By Roger Johnson
While I certainly agree with many of Bob Stallman’s sentiments in his recent op-ed, “Let’s keep the food in food aid,” National Farmers Union, along with many hunger relief organizations, takes a more nuanced view of the President’s food aid reform proposal. I particularly agree with Stallman’s concerns about the importance of aid recipients knowing that Americans are the source of their aid, and the need to maintain a strong base of political support for the program. However, NFU’s family farmer and rancher members think there is room for compromise on this issue.
American food aid is a critical piece of the solution to global food insecurity, particularly in times of crisis. American agriculture is responsible for saving millions of lives around the world since the passage of the Food for Peace Act in the 1950s, and farmers couldn’t be prouder of this fact. There is still a significant need for commodity distribution, and there is, and must continue to be, a clear, continuing role for American agriculture in food aid. However, our modern globalized food system makes the case for greater flexibility in our aid programs.
As an organization that has been in existence since 1902, we have a long history of supporting programs that help the less fortunate among us. At the time when food aid was enacted, we had a large oversupply of grain and accompanying low market prices. The government was purchasing or receiving and physically holding significant stocks, something that just doesn’t happen today during a time of very different farm policies and current relatively high market conditions. Our food system has changed drastically in the past 50 years; naturally, our system of international aid must evolve as well. Ultimately, if we truly want to end global food insecurity, we must consider what is going to best serve local farmers and local economies – especially in areas of the world that suffer from hunger.
We don’t want to throw out the current system, particularly in a time of such great need. The strength of our current aid programs is their broad-based political support – from farmers, mariners, and the aid community alike. Changing our system of aid so rapidly that this backbone of support evaporates would be a great mistake. However, as farmers, we advocate for a flexible domestic farm safety net with a host of options to best serve our specific needs and plan for different types of risk. Perhaps it is time for our safety net for vulnerable people to have the same flexibility, to allow our humanitarian response to best fit each specific situation. At a time of such urgent human need and budget constraint, reforms that enable us to reach more hungry people while saving taxpayer dollars, and continue to engage the talent and generosity of American agriculture, are the right choice.
Roger Johnson is President of National Farmers Union www.nfu.org
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