Allow America’s flagship international food-aid program to feed more people

A U.S. food-aid shipment of 28,000 metric tons of American-grown soft white wheat is loaded onto the U.S.-flagged bulk carrier Liberty Glory in August 2023 at the Port of Longview, Wash. for delivery to the Arabian Peninsula. AMO represents all licensed officers aboard the Liberty Glory.

Bipartisan legislation would return Food for Peace Title II to its original intent – American grown, American delivered

The following commentary by Tony Hall and Kip Tom was published February 29 by Agri-Pulse. The original opinion piece is available online. It is republished here with permission.

The world is grappling with an unprecedented hunger crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, an inflation crisis, the ongoing turmoil between Russia and Ukraine, a war in Israel, and extreme weather. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, of which we both served as ambassadors from 2002-2006 and 2019-2021, respectively, as many as 783 million people are facing hunger globally.

Let us be clear – this is an emergency, and we have an answer.

The American Farmers Feed the World Act, legislation introduced by Representatives Tracey Mann (R-KS), John Garamendi (D-CA), Rick Crawford (R-AR), and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senators Mike Braun (R-IN) and John Tester (D-MT) in the U.S. Senate, would renew the role of American agriculture in the fight against global hunger to immediately feed more people without spending any new taxpayer dollars.

This is not a new concept – utilizing American-grown commodities is an efficient, effective, and vital resource in our nation’s humanitarian tool kit. It dates to the 1950s when Kansas farmer Peter O’Brien voiced an idea at his county Farm Bureau meeting that America should share its food surplus with those facing famine overseas. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower made that idea a reality and signed Public Law (P.L.) 480, the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act, which aimed to decrease food surpluses, create new markets for agricultural products, and deliver American commodities on American vessels to a very hungry world.

Since then, the scope of the program, now known as Food for Peace Title II, has undergone significant changes due in part to efforts to replace the delivery of American commodities with fungible assistance like cash transfers and through the procurement of commodities from America’s agricultural competitors. Cash-based assistance in programs like Food for Peace can aid our competitors, cause local price hikes, put aid at a higher risk of getting into the hands of bad actors, and deprive Americans of production, jobs, and a spirit of goodwill. This dramatic shift away from commodities in favor of cash deviates from the intent to engage American farmers, millers, shippers, and dockworkers who originally championed this bipartisan legislation 69 years ago.

Today’s American Farmers Feed the World Act would preserve 50% of the Food for Peace budget for buying American commodities and shipping them overseas, prohibit market-based assistance in lieu of American commodities, and require that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) be more transparent in its reporting. It would also expedite the release of American-grown commodities in times of emergency. That is why agricultural producers and more than 60 organizations up and down the supply chain support today’s much-needed reforms found in the American Farmers Feed the World Act.

It’s also why we’re supportive. As ambassadors, we traveled to every corner of the world. We witnessed the tragedies often associated with cash as a fungible transfer. In fact, it is the same tragedy we are witnessing in Gaza as recent humanitarian aid sent there has undoubtedly aided Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s maligned efforts to expand terrorist activities and end human lives.

Critics may contend that the legislation could render all long-term development programs inoperable. This is untrue. USAID oversees a multitude of international disaster assistance and development programs, including programs that aim to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies. Many of these programs use market-based assistance, and several of the 40 bipartisan cosponsors of the American Farmers Feed the World Act champion those programs and their use of such assistance. Food for Peace, however, must not stretch its statutory authority and must remain hyper-focused on its mission to immediately provide American-grown commodities for the world’s most vulnerable.

It is time to restore transparency and efficiency in America’s international food aid programs. It is time we restore the emphasis on “American-grown” and “American-delivered” by returning Food for Peace Title II to its original intent. Today, in honor of O’Brien’s idea of generosity, in recognition of the altruism of Food for Peace, and to meet the demands of a starving world, we urge Congress to make these policy priorities a goal in the upcoming farm bill reauthorization. It is time to pass the American Farmers Feed the World Act.

Tony P. Hall served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture and as chief of the U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome, which includes the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Program, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, from 2002 to 2006. Hall represented Ohio’s 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979 to 2002, Ohio’s 6th District in the Ohio Senate from 1973 to 1979, and Ohio’s 87th District in the Ohio House of Representatives from 1969 through 1972.

Kip E. Tom served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture and as chief of the U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome from 2019 to 2021. Prior to his appointment and again today, Tom serves as chief executive officer of Indiana-based Tom Farms, which is among Indiana’s largest farming operations.