WASHINGTON, July 8, 2015 – The Obama administration, which has been working on a landmark deal with the U.S. shipping industry to win some long-sought changes in the way food aid is delivered, has briefed farm groups as well as NGOs on the discussions.
According to sources, the Agency for International Development and the Agriculture Department are negotiating with the shippers to give them an annual payment of about $129 million if they drop their opposition to allowing up to 45 percent of the aid to be purchased overseas. Some $95 million would come out of Food for Peace funding. An additional $34 million would come from a Transportation Department account.
Representatives of the American Farm Bureau Federation and groups representing corn, rice, wheat, soybeans, dry beans and seafood were finally briefed on the talks just ahead of a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on the issue June 24.
One participant in the meeting tells Agri-Pulse that administration officials want the agreement to be seen as a congressional, not an administration, initiative.
The talks with the shippers could have far-reaching political implications because support for the existing system has long depended on mutual support from three sectors – the shipping industry that carries the food, development organizations that distribute it and agribusiness, which produces it.
Administration officials continue to deny that they have reached a deal with the shippers. “We are in dialogue with the maritime industry about how to better offer flexibility, but we don’t have any finalized deal,” American Farm Bureau Federation, the acting assistant administrator at USAID who oversees Food for Peace, told a House panel.
Lawmakers continue to raise objections to the administration’s attempt to increase overseas purchasing of aid. “Congress had a chance to consider a policy shift here during the farm bill process and we rejected that,” said Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y.
But the chairman of the full Agriculture Committee, Mike Conaway, R-Texas, stopped short of ruling out the administration’s plan. Instead, he is pressing officials to make sure they consult with U.S. agriculture groups. “I appreciate your openness to keeping all the players at the table so we can have as broad support as we can,” Conaway told the administration witnesses.
The subcommittee is scheduled to hold a second hearing on food aid issues on Thursday.
The administration’s push comes as the Agriculture Department is warning that the number of hungry people is likely to grow over the next decade, primarily because of an expected deterioration in sub-Saharan Africa due to continued strife in many countries. The number of food-insecure people is expected to rise globally from 475 million this year but increase to 622 million by 2025, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service. In sub-Saharan Africa, the food-insecure population is expected to increase from 254 million to 347 million. There are nine countries in Africa where 90 percent of the population is expected to be vulnerable, including the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Eritrea and Somalia.
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