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

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs