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Food Aid Reform: Cargo Preference

The United States is one of the world’s largest food aid providers, yet its practices are inefficient, in part because of the transportation restrictions. Currently, 50% of all aid given must be sent on U.S.-flagged ships, a rule known as Cargo Preference. The argument for this rule is to maintain a reserve of vessels for times of war, and to support the maritime industry. At the start of 2014 Congress passed some modest food aid reforms in what is known as the Food for Peace Act. These reforms included ways we could more quickly reach the hungry at a lower cost to U.S. taxpayers, such as purchasing local food in the target countries. The House passed the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 on April 1. Within the bill, Cargo Preference would increase from 50 to 75 percent, meaning the U.S. would have to send 3/4ths of its food aid on U.S.-flagged ships. This would cost an estimated $60 million to the Food for Peace Act, an amount that should be going to feed the hungry, not to transportation. In fact, it is calculated that because of this new rule, 1 million people will miss access to crucial food aid. Catholic Relief Services explains how food programs will be negatively impacted, here. It is understandable the U.S. Navy and maritime industries are priorities for members of Congress. However, food aid accounts for only 5 percent of government-purchased goods shipped each year – a very small volume. Additionally, 70 percent of the ships approved for Cargo Preference do not even meet military-use criteria. It is difficult to see any added benefit the new Cargo Preference would be providing. The House has already passed the bill, but there is still time to urge the Senate to vote against it. Please join the campaign to remind your representatives that increased Cargo Preferences would only hurt the hungry and hinder our food aid programs. The modest reforms we gained in January would be negated with the extra costs Cargo Preference demands, keeping our practices inefficient and limited.  
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Food Aid Reform: What Happens to America’s Farmers?

The strongest opposition to Food Aid Reform, a system which currently buys and ships U.S.-grown grain to countries in need, seems to becoming from our own farmers. Yet even many farmers recognize the need for more flexibility in U.S. food aid policies, as outlined in this article by Roger Johnson, the president of the National Farmers Union. Fifty years ago, our food aid policies made sense given our surplus of grain. As Johnson points out though, “Our food system has changed drastically in the past 50 years; naturally, our system of international aid must evolve as well.” He also recognizes that, “At a time of such urgent human need and budget constraint, reforms that enable us to reach more hungry people while saving taxpayer dollars, and continue to engage the talent and generosity of American agriculture, are the right choice.” In mid January both the House and Senate passed the Omnibus Spending Bill for fiscal year 2014, which included $35 million that increases U.S. flexibility to buy grain locally from the regions receiving aid. This is a small step in the right direction; let’s keep pushing for more, and bigger, reforms along with the National Farmers Union. Learn more about the National Farmers Union.
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Green Schools

So often in development we hear stories of one side throwing money at the other, who can only use it for a project that they never really wanted (or needed). Unlike this one-sided relationship, The Quixote Center’s entire mission is centered on equal relationship with our partners. Over the New Year we learned of a program that has been ongoing in the northwest of Haiti. About 8 years ago, community members founded a network of “Green Schools” – schools dedicated to reforestation. Each school must apply to be in the network, which now boasts over 60 schools. The requirements to be a Green School include teachers attending environmental training sessions, including reforestation within the curriculum, and allocating land for a forest that the students will help plant. Acknowledging that some peoples’ livelihoods depend on cutting down trees, the schools share parts of the forest with the community members. The community owns 30% while the school owns 70% – and those who need to can cut down trees from their portion. However, seeing the positive effects of these new forests and learning about reforestation as students spread their knowledge, many people who used to make charcoal now look for alternative sources of income – like selling the fruit that the new trees bear. Within the schools, each grade takes turns watering and weeding, or has its own section of the forest to tend. At the end of the year the grade that did the best work wins a prize. In the broader network, the schools with the most progress win prizes, like last year’s solar lights. The network has gotten so big and so successful that Haiti’s Ministry of Education has taken notice and wants in! Many schools within the network find the saplings for their forests at the Grepin Center’s tree nursery, one of the important projects you help fund with the Quixote Center. Consider making a donation today to help provide the resources for Haitian-led initiatives like these Green Schools. The Green Schools Network was an idea sparked and carried out by Haitians – and it is an ongoing success. Your donation will help provide our partners the resources they need to make their own quixotic dreams come true!
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Food Aid Reform: It’s On the Bus!

Last month both the House and Senate passed “The Omnibus” spending bill – a $1.1 trillion bill that funds every agency of the government. Among the 1,582 pages is what most consider to be a small victory for Food Aid Reform. The new bill allocated $35 million for purchasing food aid from local markets. The current practice of buying U.S. food from U.S. farms and shipping it to the beneficiaries is not only inefficient. It also hurts the countries and regions receiving the aid by undercutting market prices for locally grown food. The result is damaging to already fragile local food systems. Our subsidized food aid can destroy the ability of these recipient nations to feed themselves – the opposite of our intentions. Moreover, the natural disaster in the Philippines highlighted just how unnecessary and wasteful U.S. food aid policies are when it took over 100 days for the food to arrive to a place that already grows enough grain to feed its people. It is important to note that USAID’s entire food assistance budget is $1.8 billion; $35 million is only a small step in the right direction. Learn more about USAID’s budget for its food assistance program and the new FY2014 changes. For a summary on Food Aid Reform, here is a great fact sheet, as well as this short clip!
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Food Aid Reform: Where Does Haiti Fit?

Haiti just passed the 4-year anniversary of its devastating earthquake in January 2010. To mark the event, Global Post published this article, “In Haiti, All Eyes on US to Reform ‘Unjustifiable’ Food Aid Program.” The article highlights that:
  • In Haiti, 6.7 million people – 2/3rds of the population – struggle daily to meet their food needs.
  • The U.S. has spent $200 million giving food aid to Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. Since 1954, the U.S. has spent $1.5 billion on aid to Haiti.
  • The U.S. is one of the world’s only “Food Dumpers,” continually sending food instead of buying locally produced food in the regions it is helping.
  • The current U.S. food aid policy is hurting Haitian farmers and the potential for Haiti to return to its former capabilities of producing enough food for its own population.
  • Venezuela’s “Down with Hunger” program gave $30 million to 60,000 mothers to both buy food for their families and distribute seeds to farmers.
To this last point, it is interesting to compare that on one country, Venezuela spent $30 million in cash for buying locally produced food. In the new 2014 budget, Congress passed $35 million for the U.S. to use on the same purposes – but that $35 million must stretch worldwide. We are spending only $5 million more for every country than what Venezuela is spending on Haiti alone. For this reason, the article calls the U.S.’s new allocation a “watered-down version” of the full reforms that need to happen. Haiti is the perfect example of how our aid policies are not reaching as many people as they could while simultaneously reducing a country’s capacity to grow so that in the future it won’t need U.S. aid. As one Haitian farmer’s organization put it, “Cash permits people to continue to buy food themselves, on their own and from their own people. We have many people who are hungry. We have people who can only eat once a day. It’s unjustifiable in a country with the capacity to feed itself.” It is unjustifiable. Let’s make sure our practices and tax dollars strengthen our partnership with Haiti instead of hurt their ability to help themselves. Send a letter to your representative to push for greater Food Aid reforms here.
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Calling for UN Accountability

This past Monday the Haiti Advocacy Working Group hosted a panel on the cholera epidemic, introduced to Haiti by United Nations peacekeepers, that has killed almost 8500 Haitians to date. The panel included Jonathan Katz, the journalist who broke the story that the UN peacekeepers were likely responsible for the epidemic, Yale Law professor Muneer Ahmad, who supervised the Peacekeeping Without Accountability report, and Dr. Jean Figaro, a member of the Haitian diaspora and Director for the “Kolera Jistis Project.” The panelists have all concluded that the UN is responsible for introducing cholera to Haiti, which experts have traced to Nepalese soldiers and inadequate sanitation disposal on a UN base near a major Haitian water source. The UN, in response, has asserted international immunity – an action considered wholly inadequate and even insulting. The Yale Law report addresses this point of immunity by looking to the UN’s contract, where the UN agreed to construct a judicial council to hear grievances from Haitian citizens and other actors in Haiti. The UN itself added this in order to have an avenue of accountability for the Haitian people. However, they never established such a judicial board in Haiti, nor have they ever done so in any of the other countries where it is included in their peacekeeping contracts. The UN broke their contract, ignoring this part but claiming international immunity from another part. How can the UN claim immunity that is guaranteed in a contract they themselves breached? Fundamentally, the UN is present in Haiti to promote human rights, which under their own definition includes the right to life. Yet they are responsible for the death of almost 8500 Haitians and counting. The UN is directly undermining its own mission along with its reputation. By ignoring their accountability, the UN is only insulting the same people they claim to be serving. Haitians and many within the international community are calling for the UN to acknowledge their fault and take steps toward reparations. Some in Congress are sending a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, urging the UN to take accountability for cholera in Haiti. The United States is the largest funder of the UN. Dr. Figaro ended the panel by solemnly asking us to think what our individual roles are, as U.S. citizens, within this episode. Let’s reject the UN’s inaction and make sure that our role is one of justice seeking and solidarity with our Haitian partners.
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Haiti Digest: Food Aid Reform Edition

The Food Aid Reform is moving and shaking! Here at the Quixote Center we have been meeting and collaborating with other lobbyists to follow Congress’ movements as Food Aid Reform negotiations start. Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY), the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote an op-ed that provides some great points on food aid reform, and even specifies Haiti. Here are our two favorite points:
  1. Buying food from farmers in-country promotes their own local economies and is a step towards self-sufficient markets. In essence, we will enable them to feed themselves, and they won’t need our food aid in the future.
  1. Our current process of shipping U.S. food abroad is inefficient. It takes 130 days longer to reach the hungry, and has lost $219 million of our taxpayer money over three years. With the Food Aid Reform, our aid will be both more efficient and reach up to 4 million more people.
Archbishop Coakley from Oklahoma City also chimed in with his own op-ed, here.
We know too well those sites described: in Haiti driving past fields of rice while on the roadside, merchants are selling U.S. flag-stamped bags. Hearing from small-acre famers who are struggling because our export-led aid has ruined their local markets. Many of you have expressed your support for this reform by sending a letter to your representative. If you haven’t already, you can join the campaign. Let’s not make the hungry hungrier. Let’s enable our partners to cultivate their own farms, sell their own food, and develop their own countries.
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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)