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US amends food aid priorites, more for Africa

Written by: Staff
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CHICAGO, Apr 5: The Bush administration, in an overhaul of a key food aid program, may halve the number of nations receiving assistance while boosting spending on the neediest countries, mostly in Africa, US officials said.

''This is not a cut in food aid. It's shifting it to the places that need it most,'' said Jonathan Dworken, acting director of US Agency for International Development's Food for Peace program, funded through the 50-year-old Public Law 480, Title II.

''We want our food aid to have the greatest impact and help the neediest people,'' he told Reuters in a telephone interview yesterday.

About 31 countries currently are served by the Food for Peace program or under consideration for nonemergency assistance, which totaled 330 million dollar in the fiscal year ended September 2005.

In fiscal 2006, priority would go to 15 countries USAID has identified as having the greatest need for food aid, Dworken said.

Only after approved programs are funded in priority nations would Food for Peace aid go to other countries fighting hunger, starvation and malnutrition, Dworken said. Programs in non-priority nations that do not receive funding will be gradually phased out.

The United States is the world's largest provider of food aid to poor nations, which are also markets for American commodities such as corn, wheat and soybeans. Food for Peace is one part of the US food aid program, which provided a market for American farmers to sell 1.1 billion dollar, or 3.72 million tonnes, of their products in 2004.

The 15 counties on the priority list are Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia, according to USAID.

Among the 16 countries that may face a stoppage in aid are Benin, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Nicaragua and Senegal. Programs are already being phased out in India, Mali, Peru, Rwanda and Tajikistan.

No decision has been made regarding Bolivia.

Private volunteer groups that distribute aid provided through the Food for Peace program view the changes as a mixed blessing.

''For all organisations, it has implications for program portfolios and implications for country office viability,'' said Bob Bell, director at CARE, a humanitarian agency with Food for Peace programs in 17 countries -- including seven countries not on the priority list.

''Our hope is with the prioritization by Food for Peace, we will begin to see for those countries increased resources, not only with food but also cash,'' Bell added.

The decision to prioritize countries comes on the heels of calls by US President George W Bush to send up to a quarter of US food aid in the form of cash rather than US commodities.

The United States currently sends donations to developing countries in the form of its own domestic corn, wheat and other commodities. The World Trade Organization has pushed for cash when dealing with emergency food crises to speed up relief and not upset local trade balances.

Reuters

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