Food Aid and the Agricultural Cargo Preference (ACP): What Needs to Change?

Yesterday, the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa hosted a conference on Food Aid and Agricultural Cargo Preference (ACP)—a controversial but little understood aspect of U.S. food aid programs.

I caught up with AJWS’s Global Food Justice Consultant Patty Kupfer who was at the conference. Here’s the skinny: The ACP is a 56-year-old policy that requires 75 percent of U.S. food aid to be shipped on privately owned, U.S. flag ships. This is costing U.S. taxpayers an estimated $140 million each year for humanitarian food shipments and is affecting millions of aid recipients worldwide. The ACP policy was originally designed to provide essential sealift capability in wartime, maintain skilled jobs for American seafarers and avoid foreign domination of U.S. ocean commerce. But a new report by Elizabeth Bageant, Chris Barrett, and Erin Lentz of Cornell University (see their Op-Ed in Friday’sWashington Post) argues that these subsidies complicate the humanitarian task of food delivery and add substantial costs to food aid programs.

We couldn’t agree more with Bageant, Barrett and Lentz. AJWS supports flexibility in food aid and the transition toward the local and regional purchase of food aid to help bolster the agricultural markets in some of the world’s poorest countries. Fortunately, change is already happening in some parts of the world, like in Pakistan. The U.S. recently shifted its food aid resources to buy food locally in Pakistan and other countries. You can thank Congress for using $70 million of its new food aid pledge to Pakistan for purchasing local food.

Even with this much-needed progress, a question about ACP and international food aid still remains: Is the goal of food aid programs to provide jobs to U.S. workers and general support for the maritime industry, or is it to maximize the effectiveness and amount of food aid that is meant to reach the most vulnerable people around the world?