SIDEBAR: A Question of Purpose
The Food for Peace program was launched in 1954 as a consequence of a farmer-protection policy under which the federal government bought up crops when prices fell below a certain level. As the stockpiles grew, officials realized that paying to store rotting food was no good way to spend taxpayer dollars. But nor could they return the stocks to the same market where they’d just snatched them, lest they drive down prices again. The solution became to look overseas.
“The real motivator here was surplus disposal,” said Christopher Barrett, a Cornell University economics professor specializing in food aid.
“Helping the poor,” added Kimberly Elliot, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, “was almost a sidebar.”
As farm policy changed, the surpluses disappeared and Washington moved to the system of buying food-aid crops on the open market that exists today. Subject to the 1954 law, however, those crops must be purchased from U.S. growers, processed through U.S. companies, and shipped using U.S.-flagged vessels.
It has evolved into a robust industry, for the United States is far and away the largest donor of food aid in the world. In fiscal 2007, Washington spent about $2.1 billion on all foreign food aid initiatives, according to U.S. AID. Roughly $1.9 billion of that went to the Food for Peace program, most of it targeting crises in Africa.