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President Clinton on food aid, other ag issues with the benefit of hindsight

Agriculture.com Staff 11/11/2008 @ 1:08pm

Former President Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker at the World Food Day program at the United Nations on October 23, 2008. His talk (it can be viewed here) raised a number of issues that have significant policy implications.

One of the issues he raised is that of food aid. He emphasized that in this time of financial crisis concerns about food aid should not be ignored as developed countries focus on their immediate crises.

As a part of his discussion on food aid he emphasized the importance of school feeding programs. Noting that "one of the Millennium Development goals is to get all of our children in schools by 2016.

"Maybe we ought to pursue this education program and the food programs together. And, we could solve a portion of our problem in a way that would reinforce the crying need developing countries have to improve their educational system."

A second element of his discussion on food aid concerned the manner in which the food aid is provided. He said, "I think that every developing country should follow the policy that Canada has initiated...It used to be that Canada and the United States gave all of their food aid [using] food grown in their own countries and delivered to the country where the hungry people were.

"So a few years ago with the support of the farm organizations in Canada, they began to give half of their food aid out in food grown closest to the hunger problem, either within that country or the next nearest country, which meant you bought more food for the same amount money. You got it there in a hurry and you used less energy getting it there.

"When President Bush proposed the same thing in the United States for 25% of our food aid -- I know this a very partisan time in our country and the world; I know that you are all very interested in this -- here is one thing he was right on and he deserves our thanks for this. He was right about this. He proposed to spend 25% of our food aid in the same way the Canadians do and I said, 'Wow that is a great idea and I am embarrassed that I did not do it myself.'

"A bi-partisan coalition tied to the current agricultural structure defeated him. He was right and both parties who defeated him were wrong. And it didn’t change this year when farm prices were at an all time high until the recent economic downturn."

As a side note, requiring the exclusive use of U.S. commodities for foreign food aid is not just an issue of helping US farmers. Agribusinesses have had reason to staunchly oppose changes from the status quo. Revenue received by agribusinesses to handle and ship food-aid commodities abroad typically exceeds the original market value of the grain.

A second major issue raised by President Clinton is the issue of food self-sufficiency. He opined, "I noticed that the President of the World Bank, the other day, thought that the World Bank had been wrong in 1981 to stop financing self sufficiency in developing countries on the theory that they could just leap over that -- get all of their food more cheaply from other counties and become industrialized nations.

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