Key Issues > International Food Assistance
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International Food Assistance

U.S. food aid, a vital component of U.S. overseas humanitarian assistance and foreign policy, is particularly important given today’s environment of increasing frequency of emergencies and growing global food insecurity.

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The United States is the largest donor of international food assistance. It has recently spent about $2 billion per year to provide international food assistance to food-insecure countries—in both emergency food assistance to avert humanitarian crises and development assistance to support agriculture and related sectors.
  • In spearheading the Feed the Future initiative, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has made progress in coordinating U.S. global food security programs. It has also facilitated an approach to food security that includes host governments in planning and implementation, however it has not systematically assessed risks associated with this approach.
  • USAID and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which jointly manage international emergency food aid procurement, have not collaborated effectively in using a recently developed web-based management system on which USDA spent about $187 million. 
  • USAID has reduced the average delivery time for emergency food aid by prepositioning food in domestic and overseas warehouses (see fig. 1); however, the agency does not collect and analyze data needed to systematically monitor delivery times. 
  • U.S. food aid provides crucial life-saving calories, but food rations designed for short-term food insecurity may not provide adequate nutrition during longer-term food emergencies.
  • The United States faces challenges in targeting specialized products designed for the most vulnerable groups, such as children under the age of 2, and maintaining quality controls throughout the supply chain.
  • Funding development projects through the purchase, shipment, and sale of U.S. food aid commodities in developing countries, a process known as monetization, is inefficient and can cause adverse market impacts. As shown in figure 2, the monetization process reduced funding available for development assistance projects by $219 million over a 3-year period.
  • Weaknesses in USDA's oversight of the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program limit its ability to ensure that the program’s objectives are met.
  • The U.S. government has set goals to improve the effectiveness of U.S. food aid and reach global targets for reducing hunger and malnutrition, but agencies’ efforts have been fragmented and uncoordinated.

Figure 1. Illustration of Time Savings from USAID Prepositioning of Emergency Food Aid

Food Assistance Figure 1

Figure 2. Difference in Funds Expended and Cash Proceeds Resulting from USAID and USDA Monetization

Food Assistance Figure 1

Sources: GAO based on selected transactions from data provided by USAID and USDA.
Note: USAID data are from between fiscal years 2008 and 2010.  USDA data are from between fiscal years 2007 and 2009. Reprinted from GAO-11-636.

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  • portrait of Thomas Melito
    • Thomas Melito
    • Director, International Affairs and Trade
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