Foreign Assistance:

Lack of Strategic Focus and Obstacles to Agricultural Recovery Threaten Afghanistan's Stability

GAO-03-607: Published: Jun 30, 2003. Publicly Released: Jun 30, 2003.

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After the events of September 11, 2001 led to the defeat of the Taliban, the United States and the international community developed an assistance program to support Afghanistan's new government and its people. Key components of this effort include food and agricultural assistance. GAO was asked to assess (1) the impact, management, and support of food assistance to Afghanistan and (2) the impact and management of agricultural assistance to Afghanistan, as well as obstacles to achieving food security and political stability.

The emergency food assistance that the United States and the international community provided from January 1999 through December 2002 helped avert famine by supplying millions of beneficiaries with about 1.6 million tons of food. However, the inadequacy of the international community's financial and in-kind support of the World Food Program's (WFP) appeal for assistance disrupted the provision of food assistance throughout 2002. Because of a lack of resources, WFP reduced the amount of food rations provided to returning refugees from 150 kilograms to 50 kilograms. Meanwhile, as a result of the statutory requirement that U.S. agencies providing food assistance purchase U.S.-origin commodities and ship them on U.S.-flag vessels, assistance costs and delivery times were higher by $35 million and 120 days, respectively, than if the United States had provided WFP with cash or regionally produced commodities. Had the U.S. assistance been purchased regionally, an additional 685,000 people could have been fed for 1 year. The livelihood of 85 percent of Afghanistan's approximately 26 million people depends on agriculture. Over 50 percent of the gross domestic product and 80 percent of export earnings have historically come from agriculture. Over the 4-year period, because of continued conflict and drought, the international community provided primarily short-term agricultural assistance such as tools and seed. As a result, the assistance did not significantly contribute to the reconstruction of the agricultural sector. In 2002, agricultural assistance was not adequately coordinated with the Afghan government; a new coordination mechanism was established in December 2002, but it is too early to determine its effectiveness. As a result of the weak coordination, the Afghan government and the international community have not developed a joint strategy to direct the overall agricultural rehabilitation effort. Meanwhile, inadequate assistance funding, continuing terrorist attacks, warlords' control of much of the country, and the growth of opium production threaten the recovery of the agricultural sector and the U.S. goals of food security and political stability in Afghanistan.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matters for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: To increase the United States' ability to respond quickly to complex emergencies involving U.S. national security interests, such as that in Afghanistan, Congress may with to consider amending the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954 (P.L. 83-480), as amended, to provide the flexibility, in such emergencies, to purchase commodities outside the United States when necessary and provide cash to assistance agencies for the procurement of non-U.S.-produced commodoties.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to the GAO Matter for Congressional Consideration, the House of Representatives in deliberations on the 2007 Farm Bill Food Aid Provisions considered a local cash purchase option and elected not to include the option in the final House Bill passed on July 28, 2007. However, the Senate Agriculture Committee is considering including a $25 million cash purchase option pilot program in its version of the 2007 Farm Bill Food Aid Provisions which it will take up when Congress reconvenes in September 2007. No final congressional decision on a cash option has been made at this time.

    Matter: In addition, Congress may wish to amend the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, as amended, to allow waiver of cargo preference requirements in emergencies involving national security. These amendments would enable the United States to reduce assistance costs and speed the delivery of assistance, thus better supporting U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to the GAO Matter for Congressional Consideration, the House of Representatives in deliberations on the 2007 Farm Bill Food Aid Provisions considered option to enhance the efficiency of U.S. food aid shipping practices and elected not to include a waiver of in the final House Bill passed on July 28, 2007. However, the Senate Agriculture Committee has yet to finalize its consideration of U.S. food aid shipping practices in its version of the 2007 Farm Bill Food Aid Provisions which it will take up when Congress reconvenes in September 2007. No final congressional decision on food aid shipping practices has been made at this time. USAID as the administrating agency of the U.S. Food For Peace Title II Program does have existing waiver authority over cargo preference in an emergency in the event the Administrator of USAID deems suspension of Cargo preference and the use of U.S. flag vessels is not responsive to the emergency situation. In a relatively few cases USAID has opted to use foreign flag carriers to meet urgent humanitarian needs in an efficient and cost-effective manner. USAID officials stress that this waiver authority is rarely used because they respect the congressional intent to use Cargo Preference laws in the distribution of U.S. food aid abroad.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To increase the effectiveness of the agricultural assistance effort in Afghanistan, the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development should work through the Consultative Group mechanism to develop a comprehensive international-Afghan operational strategy for the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector. The strategy should (1) contain measurable goals and specific time frames and resource levels, (2) delineate responsibilities, (3) identify external factors that could significantly affect the achievement of goals, and (4) include a schedule for program evaluations that assess progress against the strategy's goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of State: Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our June 2003 report, FOREIGN ASSISTANCE: Lack of Strategic Focus and Obstacles to Agricultural Recovery Threaten Afghanistan's Stability (GAO-03-607),we recommended that the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development work through international donor coordination bodies in Afghanistan to develop a comprehensive international/Afghan operational strategy for the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector: The strategy should (1) contain measurable goals, specific timeframes, and resource levels; (2) delineate responsibilities; (3) identify external factors that could significantly affect the achievement of goals; and (4) include a schedule of program evaluations that assess progress against the strategies goals. In October 2003, USAID and other members of the international community helped the Afghan government develop a strategy for the agriculture sector. The strategy, published in February 2004, includes a mission statement and strategic objectives. In March 2004, the Afghan government, with help from the international community, produced its Securing Afghanistan's Future strategy. The document includes a 113 page national resources management/agriculture strategy that contains a discussion of constraints, objectives, budget requirements, subprograms, projects, performance indicators, timeframes, and responsibilities.

    Recommendation: To increase the effectiveness of the agricultural assistance effort in Afghanistan, the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development should work through the Consultative Group mechanism to develop a comprehensive international-Afghan operational strategy for the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector. The strategy should (1) contain measurable goals and specific time frames and resource levels, (2) delineate responsibilities, (3) identify external factors that could significantly affect the achievement of goals, and (4) include a schedule for program evaluations that assess progress against the strategy's goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our June 2003 report, FOREIGN ASSISTANCE: Lack of Strategic Focus and Obstacles to Agricultural Recovery Threaten Afghanistan's Stability (GAO-03-607),we recommended that the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development work through international donor coordination bodies in Afghanistan to develop a comprehensive international/Afghan operational strategy for the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector: The strategy should (1) contain measurable goals, specific timeframes, and resource levels; (2) delineate responsibilities; (3) identify external factors that could significantly affect the achievement of goals; and (4) include a schedule of program evaluations that assess progress against the strategies goals. In October 2003, USAID and other members of the international community helped the Afghan government develop a strategy for the agriculture sector. The strategy, published in February 2004, includes a mission statement and strategic objectives. In March 2004, the Afghan government, with help from the international community, produced its Securing Afghanistan's Future strategy. The document includes a 113 page national resources management/agriculture strategy that contains a discussion of constraints, objectives, budget requirements, subprograms, projects, performance indicators, timeframes, and responsibilities.

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