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Archive for the ‘House’ Category

Charting A Way Forward on U.S. Development Policy

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014
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See below for a post by MFAN Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette.

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The U.S. has an important leadership role to play when it comes to supporting development and reducing poverty around the world. Foreign assistance serves our national interests by enhancing national security, expanding global economic opportunities, and promoting American values. In 2008, MFAN was established because of the growing recognition that U.S. foreign assistance and development policy needed to be strengthened and modernized in order to confront today’s challenges and bring about a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Since MFAN’s founding we have seen the Administration and Congress take actions to improve development policy and practice and make U.S. assistance dollars work smarter. Today, with the launch of our new policy paper, The Way Forward: A Reform Agenda for 2014 and Beyond, we both reflect on past achievements and humbly recognize there is much more work to be done.

MFAN’s new agenda outlines two powerful and mutually reinforcing pillars of reform – accountability through transparency, evaluation and learning; and country ownership of the priorities and resources for, and implementation of, development. These pillars are vital to building capacity in developing countries to enable leaders and citizens to take responsibility for their own development.

We applaud the many actions that have already been taken or put in motion to advance accountability and country ownership. For the Obama Administration, these include the commitment to fully implement the International Aid Transparency Initiative, USAID’s Partnership for Growth and Local Solutions initiatives, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s commitment to transparency reflected by its top ranking on the 2013 Aid Transparency Index. In addition it is particularly encouraging to see that transparency is embedded in the recommendations of the Global Development Council that were released this week. Congress has also taken up the reform cause with the creation of the Congressional Caucus on Effective Foreign Assistance, the introduction and reintroduction of the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act, and recent efforts to improve the efficiency and responsiveness of international food aid.

These next two years are an important window of opportunity for U.S. aid reform. The midterm elections in 2014 are certain to shake up the membership of Congress. In 2015, the Millennium Development Goals will expire and a new global development agenda will take its place. And 2016 will bring a new administration and further changes in Congress.  We urge the Administration and Congress to work together to institutionalize the important reforms that have already been introduced and continue to push forward on strengthening country ownership and accountability. The profound changes in international aid globally make the focus on these changes even more important to ensuring US aid effectiveness.

We will be tracking progress made on the key reform actions we outline in the paper and sharing our thoughts with the community, the Administration, and Congress. We invite – and look forward to – the dialogue that these recommendations will generate.

The Farm Bill reform that will feed millions

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from Adam Olson, Oxfam America’s Regional Advocacy Lead based in Chicago. Olson writes about the reforms to international food aid in the 2014 Farm Bill.  The original post appeared on Food Tank.

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Tucked away in Title III of the 2014 US Farm Bill, occupying just one of its 357 pages, quietly sits a reform that will empower thousands of farmers to feed millions more people a year suffering from hunger. Despite its practicality and comparatively low profile, it represents a long, hard fought victory. It’s an expansion of local purchasing of international food aid – and it’s worth celebrating.

Food aid is the backstop of our global food supply. When all else fails, it stands between life and mass starvation. With more than 850 million people suffering from hunger, efficiency in supporting their right to food matters. By using up to $80 million a year to buy food from local sources instead of distant American ones, the reform will feed millions more people. The concept is simple. For instance, if food aid was needed in Vietnam and rice was available in nearby Thailand, it could be purchased there instead of the current practice of shipping it from the US.

This process, proven by other food aid donors and a US pilot project:

1. Cuts food and delivery costs by 25-50%;

2. Reduces the average time it takes to deliver food by 14 weeks;

3. Reaches more people at a lower cost;

4. And, can have longer-term benefit of investing in farmers abroad, making them better able to support their own communities.

Despite all this, even small steps toward permitting local purchasing have been bitterly opposed by special interests, including agribusinesses and shippers. They cling to an antiquated status quo that requires all food to come from the United States. This made some sense when established in the 1950s, when my grandparents were farming in Minnesota. America had a surplus of cheap commodities and food aid was difficult to procure elsewhere. This hasn’t been true for a long time.

The old regime isn’t even particularly profitable for those who defend it, and they know it. In a hilarious Daily Show segment, a shipping industry representative repeatedly cites “heritage” as reason to maintain obsolete regulations. A Farm Bureau economist told Reuters she was more concerned with a loss of “pride” than farm revenue. Food aid amounts to about one percent of US agricultural exports – not enough to measurably impact commodity prices. My grandparents would have been proud to sell that fraction of their crop elsewhere in order to support fellow farmers abroad.

It’s taken common-sense sentiments like that, pushed in a sustained effort over years to achieve this victory. A coalition of organizations, including American Jewish World ServiceBread for the WorldCARECatholic Relief ServicesMercy CorpsOxfam America, and others have helped lead the charge. Champions on Capitol Hill have seen it through. The tragic case of Typhoon Haiyan’s impact in the Philippines and resulting outcry for change emboldened advocates as the Farm Bill went to conference committee. This win is a big, lifesaving step forward.

However, local food aid procurement remains the exception to the rule. If fully funded, the new reform would account for about 5 percent of total food aid activities authorized under the Farm Bill. The best approach is to remove the straightjacket and allow the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to choose the best way to procure food based on individual circumstances. By doing so, an estimated 17 million more people could receive food aid at no extra cost. There is no one-size-fits-all method (see USAID’s great infographics here), and there will always be a need for some commodities grown in the US, but experts should make the call for each situation free of legislative constraints.

We came close to ending more of those restraints last year. President Obama proposed sweeping reform to allow food aid to be purchased locally. Another proposal,offered as a Farm Bill amendment by Representatives Royce and Engel, failed by only 17 votes[i]. The vote was remarkably bipartisan – the issue always has been. In fact, the Bush administration unsuccessfully called for reform. Local purchasing of food aid is something everyone can get behind.

2014 is the year to do it. We expect the Obama administration to continue to push for reform. Budgetary pressures aren’t letting up, mandating the kind of cost efficiencies local purchasing delivers. The need for food aid seems set grow in the short-term; the increasing threat of climate disasters and manmade disasters, like the plight of Syrian refugees, demand a more responsible approach.

2014 is also the International Year of the Family Farmer. What a great time to allow more farmers to respond to food emergencies and break cycles of aid dependency through a more flexible food aid system. Reform in the 2014 Farm Bill, while an important victory unto itself, has given us the momentum to do even better.

 


[i] Correction: Royce-Engel failed by 9 votes rather than 17

MFAN Statement: 2014 Farm Bill Clears Congress with Key Reforms to International Food Aid, Heads to President Obama for Signature

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014
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February 5, 2014 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette

MFAN applauds Congress for including key reforms to U.S. international food assistance in the 2014 Farm Bill, which was approved by Congress following a 68-32 vote in the Senate yesterday and a 251-166 vote in the House last week. These reforms are an important incremental step in ensuring greater flexibility and efficiency of our international food aid programs. The legislation will now go to President Obama for his signature. We commend Congress, and in particular the leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees –  Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS), Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), respectively – for including common-sense reform provisions to food aid in the five-year authorization bill.

These reforms include: the authorization of additional funds for Local and Regional Procurement, which will save time and money as well as support local farmers and food markets to better and more sustainably serve their own people; an increase in the share of funds that can be used for non-commodity expenses, allowing for a decrease in the need to monetize commodities; and greater transparency by requiring USAID to report on implementation costs of food assistance, including the cost recovery rate for monetized food aid.

U.S international food assistance programs are critical to helping hungry people around the world, but the current approach is outdated. The reforms included in this legislation will mean reaching more people in need more quickly and putting U.S. taxpayer dollars to better use.

MFAN Statement: New Farm Bill Includes Key Reforms to International Food Assistance

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014
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January 28, 2014 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette

With the release of the 2014 Farm Bill, MFAN applauds Congress for including key reforms to U.S. international food assistance that would allow for greater flexibility and efficiency of our food aid programs . We commend the Farm Bill conferees, particularly the leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees –  Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS), Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), respectively – for their bipartisan efforts in pushing for these common-sense reform provisions.

U.S. international food assistance programs are critical to helping hungry people in times of crisis as well as to securing long-term food security for the world’s most vulnerable. The reforms included in the Farm Bill will help make these programs more efficient and effective so that U.S. assistance can reach more hungry people around the world.

MFAN is supportive of the provisions included in the Farm Bill to improve international food aid, including:

  • The authorization of $80 million for Local and Regional Procurement (LRP), which will help save time and money and support local agriculture;
  • An increase in the share of Title II (Food for Peace) funds that can be used to cover non-commodity expenses of food aid programs, allowing for a decrease in the need to monetize commodities and an increase in flexibility;
  • Promoting transparency by requiring USAID to report on the costs involved in implementing food assistance programs, such as the cost recovery rate for monetized food aid.

We urge swift passage in both the House and Senate of the international food aid reform provisions included in the 2014 Farm Bill. Enacting these reforms will mean reaching hungry people faster and making U.S. taxpayer dollars more accountable.

Something Rotten in the State of Denmark

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from MFAN Principal John Norris, Executive Director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Center for American Progress. This piece originally appeared in Foreign Policy.

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Maersk Group is Denmark’s largest company, making up more than 15 percent of the country’s GDP. The shipping firm employs more than 121,000 people worldwide, operates in 130 countries, generated $59 billion in revenue last year, maintains a fleet of 600, and announced at the end of 2013 that its full-year net profits would be $3.5 billion, up from the previous forecast of $3.3 billion. Maersk has also proudly declared itself a good corporate citizen, stressing a theme of “constant care” with a dedication “to promot[ing] the health and safety of our employees and others in the industry and in the world around us.” The company is a member of the United Nations Global Compact, which encourages companies to embrace a set of core values in the areas of human rights, labor standards, and the environment. Indeed, in many ways Maersk prides itself as the face of Denmark’s modern economy: diversified, humane, and enlightened.

Why then is the company, through its U.S. subsidiaries, aggressively fighting common-sense reforms that would help deliver desperately needed food assistance to millions of hungry people everywhere from Syria to South Sudan?

The answer traces back to the ongoing battle in the United States to reform international food-assistance programs, a battle currently playing out in the debate over the farm bill. The United States has a proud tradition of delivering food to some of the world’s poorest people living under the most harrowing of conditions.

This food has sustained millions when their lives have hung in the balance. But the process of acquiring and delivering food aid is deeply flawed.

Currently, the vast majority of food for U.S. government relief and development programs is purchased in the United States and then shipped thousands of miles overseas, often at great cost. Such a system is great for the bottom line of large shippers, like Maersk, but not for people in need or for taxpayers. In cases where U.S. food aid is “monetized” by humanitarian organizations receiving U.S. commodities, the sales of U.S. crops can depress prices in local food markets, making it harder for local farmers to flourish and for poor countries to end their dependence on aid. That is why most other major donors, including the World Food Program, procure food through local and regional systems, recognizing that it is more cost-effective, more efficient, and more sustainable to buy food closer to where it is needed.

Just how inefficient is the U.S. system, which was created decades ago to help find a way to dispose of government-held stocks of agricultural commodities? More than half of every dollar spent on U.S. food programs currently goes to shipping and transportation costs, rather than to lifesaving food, which means that a great deal of that money is ending up in coffers of companies like Maersk. The obvious waste inherent in such a system has only become more and more apparent with rising fuel costs over the last decade.

To correct this problem, Congress is currently considering reforms as part of the farm bill that would make food aid more flexible and efficient by purchasing a higher percentage of food closer to where it is actually needed. The reform proposals have generated significant bipartisan support, and a range of humanitarian groups, including Oxfam, Care, and Save the Children, have spoken out strongly on their behalf. It is no wonder: Experts at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) indicate that they could feed an additional 4 million people annually with the savings from these reforms. Other outside analysts have put the number as high as 10 million people.

Yet Maersk, along with U.S. maritime and agricultural unions, has mounted a ferocious attack on the reforms, with Maersk’s U.S. subsidiary often cloaking its concerns in naked economic terms. For instance, a group of companies and unions has said, “Growing, manufacturing, bagging, shipping, and transporting nutritious U.S. food creates jobs and economic activity here at home” and has made wild, unsubstantiated claims that food aid reform could cost 44,000 American jobs. Andrew Natsios, the USAID administrator under President George W. Bush, has called claims that food-aid reform would be bad for exports “ridiculous,” pointing out that aid accounts for only about half of 1 percent of U.S. food exports.

Maersk and others seem to have lost sight of the fact that the point of international food assistance is not to create inefficient, subsidized jobs for any company — in the United States or anywhere else. Rather, the point is to save lives. And, for the record, the actual number of U.S. maritime jobs potentially affected by reforming American food aid would be small: A Defense Department analysis found that even the administration’s more sweeping reform proposals would only “affect 8-11 vessels — all non-militarily useful — and roughly 360 to 495 mariners.”

Maersk and the Moeller family, which founded and still runs the company, are well known for their philanthropic contributions, ranging from donating the lavish Copenhagen Opera House to the state of Denmark to providing emergency container schools after the Chinese earthquake. Denmark, meanwhile, has long dedicated one of the highest international percentages of GNP in the world to official development assistance and is known as a leader in the development field. It is thus all the more a shame that Maersk’s lobbying is standing in the way of the United States, long the world’s largest provider of food assistance, delivering more aid to more people at a time when every single newscast seems to bring more stories of people in need.

The time is ripe for Maersk to do the right thing.