Sharing Thanks and Bounty, Not Just During the Holidays

Posted December 23, 2015

As Kansas farmers gather with their families this holiday season, they may not know of one gift continuously given for more than 60 years – their wheat donated as food aid. From a Cheyenne County Farm Bureau meeting to the top commodity delivered as aid, Kansas wheat farmers have a proud history of helping the world’s neediest not just in December, but all throughout the year.

Wheat plays an important role in the world’s diet, providing approximately 20 percent of total caloric intake. However, many of the countries where population is growing the fastest are import-dependent, meaning they do not produce enough wheat (if any at all) to feed their own populations. Add to that natural disasters and other situations around the world where emergency food supplies are desperately needed.

In September 1953 at his local Cheyenne County Farm Bureau meeting, Peter O’Brien presented the first forethought of donating some of surplus Kansas grain to those in need. In 1954, U.S. Senator Andy Schoeppel, a Kansas Senator, sponsored the precursor to today’s food aid programs as legislation, which was later signed by another Kansan, President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Today, the main programs the United States utilize to deliver commodities like wheat overseas are P.L. 480 Title II, better known as Food for Peace, and the Food for Progress program. Through these programs, the United States supplies in-kind donations of food products, including wheat and wheat flour, both in times of emergency and as part of helping build a more food secure world. Wheat is the top commodity utilized in food aid, “making up roughly 40 percent of all in-kind food aid from the United States each year,” according to a recent U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) fact sheet. As explained by USW ‎Policy Specialist Elizabeth Westendorf, the Food for Peace and Food for Progress programs shipped more than 200,000 MT of wheat last fiscal year, the majority of which was hard red winter wheat.

Wheat is donated both as an in-kind donation and used as part of monetization programs. Monetization refers to the sale of in-kind donations of U.S. food commodities in recipient countries for local currency. Through monetization, the United States, through USDA and USAID, provides food commodities, like wheat, to a cooperating sponsor, a recipient government or a non-governmental organization. The recipient then can sell that commodity to local processors or traders and the proceeds can be used for developmental projects like public infrastructure.

For example, Food for Progress monetized 40,000 MT of hard red wheat in Ethiopia in 2014. Of that total amount, the Ethiopian Lemlem Food Complex purchased 35,000 MT, which it used to introduce the superior quality of U.S. wheat to its customers. ACDI/VOCA, a nongovernmental development organization, used the funds from that purchase to finance $9.2 million of its Feed for Enhancement for Ethiopian Development project. Even better, the owner of the Lemlem Food Complex now has plans to build a pasta factory and could turn into a regular customer of U.S. wheat.

These food aid programs go a long way to feed the world’s insecure. During the 60th anniversary of Food for Peace in 2014, the program was credited with saving more than three billion lives in 150 countries around the world. Yet, despite these long-term results, food aid is often under attack. For example, the 2014 Farm Bill did continue to support both in-kind donations and monetization. However, the legislation added emphasis on cash- or voucher-based programs like local and regional purchasing.

According to the USW fact sheet, “Food for Peace cash and voucher programs, as well as local and regional purchasing, are important for emergencies, when delays in the arrival of in-kind food would result in humanitarian crises, and are reasonable alternatives for countries less able to share their in-kind bounty.”

The U.S. wheat industry supports this flexible approach to food aid, but works hard to make sure commodity-based donations remain included, not just cash. After all, according to President John F. Kennedy, “Food is strength, and food is peace, and food is freedom, and food is a helping to people around the world whose good will and friendship we want.”

By Julia Debes