Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Feeding the world? Or just St. Paul?

DeTocque hasn't heard much more on this besides an NPR piece this afternoon, but the subject bears mention: American food relief to the world's poorest nations.

The way the system currently works, USAID buys wheat, corn, and other agricultural goods from American farmers and then ships them around the globe. This system is relatively inefficient because of the higher costs and time delays involved in the purchase and transportation. The nasty little kicker is that this system provides millions, if not billions, of dollars in subsidies to America's farmers, who like to brag that they're "feeding the world."

Recently, USAID tabled a funding request to allow it to purchase one quarter of its food from local farmers in the respective poor countries. It's obvious that this would reduce the inefficiencies in cost and lag time by buying cheaper local products and quickly redistributing them to the local market, as well as give a direct income boost to third-world farmers. In short, by using some of USAID's food-assistance budget to buy local products, the American government could be feeding more people, doing it faster, and providing desperately-needed cash into third world economies. The NPR report even mentioned a wheat field in Africa that was left unharvested one year despite a bumper crop because no one could afford the goods. It wouldn't have if this proposal gets through.

If nothing else, what a wonderful P.R. opportunity for the U.S. -- after nearly 5 years of negative press, this is something the U.S. could hang its hat on. It is therefore astonishing that it's the Democrats who want to derail this extremely reasonable proposal. House Agricultural Committee chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) literally laughed into the microphone when asked about this issue and essentially called it a non-starter. Why? Well, his Minnesota farmers and truckers would lose a lot of income to those obviously evil, nasty, poor, starving third world wheat growers.

How ridiculous. Congressman Peterson has just proven that he is in no way interested in providing food aid to starving Africans, but is more interested in providing production subsidies to his inefficient farmers. Minnesota's farmers may be doing a little to feed the world, but a 25% reduction in their income could save many, many lives. Aid to America's farmers is being cloaked as aid to Africa. If Congressman Peterson really cared about the world's poor, he would encourage his farmers to leave their highly bloated, subsidized jobs that are a drag on the American economy by setting up retraining programs so that workers could learn new skills. The labor force would then be more sensibly reallocated to higher-paying more technical jobs.

Then we'd have a winning situation in both St. Paul and Lusaka. Instead, Congressman Peterson is taking the easy way out. Shame on him.

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