of LRP in providing food assistance around the world — and is consistent with the flexibilities sought in the President’s reform proposal for USAID to administer the Food for Peace program.
USDA and USAID’s proven track record with local and regional procurement food assistance programs demonstrate the efficiencies to be gained by using the most appropriate tools at our disposal.