This is an exhaustive peace on the shortcomings of the USAID food aid program. Showing how slow it is, how it benefits US companies, and how more and more money is sunk into a slow, ineffective aid program.
In a related post from a few weeks ago, former President Bill Clinton had applauded President George Bush's attempt to correct a problem with USAID, but was stopped by Congress.
Bloomberg reporter Alan Bjera begins the story by developing a "food trail" from North Dakota to Ethiopia.
The bag of green peas, stamped “USAID From the American People,” took more than six months to reach Haylar Ayako.
For seven of his grandchildren, that was a lifetime.
They died as the peas journeyed from North Dakota to southern Ethiopia. During that time, the American growers, processors and transporters that profit from aid shipments were fighting off a proposal before Congress to speed deliveries by buying more from foreign producers near trouble spots. As a result of legal mandates to buy U.S. goods, the world’s most generous food relief program wasn’t fast or flexible enough to feed the starving in Ethiopia’s drought-ridden South Omo region this year.
“I am so grieved that I lost those children,” said Ayako, a Bena tribesman, speaking in his local Omotic language. “They died of the food shortage.”
The dry peas Ayako took home almost eight weeks ago had traveled more than 12,000 miles (19,300 kilometers) by rail, ship and truck, starting 15 miles south of the Canadian border with their harvest in August 2007. Stops included Lake Charles, Louisiana; Djibouti, the small African country whose capital on the Gulf of Aden serves as a port for food aid; and Nazareth, Ethiopia, two hours south of Addis Ababa, the capital. Warehouse stays punctuated each leg until the peas finally arrived in the village of Shala-Luka.
‘Behind Closed Doors’
U.S. farm and shipping lobbyists have stifled efforts to simplify aid deliveries, leaving Africans to starve when they might have been saved, said Andrew Natsios, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington who led USAID, the Agency for International Development, from 2001 to 2006.
“No one can take the high moral ground against it, so they hide behind closed doors and kill it,” he said. “It’s all done behind the scenes.”
The shortcomings of the half-century-old humanitarian program show how efforts to protect American shareholders can have unintended consequences. After approving $2.62 billion of food aid in June, Congress has since authorized 267 times that much in the $700 billion financial system bailout and begun debate on requests from U.S. automakers for billions more.
Lawmakers this year failed to pass President George W. Bush’s January proposal to buy food closer to starving people rather than shipping American produce. In May, Bush renewed his request to spend 25 percent of the program locally after food riots broke out in Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean.
Cargill Inc., Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Bunge Ltd. accounted for 47 percent of 2007 commodities spending for aid, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program was created in the 1950s, partly to reduce domestic surpluses. The regulations require that almost all the peas, corn and other crops come from American sources, effectively steering the bulk of the business to the biggest food-trading companies.
The rules also stipulate that 75 percent of the food must be transported on U.S.-flagged vessels, benefiting ship operators, including Liberty Maritime Corp., based in Lake Success, New York, and Sealift Inc., of Oyster Bay, New York. In 2007, the program’s shipping contracts were worth $385 million, according to the USDA.
Politics isn’t the only manmade cause of the disaster that befell Ayako and his family in Ethiopia. Dozens of interviews on six continents show that the global food crisis also has roots in the failure by governments of developing countries to invest in agriculture, in a three-fold jump in fertilizer prices over two years and in speculators who doubled bets on grain futures and drove prices to records.