Officials from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently confirmed what many development experts already know: local and regional procurement of food aid provides opportunities to enhance U.S. foreign assistance efforts. Testifying before Congress recently, they warned, however, that challenges remain on how to efficiently and reliably distribute food aid to the world's poor and hungry people.
The GAO found that local food procurements in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia were 34 percent and 29 percent less expensive than the cost of food aid shipped from the United States. Also, traditional commodities-based aid sourced in the U.S. takes the longest time to arrive where it's needed, averaging 147 days.
In contrast, local and regional procurements take on average just over one month. Imagine trying to explain to a mother of hungry children in Mozambique why they must wait for five months before the nutritious food that they so desperately need arrives in their village.
With the harsh realities of increasing global food insecurity and the number of undernourished people estimated to reach 1.02 billion worldwide by the end of this year, moving away from traditional commodity-based aid and towards a cash-based system is increasingly becoming the method of choice among the world's major food donors.
As the world's biggest food aid donor -- supplying more than half the aid -- our nation plays a leading role in responding to emergency food assistance. However, our current foreign aid system continues to mandate that the large majority of U.S. food aid be from U.S.-grown commodities that are sourced and shipped from the U.S. to recipient nations on U.S. flagged vessels.
This must change. As the GAO report illustrates, we need a more efficient foreign assistance system -- one that is better coordinated, more accountable, and ensures that people who need help the most get it faster and more effectively. Also, it will mean less waste and more impact for our hard-earned tax dollars.
Rev. David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World; and co-chair, Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network