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New Food Assistance Accord to Take Effect in 2013

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A new international food assistance convention will come into force on January 1 next year after the European Union ratified it this week, but critics say it lacks teeth.

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JL A (281)
Saturday November 17, 2012, 10:45 am
New food assistance accord to take effect in 2013

Thu, 15 Nov 2012 17:10 GMT

Source: alertnet // Megan Rowling

Men stack bags of lentils in the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warehouse at the Jamam refugee camp in South Sudan's Upper Nile July 1, 2012. REUTERS/Adriane Ohanesian

By Megan Rowling

LONDON (AlertNet) - A new international food assistance convention will come into force on January 1 next year after the European Union ratified it this week, but critics say it lacks teeth.

The accord, agreed in London in April, required ratification of at least five signatories by the end of November to enter into force from the start of 2013. Besides the EU, Japan, the United States, Switzerland and Denmark have also adopted it.

Its predecessor, the Food Aid Convention, was first negotiated in 1967 and updated regularly. The convention defines global rules for food assistance by major donors, and requires members to provide a minimum amount of food assistance, among other things.

The significance of the new Food Assistance Convention is that it marks a shift away from traditional food aid – sacks transported from overseas and handed out on the ground by relief workers.

"I very much appreciate that the Convention signatories agree to distribute food only when strictly necessary to meet the immediate nutritional needs of the most vulnerable people. Otherwise, aid should come in the form of money so that affected people can buy food locally," Kristalina Georgieva, the EU aid commissioner, said in a statement this week.

"This upholds their dignity and helps promote local markets, benefiting local farming and food supply systems," she added.

The EU focuses on providing cash and vouchers to the most vulnerable people rather than imported food. "This helps communities rebuild their self-reliance more quickly after a disaster and creates conditions for reducing aid dependency in the future," Georgieva said.

The new convention – negotiated by the EU and 35 countries (the EU states plus Argentina, Australia, Canada, Croatia, Japan, Norway, Switzerland and the United States) – also underlines the importance of linking short- and longer-term food assistance efforts, to enable people to become better prepared for future disasters or high food prices.

But aid groups say it falls short in other ways. One criticism is that it does not include a concrete collective commitment on the amount of food aid its members will provide.

The previous convention listed how much food aid countries would give each year by tonnage, stipulating a minimum of 20,000 tonnes per country. The new agreement does not contain guaranteed figures, but says members must notify the secretariat of their minimum annual commitment within six months of its entry into force.

According to Oxfam America, this means less certainty about the amount of food aid that will be provided at a time when high food prices and climate shocks are making food security in poor countries more precarious.

The other main complaint is that the convention lacks strong enforcement mechanisms, meaning it cannot sanction member governments if they fail to comply.

Aid groups say the United States – which provides around $2 billion in food aid reaching 65 million people each year, about half the world total of food aid– lags behind in adopting some of the innovative approaches recommended in the convention, particularly the move away from in-kind aid.


"The name change to 'Food Assistance Convention' reflects that the new treaty allows for more kinds of assistance beyond just food and seeds," said Timothy Lavelle of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) back in June.

Most major donors and food aid agencies have in fact been moving in this direction for some years now. But the United States is often accused of dragging its feet and sticking to the old – and expensive – model of shipping home-grown food to far-off crisis zones.

Under its longstanding system of "tied" food aid, large amounts of cereals, pulses and vegetable oil are purchased from big American corporations. The food is then transported overseas on U.S.-flagged ships, taking from three to six months to arrive. This unwieldy process soaks up 53 percent of U.S. money spent on food aid provision, and applies to some three-quarters of U.S. food assistance, according to a March report from aid groups.

Even after reaching its destination, the food aid isn't all handed out to hungry people. Some has traditionally been sold by aid agencies on local markets, generating cash to fund their development programmes on the ground in a process called "monetisation".

Critics say these practices waste precious time and money, while disrupting local economies. Some of the largest U.S. aid groups have been pressing Washington to expand a pilot project to buy food aid locally in the places where it's needed, and to cut back on monetisation.

They managed to secure some progress in legislation that passed the Senate earlier this year, including an annual $40 million commitment to the local purchasing programme.

This was subsequently watered down in the version of the Farm Bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee, but which was not voted on by the House of Representatives. The bill expired at the end of September, meaning neither version has yet become law.

"Real reforms... could allow the U.S. to reach 17 million more people with life-saving aid at no extra cost to taxpayers," said Eric Munoz, senior policy advisor for Oxfam America. "If the U.S. is serious about spending tax dollars wisely and tackling hunger, reform of its food aid programme must be a priority in the Farm Bill."

While the new Food Assistance Convention also demands a shift in approach, political realities suggest it is unlikely to bring about a major transformation in U.S. aid policy any time soon.

JL A (281)
Sunday November 18, 2012, 9:16 pm
You are welcome Jesus.

Jacolin S (261)
Monday November 19, 2012, 7:22 am
Noted ~

Past Member (0)
Monday November 19, 2012, 8:37 am
GOD help us,thanks,noted.

Marianna molnar woods (9)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 5:41 am

. (0)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 6:29 am
Who designed this; Pierre Trudeau wannabees? For any program to work you need a clearly defined and enforceable mandate with stiff penalties to deter collusion; graft; greed and corruption.
Why not buy the food locally? It would cut down on shipping costs and people would get the types of food their diet requires. That was part of the problem with the food shipped during Band Aid. Of course if the IMF and the WCB hadn't confiscated all the natural seeds of many third world countries while Friedmanizing them for the benefit and profit of Monsanto and its cronies we might not be facing such problems today. Constant skirmishes and wars create the types of parameters necessary for disasters, floods, famines, pestilence and death. These conflicts are all about who controls the world's resources. There's oil and gold in the Sudan for example; just as there is large gold deposits in Somalia.

JL A (281)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 9:50 am
Thanks for adding your prayers Marianna. Michael, once again you provide the relevant historical context and criteria to judge a program for us all to better understand the subject. You cannot currently send a star to Michael because you have done so within the last week.

Tom C Sullivan (98)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 12:49 pm

Lois Jordan (63)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 2:38 pm
Noted. Thanks for the info & I agree that Michael's comment was excellent. We could press our Congress critters to fix the farm bill before its passage. Whether we have success or not, they'll know we're paying attention and are informed---I haven't gotten any recent mailings from Oxfam, maybe they'll be taking on this issue.

JL A (281)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 3:26 pm
That's a good idea Lois--there have been some petitions/letters related to that since the farm bill has yet to pass. And I'd be surprised if Oxfam didn't monitor it and seek support from its base whenever a related issue surfaces.
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