“The Other Way COVID Will Kill: Hunger”

That is the title of a recent New York Times article, by Peter S. GoodmanAbdi Latif Dahir, and  on how complications driven by the spread of the coronavirus has led to increased challenges for many people in accessing nutritious and healthy food. The article is a tour de force—reporting from Afghanistan, South Africa, India, South Sudan, and Kenya—and begins with the following vignette.

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Reforming Global Food Aid

A small but important slice of the US federal budget contributes to global food aid intended to help the hungry around the world. Recently the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a forum to discuss reforms. The panel of experts included former US Secretary of Agriculture Glickman, former Chief Administrator of USAID Dr. Rajiv Shah, Professor of Applied Economics at Cornell University Dr. Chris Barrett, and President of Bread for the World David Beckmann.

Here’s a brief summary of the points made by each of the panelists:

Mr. Glickman:

  • Providing food to those in humanitarian conflicts is extremely important.
  • The US historically has provided about half of global food aid.
  • The food aid program no longer provides benefits to the American agricultural system as it once did.
  • Therefore reform of US global food aid will not negatively impact US farmers.

Dr. Shah

  • We have evidence that cash vouchers saves more lives and is much more effectives than sending food abroad.
  • US global food aid needs more flexibility to meet the needs of any given humanitarian situation.
  • Our discussion today is possible due to the ability to test and collect data.

Dr. Barrett

  • The current restrictions on US food aid waste tax payer money at a human cost.
  • Inflation adjusted US food aid has decreased by 80% since the 1960s.
  • The evidence is clear: the most effective way to help hungry people around the world is by providing cash, electronic transfers, or by purchasing food locally.
  • Every dollar spent on US food aid generates only 35-40 cents of food purchased. The rest goes to shipping and handling. For sake of comparison Canada gets about 70 cents to the dollar spent on their food aid.
  • This translates to a conservative estimate of 40-45,000 children’s lives lost per year.

Mr. Beckmann

  • The world is experiencing a current surge in humanitarian need and the resources are not keeping up with the need.
  • Food aid is no longer important to American agriculture. What is important to American agriculture is the vast reduction in hunger and poverty
  • The progress we are making globally in reducing hunger and poverty is nothing short of remarkable, but the job is not done.

Links I Like [4.14]

1. What do development economists do?

2. Economists Aren’t All Bad Including the origins of the characterization “the dismal science”.

3. When Blind is Not Beautiful A response to that blistering post by the Boring Development blog about development field experiments not using double blind placebo methodology.

4. The Politics of Hunger: How Illusion and Greed Fan the Food Crisis This is (one reason) why I’m joining the Department of Agriculture, Food, and Resource Economics at MSU in the fall.

5. Africa’s Tech Edge This is why I am a big fan of MPESA.

6. Show Them the Money: Why Giving Cash Helps Alleviate Poverty Raising the important new development question: “Are we doing more good than the poor could do on their own with the same amount of money?”

7. Most reviews of Thomas Piketty’s book. GFGI.