News / USA

Cash Can Beat Food Aid in Combating Hunger, Study Says

(File) A Palestinian girl walks past sacks of flour food aid from the United Nations and USAID at the Shatie refugee camp in Gaza City.
(File) A Palestinian girl walks past sacks of flour food aid from the United Nations and USAID at the Shatie refugee camp in Gaza City.
Cash can be more effective than food aid when it comes to reaching hungry people, according to a new study.

The finding comes as the U.S. Congress considers the law governing its $2 billion food aid budget.

However, the study authors find there is no right way to deliver aid, and say flexibility is key.

Since the 1950s, U.S. food aid has helped more than 3 billion people in more than 150 countries, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). That aid comes largely in the form of U.S. commodity crops like corn, soybeans and vegetable oil.

It’s a point of pride for the farmers and food processors who make it, and they have been strong supporters of the program. But food is often available locally at a lower cost than shipping it across the ocean.

Critics say what people really need in a crisis is money to buy their own food. That’s why European donors support cash and local purchase more than food aid.

Search for evidence

Both sides claim they’re right, says economist John Hoddinott at the International Food Policy Research Institute, but neither has much evidence to back them up.

“What we wanted to do was bring evidence and facts to bear on this debate,” Hoddinott said.

So, Hoddinott and colleagues at the World Food Program studied aid projects in four very different countries: Ecuador, Uganda, Niger, and Yemen.

In each project, beneficiaries received either cash or food of the same value. The researchers studied both the quantity of food, measured in calories, and the quality and diversity of the diet the recipients ate. They also calculated the cost of delivering the aid.

They found that cash was cheaper to provide than food, which saves more than just money.  

“It would only be a slight exaggeration to say we’re also talking about saving lives,” Hoddinott said.

If the projects used only cash or vouchers, an additional 32,000 people could have been fed, approximately 15 percent of the total.

However, Hoddinott stressed, “We want to be very clear: the results of our study do not say that you should always provide cash.”

Shopping options

It really depends on what the program is trying to achieve.

When the researchers looked at the impacts of cash compared to food aid on the amount of calories and dietary diversity, Hoddinott said, “What really jumped out at us was the variation in effects.”

In Ecuador, for example, the people who received food aid got more calories but a less diverse diet that those who received cash or vouchers. But the opposite was true in Niger. Those who received cash ate more calories but a less diverse diet.

That’s because “fundamentally, context matters,” Hoddinott said.

The project in Ecuador served Columbian refugees in urban areas with well-stocked markets where food was available for beneficiaries to buy.

“What they needed was the resources," Hoddinott said. "Hence, the cash and vouchers work well in that environment."

By contrast, the project in Niger served very poor people in rural areas where the markets did not have much more than staple grains available.

“People who got cash basically went out and bought lots of grains,” Hoddinott said.

Food aid, on the other hand, included grains, lentils and cooking oil. “That meant their diet became more diversified than households that got the cash and were just basically stocking up on staples.”

Hoddinott says aid programs need to have an understanding of the fundamental goal of their intervention because that will affect which method to choose.

"Both the U.S. and the [European Union] would benefit from a more flexible approach to food assistance,” he said.

'All the tools in the toolbox'

The U.S. spent about $200 million on cash and vouchers last year, out of a roughly $2 billion budget. Congress is considering legislation that would allow slightly more flexibility.

U.S. farmers, shippers, food processors and some aid groups have opposed more significant changes to U.S. food aid policy.

Paul Green, a consultant for the North American Millers Association, agrees that every food insecurity problem is different, and “the study reinforces the need for all the tools in the toolbox.” He also believes current U.S. foreign aid programs provide adequate flexibility for emergency response.   

Other aid groups see it differently.

“This study further underscores our call for reform of current food aid programs to make them more flexible and allow for more tailored responses,” said Eric Munoz of the aid group Oxfam.

The legislation is part of the much larger Farm Bill. House and Senate negotiators begin hammering out the differences in their versions this week.

You May Like

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs