Oxfam and many other advocates say that US food aid would be more efficient if it would buy food locally to the aid recipients. Instead, US law requires the food aid to be bought in America, then having to ship the food half way across the world. This errent law both makes for expensive transportation costs and less benefit to the economies of the developing world.
From this ABC News piece, reporter Dana Hugees illistrates the problem further.
A hungry Ethiopia gets 70 percent of its aid from the U.S., but according to a new report by the aid organization Oxfam International, that help comes at a cost.
U.S. law requires that food aid money be spent on food grown in the U.S., at least half of it must be packed in the U.S. and most of it must be transported in U.S. ships. The Oxfam report, "Band Aids and Beyond," claims that is far more expensive and time consuming than buying food in the region.
"For roughly $1 spent on aid, the U.S. taxpayer is paying $2 to get it here," said Carolyn Gluck, an Oxfam spokeswoman.
American aid policies also undermine long-term development strategies that could break the cycle of drought and starvation in Ethiopia.
"It's like having a health service that's running on emergency ambulances to deal with the sick all the time," said Gluck. "You can't just deal with the problem. You need to treat the underlying causes, otherwise you'll be locked into this endless cycle of foreign food donors."
"It is a clumsy resource," Chris Barnett, a development economics professor at Cornell University, told ABC News. Barrett, the former editor of the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, said the current food aid system is not only expensive, but counter-productive to the idea of helping a country in an emergency.
There is a major push by international aid groups and analysts for reform in the laws, something that Barnett says members of Congress who have agricultural constituent interests are resistant to adopt.
"Not many congressmen like giving up domain," said Barrett. "Congressional committees that are dealing with agriculture and shipping don't have the same interests or backgrounds as the foreign affairs and foreign relations committees do. They're viewing it in the broader context of farming, not in terms of development."