My Apathy towards Galana/Kulalu Irrigation Project

Uhuru_Farming_400239306

President Kenyatta during launch of the irrigation project

Source: http://jamhurimagazine.com

I shudder every time I hear food insecurity and Galana/Kulalu mentioned in the same breath. For those not in the know, Galana/Kulalu is the new irrigation project in Kenya. During the campaigning period, Jubilee coalition promised to put one million acres under irrigation. This was seen as the silver bullet needed to stem increasing levels of food insecurity in the country. This, among other significant promises such as one laptop for every standard one pupil, saw the Jubilee coalition win the elections albeit with accusations of malpractice by the main opposition, CORD coalition. Now the Jubilee government has hit the ground running. And Galana/Kulalu irrigation scheme is one of its pet projects. A few details of the project are in order.

Firstly, how are the million acres divided between the various crops of food security concern?

  • 500,000 acres to grow maize and other rotational crops i.e. beans, sorghum…
  • 200,000 acres, sugarcane
  • 150,000 acres, beef and game animals and finishing
  • 50,000 acres, Horticulture production including potatoes, groundnuts, etc
  • 50,000 acres, dairy animals and value added products
  • 50,000 acres, orchards, mangoes, guavas, etc

 

Well, it is no surprise that maize takes the lion share. According to the latest government reports on the country’s food security, we have a shortfall of 10 million bags of maize (Food security in Kenya is equated to maize availability). This deficit should begin to bite in May, 2014. Considering that the first crop in Galana/Kulalu was expected to be planted in March, this shortfall cannot be met by the project. Hence, come May the government would be forced to remove duty on maize thus allowing for its cheap importation. Enter maize cartels, connected individuals and the politician out to make a kill and you have all the hallmarks of a scandal in the making. It is this that makes a good majority of the citizenry doubt the government’s figures on actual number of bags shortfall. Furthermore, if I have my intelligence correct, the Galana/Kulalu project would be leased out to potential individuals/organisations to grow the crops on behalf of the government. Going by how recent contracts have been handled, I am not quite sure that the irrigation project would not attract its fair share of political shenanigans. However, there are much more fundamental issues that make me sceptical of the project altogether.

To begin with, Galana/Kulalu straddles the Tana River and Kilifi Counties of the Coastal region of Kenya. The area is predominantly semi-arid except for the eastern edge which receives annual mean rainfall of 625mm. The rest of the area receives approximately 250mm of rainfall annually. Furthermore, the area sits at an average altitude of 270m above sea level. Soils in the area are mostly sandy loams although some parts have red clay and black cotton soils. Considering that half of project area would be allocated to maize production, it is prudent to consider the basic requirements for growing of maize. Maize requires copious amounts of water (500-800mm). This would not be a problem since water can easily be sourced from Galana/Sabaki river or alternatively from River Tana. Despite maize doing well in various soils, it does not do so much well in sandy soils and it is prone to water logging. Hence, great care would be required during irrigation especially during flowering and yield formation periods. Water logging during flowering can reduce grain yields by 50 percent or more. All in all, let us suppose, for argument’s sake that yields in Galana/Kulalu would be slightly lower than Trans Nzoia’s (20-30 bags/ acre) which is Kenya’s maize basket. Never mind that this has greatly reduced in recent times due to increasing soil acidity. Suppose that an optimistic view of Galana/Kulalu is taken, say 15-20 bags/acre. This would give a yield of 7.5-10 million bags tops. Suppose that 5% of this yield is lost post-harvest (substantial maize losses in semi-arid environments range from 10-20%, 5-10% and 0-5% due to pest, poor storage and disease respectively) we are looking at 7.125-9.5 million bags. This leaves a minimum shortfall of 500,000 bags only. Not bad, one might say. Nonetheless, the “ifs” are too big to ignore.

Secondly, it is crucial to consider the complexity and various facets of food security as captured in the 2009 World Summit on Food Security: “ Food Security exists when all people at all times have physical, social and economical access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active  and healthy life”. Four pillars of food security have been identified. These are Food Availability, Food Access, Food Stability and Food Utilisation.

four_pillars_of_food_security

Source: http://www.newsustainabilityinc.com/2014/01/14/can-rural-agriculture-solve-global-food-insecurity/

These pillars, along with dimensions such as vulnerability and shocks are adequately used as indicators of food security as shown below

Food Security Indicators

Click for a larger view

Source: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ESS_FSN_Indicator_1

Judging from the definition and suite of indicators of food security, it is quite evident that much emphasis is being put on availability at the expense of other pillars such as physical access and utilisation. All you have to consider is the state of the roads and networks, access to improved water sources and sanitation facilities, as well as availability of thriving markets and you will find that areas lacking in such are notorious for cases of acute food insecurity even when other parts of the country enjoy bountiful harvests.

The above scenario is corroborated by UNICEF’s conceptual framework on the causes of malnutrition.

 

malnutrition causes

Source: http://www.foodsecurity.gov.kh/conceptual-framework-malnutrition

It is appreciated that inadequate dietary intake and disease are the immediate causes of malnutrition. However, the basic causes of malnutrition are political, economic, social and cultural structures. Hence, any endeavour to prevent malnutrition by addressing its immediate or underlying causes without giving adequate attention to its basic causes is treating the symptom rather than the cause of the disease. The areas notorious for food insecurity are the very same that have been politically, economically and socially marginalised since colonial times. They have been least represented in national governance, denied equal opportunities of pursuing education, least empowered to grow economically and continually denied their political freedom to air their grievances. This chronic marginalisation has been made evident through glaring inequalities, cries for secession and of course, chronic food insecurity. Unless they are resolved, efforts such as Galana/Kulalu irrigation project, no matter how noble the intentions behind them, will be gone with the wind.

 

 

 

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2013: Year in Review

It is that time of the year when we must take stock of the year passed and measure our hopes for the New Year. 2013 was without a doubt a year of pivotal events, especially in my homeland Kenya. We had a peaceful general election in March- the first under the new constitution. We celebrated 50 years of independence hence joining a throng of other African nations that have achieved the same in the recent past. However, in spite of these positive developments, Kenya and other African nations are still bedevilled by hunger, corruption, disease, ill-governance, conflict and poverty.  This is reflected in the global reports of 2013. I will elaborate on some that focus on hunger.

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2013

The GHI measures and tracks hunger globally and by region and country. It is computed by the international Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and employs three main indicators i.e. undernourishment, child underweight and child mortality. In 2013, the worst performing regions were South Asia and Africa South of the Sahara.  South Asia had the highest GHI score and this was attributed to social inequality and the low nutritional, educational, and social status of women.

The Sahel region was noted to be prone to hunger due to a number of factors. These included sporadic rainfall, locust infestation, crop shortages, and high and volatile food prices. These affected the food and nutrition security of the region negatively. Furthermore, conflict in countries such as Mali and Northern Nigeria exacerbated the situation. However, despite this grim picture, Ghana stood tall as it was among the top ten best performers in terms of improving her GHI score since 1990. It goes without saying that Ghana is one of the most stable democracies in Africa. Studies have proved there is a very strong positive association between democracy and food and nutrition security. Perhaps this is why Ghana attracts an even rosier review in The State of Food Insecurity in the world, 2013. However, I am anticipating. We will come to that later.

Some countries exhibited significant increases in their GHI scores, the worst performers, all of them in Africa, are Burundi, Comoros and Eritrea. The report attributes increased hunger in Burundi and Comoros since 1990 to prolonged conflict and political instability.

The following are excerpts of what the report says of some African countries:

  • The three countries with extremely alarming 2013 GHI scores—Burundi, Comoros, and Eritrea— are in Africa south of the Sahara.
  • Burundi, Comoros, and Eritrea currently have the highest proportion of undernourished people—more than 60 percent of the population
  • The Democratic Republic of Congo, with a population of more than 60 million, still appears as a grey area on the map because reliable data on undernourishment are lacking and the level of hunger cannot be assessed- High-quality data for the Democratic Republic of Congo, as for other likely hunger hot spots such as (Afghanistan) and Somalia, are badly needed.
  • Mali, Sierra Leone, and Somalia have the highest under-five mortality rate, ranging from approximately 18 to about 19 %.
  • The HIV and AIDS epidemic, along with high income inequality, has severely undermined food security in Swaziland despite growth in national income. Because of drought, more than one-quarter of the population depended on emergency food aid in 2006–2007, and the country’s GDP per capita declined between 2007 and 2010. High unemployment, overgrazing, soil depletion, and the risk of future droughts and floods pose persistent challenges.

 

The State of Food Insecurity in the World; the multiple dimensions of food security, 2013

This annual report communicates progress made towards achieving the 2001 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on Hunger i.e. halve the proportion of hungry people in the total population and the even more ambitious 1996 World Food Summit(WFS) goal on hunger i.e. halve the number of hungry people. It should be noted that both goals have 1990 as the starting year and 2015 as the target year. However, the WFS goal is harder to achieve because of the high rates of population growth in many hunger-affected countries. The report estimated that to meet the WFS target, the number of hungry people in developing regions would have to be reduced to 498 million by 2015, a goal that is out of reach at the global level.

In 2011-2013, 842 million people i.e. 12 % of the total world’s population were unable to meet their dietary requirements. This means that one in eight people were likely to have suffered from chronic hunger.

Africa remained the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment (on in four people) within which the sub-Saharan region had the highest (24.8%) prevalence of undernourishment.  The report concludes that Africa is not on track to achieve the MDG hunger target. Nonetheless, Ghana goes against the grain. It had met its 2015 MDG hunger target by 2000–02. By 2011-2013, less than 5 % of its population were undernourished. It was also well on track to meet its MDG poverty target before 2015. This impressive record in a region not known to post such is attributed to a robust economic growth (its GDP grew by an average of 4.5% a year since 1983 and by an impressive 14 % in 2011), market reforms and favourable terms of trade and investment climate. However, all this would not be possible without the peace and political stability that Ghana enjoys. In fact, I dare say, this is the impetus that fuelled Ghana to meeting the MDG hunger target by 2000-02.

In stark contrast to Ghana, Uganda records a dismal performance on its progress to meet the MDG hunger target. Firstly, the prevalence of undernourishment has been increasing since the early 2000. This is attributed to discordance between food production and population growth. Uganda has an annual population growth of 3.2%, one of the highest in the world. This rate combined with a declining food production per capita, unequal distribution and access to food have rendered one third of Uganda’s population to be chronically undernourished.

Conclusion

African countries performance in regard to ending hunger leaves a lot to be desired. While the continent boasts of having the largest tracts of unused arable land, it also holds the unenviable title of the continent with the highest number of hungry people. Much has been said of this discrepancy and quite a number of recommendations have been suggested. Despite of all these efforts, the changes over the years do not merit the investment made into bringing about those changes. As we measure the hopes that we have for the New Year, it is my sincere hope that we see much more political commitments made towards ending hunger globally and especially in Africa. It is also my sincere desire that we witness significant changes in the indicators of hunger in the foreseeable future. Perhaps approaching the year 2015, measuring of progress made towards MDGs and post-2015 development agenda will fuel efforts towards eliminating hunger. Meanwhile, remarks made by José Graziano da Silva (FAO Director-General), Kanayo F. Nwanze( IFAD President) and Ertharin Cousin (WFP Executive Director) in the foreword to The State of Food Insecurity in the world, 2013 ring ever so true…

“Ultimately, political stability, effective governance and, most importantly, uninterrupted long- term commitments to mainstreaming food security and nutrition in policies and programmes are key to the reduction of hunger and malnutrition”

NB: A more concise review of 2013 can be found at http://www.hunger-undernutrition.org/blog/2013/12/happy-new-year-a-look-back-at-2013.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Hunger-undernutritionBlog+%28Hunger-Undernutrition+Blog%29

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The Role of Youths In Agriculture in the EAC

On the 4th of November, I, among other youths from the East African Community (EAC) gathered in Kampala, Uganda, to deliberate on our involvement in agriculture. The outcomes of this pre-symposium were designed to feed into the International Symposium and Exhibition on Agricultural Development in the EAC partner states. All the EAC member states will have attained 50 years of independence by the end of the year. It was thus pivotal that progress made in agriculture in the past be evaluated and forge plans for the future. In doing this, our role in agriculture could not be overlooked. We shared our experiences in production, value addition, agribusiness, inputs supply and innovations in agriculture. It was evident that youths involved in agriculture were making considerable strides despite the numerous challenges we faced. Some of the major challenges discussed included access to credit, competition from larger companies for start-ups, market access and bureaucracies in licensing and obtaining information.

Nonetheless, the pre-symposium begged the question, why should more youth be involved in agriculture and secondly, why were they shying away from the trade? Several attempts were made to answer these questions.

It was noted that the East African region boasts of the youngest population in the world. More than 60% of the population consists of persons between 0-24 years. Uganda leads the pack with this age group consisting of 73 % of its population. It is this bulging youth population that necessitates changes in the way development is approached. This change is further made crucial by projections showing population growth in the next 30 years in all EAC member states will occur in the urban areas. Hence, the need to increase food supply to these areas is inevitable. Given that all the member states hope to achieve middle income status by the year 2040, it is reasonable to assume that the demand for animal protein will increase as the middle class increases.

In order to feed the growing population in the cities, there is need to focus on the rural youth. The rural youth have the golden opportunity of supplying urban areas with food given the availability of large tracts of arable land in the rural areas as opposed to the cities. However, much of this land is owned by the older population. The average age of arable land tenure in the member states is between 50 and 60 years. Kenya leads the pack with the average farmer being 57 years old. It is these dynamics that need due consideration in planning food and nutrition security programmes.

It was also duly noted that development in the region highly favoured urban development as opposed to rural development. This was seen as the major driver of rural-urban migration. A dwindling able-bodied population in the rural areas poses a great barrier to production of food. Furthermore, there is only a 20% chance of the youth gaining meaningful employment in the cities. It is thus crucial that the youth be more involved in agriculture not only for their welfare but for the food security of EAC inhabitants, especially in the city. However, in order to achieve this, there is need to focus on rural development. Improving the state of the roads and networks in the rural areas would greatly improve food distribution channels and mechanisms. Furthermore, efforts in infrastructure developments such as rural electrification would attract agro-based industries to the rural areas as the proximity to raw materials would greatly reduce costs of production. Such improvements would inevitably reduce rural-urban migration and furthermore, attract and retain the youth in agriculture.

All in all, on the podium, the pre-symposium concluded that it is no longer important that the youth be involved in Food and Nutrition security programmes. It is imperative. However, off the podium, there was general scepticism among the youth participants as to whether this would be realized in the near future.

NB: A taste of Uganda’s Hospitality

India’s Food Security bill and what Kenya can learn from it

India is going through what many may call ”interesting times”. In December 2011, the ruling party, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) introduced the National Food Security Bill in parliament. It consolidated several food programs that had proved successful in the country. However, the part that drew public attention was the grain distribution program which is arguably the most ambitious food program to be undertaken singly by any government in the world. It seeks to provide food (5kg grain/person/month) at subsidised prices to 800 million people at a cost of $22 billion annually. The identification of these 800 million people will be done by government officials. In a country where a quarter of the world’s hungry live in and has the second highest percentage of malnourished children, one might be forgiven for thinking this bill was going to be welcomed with open arms. Its reception has been quite the opposite. The opposition has claimed that the ruling party has just repackaged existing food programs and hurriedly introduced it to parliament. Furthermore, they are irked by the fact that the Prime Minister chose to use an ordinance to ensure the bill passed through the lower house. ”Ordinances are to be employed only in cases of emergency. What was so urgent that the bill could not wait 30 days to be discussed?” the opposition protested. All in all, it is the view of the opposition that this bill is UPA’s re-election strategy, designed to hoodwink India’s majority, the rural poor into electing UPA back to government come 2014.

In spite of all the dust this bill has raised, there remains a few voices that have chose to rise above it and offer sober judgment of the bill.

Jean Drèze, the co-author with Amartya Sen, of “An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions.” acknowledges that the bill might do some good only if there is sufficient political backing for it. However, he asserts that the battle for the right to food in India is far from over. Arvind Virmani, a former chief economic advisor to the government believes the bill will have little or no effect on malnutrition, poverty and hunger. This is because the most important cause of malnutrition in India is its abysmal state of public health, sanitation and hygiene. Most Indians do not have access to proper lavatories. This fact was wittingly captured by Amartya Sen during an interview by the Guardian when he remarked that the Indian government is more concerned with putting a mobile phone in an Indian’s hand than providing the same individual with a lavatory. Moreover, public knowledge on nutrition is wanting with the majority not possessing basic knowledge on nutrition matters.

While the debate rages on and the bill has been pruned first by the National Advisory Council and later by the government, the eastern state of Chhattisgarh has adopted the bill in its original form and is doing a commendable job in its implementation. Unlike the national food distribution system which is riddled with corruption and inefficiency, the new distribution system in Chhattisgarh state is regular, efficient and has a markedly lower leakage as compared to the national which stands at about 40 %. Majority of the poor households in Chhattisgarh are entitled to 34 kg of rice every month. The success of the system at the ground goes to show the extent to which the National Food Security bill can significantly reduce malnutrition levels in the country if implemented well. Ironically, Chhattisgarh state is ruled by the main opposition party, Bharatiya Janata.

I have always believed that developing nations such as Kenya can borrow a few lessons from India. For instance, the new form of governance in Kenya offers citizens opportunities to come up with solutions to problems that have bedeviled them since time immemorial. This a radical shift from the recent past where waiting for the central government to take action was the only option (Naomba Serikali Syndrome-NSS). Turkana County seems to lead the way by ensuring that the concept of food and nutrition security has been institutionalized. The county government has created a department whose sole mandate is to ensure that the inhabitants of Turkana County are food and nutrition secure.

In addition to developments at the county level, it is prudent to note that politics will always be closely linked with development. Whichever election period it is, there is always that one promise or proposed law that draws public attention; free Primary Education, free laptops for standard one students (the lowest class in Primary schooling in Kenya), etc. However, there is usually that promise concerning food and nutrition security that is often overlooked. In its manifesto, the ruling alliance, Jubilee, promised to put one million acres under irrigation to counter food insecurity in the country. Although faulted to only consider the supply side of food insecurity, it was a breakthrough of sorts. Efforts are being made to deliver on this promise but more remains to be done. The civil society, Non-governmental Organizations, the opposition, the media and the public at large need to keep the incumbent government on its toes thus ensuring that such noble programs are not drowned in political shenanigans.

The bill has now been passed by the Upper house in India. It now awaits accent by President Pranab Mukherjee before it becomes law. The global development players are watching India closely. If India succeeds in its implementation, it goes without saying that the program will be replicated elsewhere as well.

A Jittery leadership might be good for prevention of famine

The JKIA inferno brought to the fore the age-old debate about our country’s ineptitude in dealing with disasters. In an attempt to add a voice to this debate, I feel strongly that a jittery leadership is a pivotal factor in disaster management. And to defend this position, I call to mind the 1982 coup d’état attempt and the 1984/85 food emergency.

100 soldiers and more than 200 civilians are recorded to have died during the putshe attempt. However, in a curious twist of events, this failed attempt might have aided to avert what might have been a more fatal disaster-famine.

The 1984/85 food emergency was the worst to hit Kenya in the 20th Century. Livestock losses of up to 70% were recorded and production of major food security crops such as maize, wheat and potato dropped by 50%, 70% and 70% respectively. These very low yields and loss of livestock was caused by a drought that began with the failure of the short rains in northern and north-eastern Kenya in 1983. Only the central and western highlands received enough rain to produce maize. However, in 1984, the long rains almost completely failed, except in the narrow strip along the coast and in the western highlands. Hence, the drought was felt heavily in the Central highlands where a majority of natives were not enthusiastic about Moi’s presidency.

The failed coup d’état jolted President Moi to the realization that all was not well. Although, it was primarily planned by persons loyal to the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, rumours have it that a few Kikuyus within the disciplined forces were warming up for a coup but the Luos beat them to it. Hence, with this background in mind, President Moi acted fast to mitigate the effects of the drought as he feared deterioration of the drought into famine might result in discontent and political instability.

His government established an inter-ministerial drought response coordinating committee chaired by the Chief Secretary in his office. The committee moved swiftly to assess the situation, establish a government response policy, begin commercial imports of food, negotiate with the donor community for food assistance, and establish a Task Force to manage the food import and distribution program. The first shipment of yellow maize arrived in September 1984. It was 30% less costly than white maize and had a secondary positive effect of encouraging informal rationing by those consumers who had access to alternative food supplies.

The Planning Department of the Ministry of Finance and Planning collected information on the school feeding programs, commodity prices in various local markets, domestic commodity transport costs, livestock conditions, nutritional status of selected low income communities, voluntary organization programs and the status of the railway rolling stock. These were analysed and made available at all levels of personnel involved in the drought response. Unconditional relief in the form of free food rations were given out to vulnerable households in the affected areas. The identification of such households was carried out by the provincial administration which relied on relief committees and local chiefs. In 1985, the long rains were about average and drought emergency was considered over.

The government response to the 1984/85 food emergency was pivotal in the prevention of a famine and it was lauded the world over. However, an often overlooked fact is that a jittery presidency was fundamental to its success.

Kenya’s reliance on maize is a disaster in waiting

The Maize Lethal Necrotic (MLN) disease is at it again. Unlike the recent past, where its detrimental effects were only felt in the South Rift, MLN is encroaching speedily the country’s food baskets in the North Rift- Uasin-gishu and Trans Nzoia County. Crop scientists are hard at work in field stations trying to come up with seed varieties that are resistant to the disease. However, this might take two to three years before a certified seed variety is in the market. Thus, it seems that MLN will be around for a little while longer. While the scientists’ efforts are laudable, it is prudent to note that Kenya’s absolute reliance on maize as a food security crop is a disaster waiting to happen. History provides two examples of such.
The Irish expected a good harvest of their main staple, the potato in 1845. However, a strange disease hit the crop and resulted in 50% losses and doubling of farm gate prices. Nonetheless, the Irish planted potatoes the following year hoping they would get better yields. The crop totally failed. The disease later identified as potato blight, resulted in a famine that saw a million people die due to starvation and another million migrating to the neighbouring countries. It is estimated that the Irish population was depopulated by about 25%. Although Scientists managed to isolate the fungus that caused the blight, Phytophthora Infestans, it was not until 1882 that a remedy was discovered. This was almost 40 years after the famine had struck.
To a lesser degree, the Americans have also suffered the perils of over reliance on one crop. In the early 70s, Corn (maize) was hit by a blight that was later named the Southern Corn Leaf Blight. As in Ireland, the blight was caused by a fungus, Bipolaris maydis. Corn losses of up to 15 % were reported. This resulted in sharp increases of corn prices in the US. Considering that corn was also used as animal feed, the prices of beef rose sharply too. The rest of the world was not spared from these effects. The low production of Corn in the US exacerbated an already fragile world food market and hence contributed, though to a lesser extent, to the World Food Crisis of 1972-1974.
As new varieties are being sought to counter the spread of MLN, it is crucial that Kenyan farmers, especially small scale, be enticed away from maize into adoption of other crops that have enormous potential for food security. This can be achieved though market mechanisms that would ensure farmers make profit while feeding the nation. Crops such as sorghum, millet and cassava can greatly improve the farmer’s lot and boost food security. Secondly, Kenya scores poorly on household dietary diversity. There is need for an aggressive public awareness campaign on the contribution of other foods to the diet. By increasing consumer awareness of the importance of dietary diversification, there would be increased demand for foods other than maize. Lastly, because it might take a while before farmers move away from planting of maize, agricultural extension officers should be empowered to enable them reach more farmers and teach them good agricultural practices. This would go a long way in the prevention of MLN spread. 


 

All in all, it is pivotal that the role maize plays in Kenya’s food security outlook be scrutinized.

 

The US Food Aid reforms are a win-win for all

women receiving food aid in Ethiopia. Photo Courtesy: stephenraburn.world.edu
The East African ran an article “US proposal on African food aid excites crop farmers” in the April 20th-26th Issue. It was quite understandable to note why the news on the US food aid reforms should be received with much enthusiasm among the East African farmers. One of the major demerits of food aid is that if it is not properly regulated, it becomes a significant disincentive to the local production of food in the recipient countries. Nonetheless, the current reforms offer numerous benefits to the three major parties involved i.e. the US government, Private Voluntary Organizations (PVOs) and recipient countries.
The highlight of the reforms is that the US will procure more food aid outside of its boundaries, what is technically called untied food aid. It is a requirement by US law that 75 % of its food aid is sourced, fortified, processed, and bagged in the US. This means that only 25 % of American food aid can be sourced outside the US.The current food aid reforms propose raising this limit to 45 %. Another requirement of the US law is that 75 % of all tied American food aid must be transported on US flagged vessels. This law still stands.
By increasing local and regional procurement of food in and around recipient countries, the US will save considerable amounts of money. Costs associated with shipment will be greatly reduced. Furthermore, inefficiencies accrued due to the sale of food aid by PVOs to raise additional funds, a process known as monetisation, will be reduced substantially. The cost recovery rate, at or above cost of purchase and shipment, has been set at 70 %. This will deter most PVOs from monetisation of food aid. PVOs get to benefit greatly from more food aid in the form of cash. Initially, PVOs could only source 13% of food aid in the form of cash. The reforms propose that this be raised to 35 %. Thus, more money can be injected into Interventions such as food vouchers or cash transfers that have proven to be more effective than food aid distribution in some situations. This is especially so if the case of acute food insecurity is only in some pockets of a country as is usually the case in East Africa. PVOs can purchase food from areas of abundance and have it available and accessiblein areas of need preferably through market mechanisms. In 2004, cash transfers proved to have more impact in Indonesia when the Tsunami struck. Households that received cash as opposed to aid in the form of rice exhibited a higher dietary diversity score as they accessed more variety of fresh foods. Furthermore, intra-household gender relations were improved as decisions regarding household expenditure were jointly made. Alcohol consumption was also significantly lower in households that received cash over those that received rice.
Recipient countries stand to benefit in several ways. Firstly, the reforms carry a component of improved nutrition. This is most especially in the ready to eat therapeutic food that is most effective in the management of malnutrition in emergencies. Due to the reforms, it is estimated that 10-12 new products are being developed. These new products will go a long way in the prevention of deaths related to malnutrition that is highest in food related emergencies. Secondly, response to acute food shortages will be much faster. It is estimated that reaching people in need will be 11-14 weeks faster if food aid is purchased locally or cash based interventions adopted. Lastly, food economies in and around recipient countries will grow considerably since the market for their produce will be widened.
Indeed, the US food aid reforms are a win-win for all parties involved.