Turning Local Food into Food Aid

At the Center for Global Development blog, Jenny Aker and Rebecca Shutte discuss a new World Food Program initiative, designed to improve international food aid by buying food from local farmers.


Is purchasing food aid locally the answer to higher global food prices and the inefficiencies associated with imported food aid? The World Food Program (WFP), the Bill and Melinda Gates and Howard G. Buffett Foundations seem to think so. While donors and international organizations have been purchasing food aid in recipient countries for years, the idea got a new boost in late September with the “Purchase for Progress (P4P)” initiative. The idea is simple: Rather than import food aid from the U.S. or Europe, WFP will purchase food commodities for distribution within the same country or region. As Josette Sheeran, WFP executive director, explained, “Purchase for Progress is a win-win — we help our beneficiaries who have little or no food and we help local farmers who have little or no access to markets where they can sell their crops.” The program will be piloted in twenty-one countries in 2008/2009, fourteen of which are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Aker and Schutte’s enthusiasm is slightly more tempered — they give the program a provision “win-maybe” — but they emphasize above all the need to test it out and see what works and what doesn’t. Check out their recommendations for how to make the pilot phase of this admirable endeavor most effective.