Kojo talks with author Colson Whitehead about his new novel "The Underground Railroad" and its resonance at this particular moment in history.
The farm bill recently signed into law by President Barack Obama took years to clear Congress – and triggered showdowns over everything from food stamps to agricultural subsidies. But this sprawling piece of legislation isn’t a purely domestic matter: it includes provisions affecting international food aid efforts that are a plank of American foreign policy. We explore where food aid fits into U.S. diplomatic strategy, and how this new legislation affects, and doesn’t affect, the status quo.
- Dan Glickman Executive Director, Congressional Program, Aspen Institute; Former U.S. Agriculture Secretary; Former Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D-Kansas)
- Gawain Kripke Director, Policy and Research, Oxfam America
- Ato Tefera Derebew Agriculture Minister, Ethiopia
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. The massive farm bill signed into law by President Obama last week is a product of years of political wrangling over everything from food stamps to farming subsidies. But don't let all the beltway drama that went into the legislation fool you into thinking it's a purely domestic matter. A small portion of the 956 million dollar bill matters every bit as much to small communities and places like Ethiopia, as the rest of the bill matters to farmers in the United States.
MR. KOJO NNAMDITucked into the package are provisions affecting the food aid America supplies to the rest of the world, which is a significant part of US diplomatic and aid strategy. The new law takes a few significant steps to change the way such aid is administered. Steps that could make a big difference in countries where large portions of people are food insecure. Joining us this hour to explore what the so called farm bill means at the global level is Dan Glickman.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe's a former Agriculture Secretary of the United States. He's a former member of the US House of Representatives, a Democrat from Kansas. He's currently Vice President of the Aspen Institute and Executive Director of its congressional program. He's also co-chair of the Global Agricultural Development Initiative for the Chicago Council. That's a mouthful. Dan Glickman, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. DAN GLICKMANThanks, Kojo. A lot of words there.
NNAMDIAnd in studio with us is Gawain Kripke, Director of Policy and Research at Oxfam America. Gawain Kripke, thank you for joining us.
MR. GAWAIN KRIPKEGlad to be here.
NNAMDIAfter the President signed this billion dollar farm bill into law last week, he compared it to the famously versatile baseball player Mike Trout, because he says this bill has a lot of tools and multitasks. A small portion of this massive piece of legislation has a very global reach. What are the specific things this type of law does on the international level?
GLICKMANWell, the United States supplies almost 45 percent of all the food aid in the world. So, the rest of the whole world is 55 percent, so this bill authorizes both the humanitarian food assistance, farm assistance overseas, and it also provides the authorizing to help farmers become more self sufficient, giving them the tools that they need to be productive farmers, especially small, older farmers. So, it does two things. We're on two tracks. Humanitarian assistance, and also assistance to help people become more self sufficient.
GLICKMANThis bill makes those second set of programs more flexible. It gives the opportunity for a lot of our food aid to be given in cash overseas, rather than in commodities, so that people can use it to buy farm equipment, farm commodities, in order to become more self sufficient. It gives a lot more flexibility to the programs overseas. And it's something that almost all the non-governmental organizations, and a lot of the private sector over there, have been clamoring for some period of time.
NNAMDIGawain Kripke, there are people who will say that we have enough hunger here. Why is it in America's interest to provide such food aid to begin with, whether we're talking about emergency relief or sustained food aid to keep people from going hungry?
KRIPKEWell, we do have hunger in this country, so part of what the farm bill does is to provide assistance to Americans who need assistance. But a very small fraction of the farm bill, something like less than one percent of the farm bill, is dedicated to helping people in other countries who are facing acute problems and hunger. Every year, America provides support for something like 40 million people who are facing conflicts or disasters or hunger. These are some of the most desperate people on earth, who desperately need a helping hand.
KRIPKESome food to get through the day. They live in refugee camps or have been displaced. So, this is part of America's generosity to the world. You can meet many people in developing countries who, at one point in their life, have benefited from American assistance. It's really important from a humanitarian point of view, just saving lives, but also for brand America, making sure that the world knows that we care.
GLICKMANIf I just may add, to put things in perspective. Over 75 percent of the farm bill's money went to the food stamp program, the SNAP program and federal nutrition program. So, about 20 percent went to American farmers, and the rest went to other programs, such as overseas. So, for people who are concerned because we're giving money overseas to help people, it should be noted about three quarters of the dollars went to hungry people in this country.
NNAMDIWhen people say that food aid is an example of quote, end quote "soft power" the United States can use to advance its foreign policy goals, what do they mean?
GLICKMANI think they meant that it improves America's ability to help and influence the world, and we have a program called "Feed the Future," which is a program that does its best to help people become self sustaining farmers, small holder farmers. There's a lot of political support that you can build overseas by helping people see that we're not just a nation of military equipment, but we're a country that tries to use our diplomacy and development to help people. And incidentally, among the places in the world where we've done some surveying to see where the United States is popular, we are very popular in Africa, particularly in East Africa and Southern Africa.
GLICKMANBecause there, there's a long history of America helping in the agriculture area and in the health area. And the "Feed the Future" initiative, PEPFAR, the anti-AIDS and HIV work that we've done, have made us very popular in those countries.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number if you'd like to join this conversation. Where do you think food aid should fit into America's broader diplomatic strategy? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let's take a look at some of the specific things this legislation is going to change about how food aid is administered? Why is it so significant that international food aid programs now have more flexibility to use food that's grown locally or regionally?
KRIPKEWell, one of the ironies about the US international food aid program is that it's life saving aid, but it's done incredibly inefficiently. The food aid program is a legacy of decades of US farm programs, where we used to have the government take control of large stocks of food and then try to find a place to dispose of them. We don't do that anymore, but we still have, for the most of food aid program, the requirement to buy in America and to ship it on American ships, and that costs a lot more money and it takes a lot of time to get food to where it's needed.
KRIPKEIt can take five months to get food to an emergency, which is literally life and death for people who need that food, so this bill begins to open up the possibility to buy food locally or in regional markets and provide it. Which is both cheaper and much faster to deliver assistance.
NNAMDII mentioned earlier, we just returned a few weeks ago from Ethiopia, where two producers from this broadcast and I were on a learning tour organized by CARE, the relief and development group. We learned quite a bit about relief efforts during the severe drought that struck East Africa three years ago in 2011. When the US springs into action to provide emergency food aid in situations like that, where does the food come from?
GLICKMANWell, the food, in most cases, will come from the United States, especially in the form of grain shipments. But as Gawain just said, in olden days, we would have big surpluses. You know, we would produce way more than we consume, and that's why the government often subsidized production so much, because farmers had to deal with very low prices for a long time. But in recent years we haven't had those big surpluses. Supply and demand have been much more in equilibrium. So, it's been much more difficult for the government to buy grain and ship it overseas.
GLICKMANAnd that's one of the great things about the new farm bill. It gives much more flexibility, so that -- not complete flexibility, but more flexibility so that the purchases can be made locally. And also working with those governments to try to come up with mechanism to provide much stronger local agriculture systems, as well. So, not only are they getting more flexibility to purchase food locally where needed, but they can also use those resources to, in fact, build agricultural assistance, particularly for small, older farmers.
NNAMDIGawain, what was the reasoning behind the previous system where those shipments were made from so far away?
KRIPKEWell, the reasoning was, as Secretary Glickman just said, we had warehouses full of food that we didn't want to sell here, because it would drop the prices for farmers here. So, in the old days, we used to give them to our allies in the Cold War. We were up against Russia, or the Soviet Union then, and we were basically giving this food that then our allied countries could sell and make money with. That program is just gone, and we don't need it anymore, but we have some restrictions on the way we do food aid, now, that make it very cumbersome and costly.
KRIPKEAnd just don't make sense. The old food aid program was a strategic resource for helping allies. What most of food aid is used now, is really for helping very, very poor people get a leg up or survive the next day.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Please dawn your headphones, Secretary Glickman, because here is John in Washington, D.C. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNI was in Armenia during the war with Azerbaijan, and I was invited to small family subsistence farming type situation. And he invited us to have lunch with him. It was terrible, otherwise, but we sat down and outside, next to the cow, and they brought out all the traditional food. And among what they had on the table was a perfect brick of butter. And I looked at the cow. I could have literally patted the cow on the rear end. And I said, that's store bought butter. They said, yeah, it's American humanitarian assistance.
JOHNAnd exactly as your speaker just said, what happened was this food was then dumped on these countries, and then the local producers couldn't compete with free food. One person I met in Armenia, well, he had opened a bakery. But he was bankrupt too. He says, I can't compete with free grain.
NNAMDIWell, believe me, John, we saw the same thing in Haiti when we were there in 2010, with people trying to sell locally grown rice, but that's another story. But, thank you very much for your call. That's why it's changing, and Dan Glickman, another aspect of this food bill addresses is monetization. Can you explain what that is, and why you and others say it's outmoded?
GLICKMANWell, monetization is often a way by which grain is transferred, let's say, to a country overseas, a developing nation. It's sold, and then the proceeds are given to non-government organizations to actually manage for them. And they can end up spending the money. And the problem with that is they will often spend the money on administrative costs to keep their organization going, and you're taking a chunk of dollars that I think could be going more directly to serve the hungry people, or to serve other causes. And it's going into the hands of some of these NGOs.
GLICKMANAnd the administration and Rajiv Shaw, who heads the Agency for International Development, have both argued very forcefully against this monetization. Most of the NGOs, including Oxfam America, have argued also very much against it.
GLICKMANThere are a few that use these monies to kind of keep alive administratively but I think that is not the wave of the future. I think we are gradually seeing the end of modernization.
NNAMDIIndeed when we were in Ethiopia that was one of the discussions that took up a great deal of time, the modernization discussion. We just heard from the caller on the phone, Gawain, about what happens when U.S. commodities are introduced like butter in Azerbaijan or rice in Haiti. It's tough to compete with a product that's being given to someone for free.
KRIPKEThat's right, and this is one of the criticisms that the U.S. food aid program has received over the years, which is that when it's done right, food aid helps desperately poor people get through it. But when it's done wrong it distorts markets, it creates problems. It hurts farmers locally who are trying to compete with basically free U.S. food. So the reforms that we see in the farm bill that just got signed by President Obama on Friday goes some part towards adding more disciplines on that. First of all, there's more flexible money so that we don't have to actually send food in every case. We can actually buy it locally or regionally.
KRIPKEAnd then we're also putting more rules on when you can sell food into local markets to make sure that it's not as wasteful, both for taxpayers and for -- and hurting local farmers.
GLICKMANIf I just may add.
GLICKMANThere's also kind of a cosmic issue here that historically we have largely had big surpluses in the developed world in basically the wheat, corn, cotton, rice, soybeans, other commodities, some cases dairy. Now that doesn't mean that some places didn't have shortages but overall we had great surpluses in those parts of the world with population growth expected to go to 9 to 9.5 billion people in the next 30 years. And with income growth those surpluses are disappearing. We'll probably not have surpluses in the future.
GLICKMANSo if we don't change our aid programs we'll be much more hard pressed to help hungry people during difficult times.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of changing aid program, Dan Glickman, the last time we chatted about this topic nearly three years ago, one issue that came up was the role that women play in so much agriculture throughout the developing world. When we were in Ethiopia last month on that learning tour with the aid organization CARE, we asked their programming director Esther Watts about the role women play there and why CARE focuses on effecting change through women and girls.
NNAMDIThere are a number of people who listening to this conversation, especially in the United States, would say, well we understand that the world is changing. But if you want to do something for families in Ethiopia, why not focus on men? Are they not traditionally the heads of families?
ESTHER WATTSThat's true and it is still the case. Men are the heads of families. But when we talk about those population groups, we have termed them our impact population groups. So we have identified those particular groups of women or girls as the groups of people that we would like to work with over the next 10 to 15 years, measure change and impact on. That doesn't mean to say we will not be working with men. In order to have an impact on women and girls, it's utterly essential to be working with men. But we have also identified it's not just men that you need to be working with.
ESTHER WATTSIn Ethiopia it's very important in order to have an impact on those population groups to also be working with communities leaders, to be working with religious leaders, and particularly to be working with mother-in-laws.
WATTSBecause they are the holders of norms and values in the same way religious leaders are and in the same way community leaders are and in the same way heads of households are. So for example, if we are talking about family planning and the use and uptake of family planning, in one of the projects that we have been working with it was identified that access to family planning was readily available. And knowledge around family planning was readily available. However, uptake is very, very limited.
WATTSIn the Ethiopian society, unmarried girls should not be having sex so they should not be needing family planning. And widowed and divorced women should not be having sex so they should not be using family planning. And young married girls or married women should be child bearing and therefore don't need family planning. So from a cultural normal value point of view basically there was no need for family planning.
WATTSSo it was a point to talk and to -- if we have a doubt take family planning. Then it's necessary to identify who are the holders of laws and values in a community. And mother-in-laws are a key holder of norms and values, particularly for young married girls or unmarried girls.
NNAMDIEthiopia is still a predominantly agricultural economy. Who does the agricultural work in this country?
WATTSIt depends on what type of agricultural work. And if you are talking about plowing the fields then that is very much a male gendered role. And women, in a lot of areas, are not allowed to be plowing and not allowed to be using oxen. However, they are the holders and they would be responsible for chicanes and for homestead gardening, vegetable gardening and those areas.
NNAMDIWhich is how a lot of homes are maintained. That was CARE's Esther Watts we talked with in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. But before I put my question to you gentlemen, I'd like to play one more clip, a conversation we were able to have with a female farmer in eastern Ethiopia who relies on food aid. And this of course with the help of an interpreter. Her name is Abdilla Alishu. She told us about what she grows and how difficult some of her daily tasks are, including getting access to water.
ABDILLA ALISHU(Through interpreter) She grows maize, sorghum, wheat and some other vegetables. She needs to travel more than two hours to fetch water. So water is a problem in the area.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMANHow often does she go?
UNIDENTIFIED MANShe was going every day.
NNAMDIThe woman, Abdilla Alishu who grows a few small items, but has to walk two hours every day to get water. Where do you think this new piece of legislation goes in so far as if it's going to help a woman like this?
GLICKMANWell, certainly the feed-the-future initiative, which is not necessarily directly involved with this farm bill but it's the U.S. government's approach to try to build agricultural systems, infrastructure and human capacity is very active in Ethiopia. And is working on things such as technical assistance, irrigation, small older farmer activity.
GLICKMANSo -- and by the way, Ethiopia is probably the leader in Africa because they have an entity called the Ethiopian Agriculture Transformation Agency. It's headed by a gentleman named Collie Bamba (sp?) who used to work at the Gates Foundation. And Gates is very active in Ethiopia. And they've set up these extension centers all over Ethiopia -- I don't know if you saw them when you were there -- modeled after the old USDA extension network.
GLICKMANAnd they have almost -- I think they have 10,000 or more of these little extension centers all over Ethiopia. They advise people on agricultural techniques, seed, fertilizer technologies and irrigation, as well as advising people on health issues as well. They're kind of one-stop shops. So the U.S. government is working very actively to try to assist this effort. And Ethiopia is probably the best example in all of Africa in this regard.
NNAMDITo what extent do stories like this one illustrate the challenges posed by a basic lack of access to infrastructure? We talked about American investment in infrastructure in African countries last Thursday.
GLICKMANThanks for asking the question. It's a huge issue. And thinking about these issues, not just as a simple black and white issue but the fact that development and agriculture is different for men and women. Women tend to grow different things. They have different constraints on their labor or their time and so forth. The fact that women often are the water-drawers, they have to spend hours a day drawing water for the family. It means they have a lot less labor available to do farming for example. And so these gender roles can play a big role economically and also really hurt women and families generally.
GLICKMANPutting a big focus on improving women's productivity, improving their labor availability so that they can be good farmers is a really big factor. And there's very good studies to show that when you focus on women, you have big productivity impacts. And those big productivity impacts probably also help ensure better income and nutrition for families because women are the holders of family nutrition. So all of that wraps up to say that a focus on women is really critical.
GLICKMANNot to ignore men of course but to recognize that men and women are different and they farm differently and they have different constraints on how their productivity is limited.
KRIPKEAnd I may just add one issue.
KRIPKEThat's education and schools because for -- historically women were never granted much access to particularly rural schools throughout Africa and other parts of the developing world. That is changing through -- some part through the assistance of the U.S. government, USAID, some through the assistance of NGOs like CARE and others and some through the foundations like the Gates Foundation, Rockefeller and Ford that are really focusing.
KRIPKEIf you give young girls an opportunity to go to school and provide them with not only intellectual capital but also school feeding programs, which take place there, they'll become a lot more educated in issues such as family planning and other things that will allow them to become more successful.
NNAMDIHad a Gates Foundation official with us on that trip also. We're going to take a short break right now. When we come back, we will continue our conversation about the farm bill and food aid. You can still call, 800-433-8850. Do you think it's in America's interest to provide food aid to countries with large food insecure populations? Why or why not, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Welcome back to our conversation about farm bill and food aid where we have apparently persuaded Dan Glickman to make a contribution to WAMU 88.5...
GLICKMANAnd Gawain too.
NNAMDI...and Gawain Kripke. He is director of policy and research at Oxfam America. We got them. Dan Glickman is the former Agriculture Secretary of the United States, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's currently vice president of the Aspen Institute and executive director of its congressional program. He also co-chairs the global agricultural development initiative for the Chicago council. We've been inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to Kojo@WAMU.org.
NNAMDIWhat is going to be done in terms of helping to improve the technical capacity of farmers in other countries that would help to graduate them out of the most extreme poverty?
GLICKMANI think beefing up our research establishment and the relationship between our colleges and universities in the United States, particularly our land-grant institutions and colleges and universities in Africa, in order to try and give technical assistance to up-and-coming agriculturalists as well as entrepreneurs. That could be a very big thing. In truth, you know, our agricultural establishment in the United States has been less inclined to be involved overseas, partly because of the economics of the current budget crisis. But that could be a very significant thing.
GLICKMANAnd I would give you one other thing and that is that by-and-large these issues are bipartisan. You know, in all this period of partisan rancoring and lack of civility in our government, there is genuine bipartisan support generally for our farm programs, but more specifically for helping hungry people throughout the world. And the farm bill that passed, which contained the food-aid modernization provisions, passed with bipartisan support. So this is one area where we've kind of been able to keep some of the political rancor out.
NNAMDIOne of the more delicate issues we discovered when we were in Ethiopia came one of the conversation we had with the country's Agricultural Minister Ato Tefera Deribew. He said, pretty bluntly, that he would like for fewer strings to be attached to the aid that his country receives from the United States. Let's take a listen.
MR. ATO TEFERA DERIBEWIt's your government policy that U.S. side works through third party. We'd like to work with your side instead of going through third party, directly with the government. I know this is a policy issue and the issue of the congressmen and women. But this is the policy that we'd like to see be changed. And this has been our request for many years.
NNAMDIWhat do you make of what he's asking for? Is it possible that down the road he could put the -- use the money he receives without working through the middle man, even if it's a group that the country allows to be there, like CARE, maybe Oxfam America? What do you say?
KRIPKEWell, just for disclosure purposes, Oxfam America doesn't take any U.S. government funds, so we don't have a conflict...
KRIPKE...of interest in saying this. But the point is a really important one actually, that the best kind of aid is aid that builds capacities and local, what's called, local ownership -- the commitment by local actors to take up the issue of poverty and development. And the best way to do that is to work through local channels, through local institutions like the government or local NGOs and so forth. There's a problem with our system, which is that we spend too much of the money that's meant to be helping developing countries and poor people -- we spend it in Washington with beltway bandits and contractors.
KRIPKEAnd there's a lot of overhead and high salaries paid to it. The reason is because they have very good financial controls and there's a good sense that the money's not going to get squandered, except in high salaries and overhead. And over time, what the goal is, is to move the money further down the chains so that local actors in Ethiopia and other countries will get some of the resources and be able to build their own capacity. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah has done an important job of trying to move that process forward recently.
KRIPKEAnd he's committed to try to increase the amount of money that USAID spends in local communities rather than spending the money here in Washington. And that's a really important initiative. It's being fought by special interests who have an interest in keeping things the way they are. But it's the kind of reform we need to do. But we also need to make sure that these governments and institutions have controls, have accountability and have transparency. And so that's the challenge ahead of us, is to make sure that money is spent well and accountably.
NNAMDIWell, I was about to say the issue of oversight. How important is it, in each of these countries receiving significant food aid, for those governments to feel that they're a part of the investment being made? If Ethiopia's more strong-armed, competent government is on one side -- a government like the one in post-earthquake Haiti is on the other, a lot of people have criticized that aid effort for essentially sidelining the government.
GLICKMANYou know, just to add on to what Gawain said, this is a tricky issue, because on the one hand you have U.S. taxpayer money going overseas, and so you want to make sure that there's appropriate oversight. And Congress just doesn't want this money to be spent and, let's say, going in the hands of governments that may be corrupt or may not have very effective systems of monitoring or overseeing themselves. On the other hand, you can't have too much micromanagement from the top, because then nothing gets done.
GLICKMANSo it's a proposition that requires some degree of flexibility. But you'll never have exactly what the agriculture minister of Ethiopia wants, which is kind of keep your hands off this money. Once you send it to here, it's ours. Because I don't think the taxpayers of the U.S. would want that. I think what we do want is accountability and metrics. So this is one of the things that the foundations have been so important -- involved in. They said, once you send them this money, then you've got to measure it to see if it works. You've got to have some metrics to see, you know, who is succeeding and who's not.
GLICKMANAnd then allocate the monies on those projects that are really working well. And many projects are working very well. But we need to make sure that we replicate those projects and not just the ones that, let's say, go in the hands of folks who have gotten the money for years and haven't produced much in terms of results.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Mike Burke. Please comment on food aid in active conflict situations in South Sudan. Does it make things better or worse?
KRIPKEWell, it's a very said situation in South Sudan right now, with terrible conflict and sort of the specter of an ethnic war emerging. Food aid, we think, is critically important there to provide assistance to people. We have a lot of displaced people -- people taking refuge in U.N. compounds, and providing that assistance is literally lifesaving. But that's the front edge of the problem. The deeper problems are political and institutional. And the U.S. has been a pretty good player there. But obviously a lot more needs to be done.
NNAMDIWhat are your expectations for how the politics of food aid and food aid reform are likely to evolve from here?
GLICKMANI think that you're going to see more and more flexibility in the programs, and then more and more cash as opposed to commodities going overseas, so that people can buy the food locally or regionally. And the main part of that issue is, is that there's just less surplus food available, and with the vagaries of weather. And, you know, you even see in our own country, we have vast sections of America that are being hit by great droughts that we've never seen before. And so that's happening worldwide. And so it's going to make predictability of big supplies, of surpluses, much less certain.
GLICKMANSo I think that there will continue to be more flexibility. The main thing we have to ensure is these are maintaining themselves as bipartisan programs in the United States. Left and right should continue to support the programs because what they do is they not only help people help themselves up -- and we've seen that in all over East and Central -- and West Africa too; but, in addition to that, what it does is that it brands the United States as a friend.
GLICKMANI was in Africa three years ago, in Tanzania, and a man came up to me and he said, You have three of the greatest people in America. You should be proud of them. I said, who are they? They said, They are Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. And I said, Well I couldn't find very many Americans who would say that kind of thing. Why do you say that? And they said, Well because Bill Clinton has done so much in terms of building relationships with Uganda and Rwanda and other nations.
GLICKMANGeorge W. Bush was the author of our PEPFAR and anti-AIDS and anti-malaria provisions -- saved tens of millions of people from dying. And Barack Obama has continued those things, but reemphasized agriculture programs, particularly the Feed the Future initiative. And so America has built great friends in that part of the world. And it's helpful to us politically and geopolitically, as well as the right thing to do. So I think we're going to be fortunate to continue those efforts.
NNAMDIDo you see the political role to move forward on any of the areas where you feel this particular bill may have come up short? There seems to be some bipartisan support for this here.
KRIPKEYeah, I think the trends are in the right direction with this food aid program. Because it comes out of the agriculture committee in Congress, there's been a reluctance to see this as a humanitarian program or for (word?) purposes, but rather see it as a way to help U.S. farmers, which is understandable. But, really, it doesn't provide much help to U.S. farmers. It's a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of our farm economy involved in food aid.
KRIPKEAnd it's very wasteful of taxpayer dollars. We're wasting something like 50 percent of the budget on doing stupid administrative costs and making procurement harder than it needs to be. So, for taxpayer purposes and also for the fundamental cause, which is helping poor people get over -- get a hand up and also just to survive in conflict situations, I think the trend is in the right direction. And this year was a really important year. For the first time you see a really open debate about whether our food-aid program should be improved and the discussion about the need to save taxpayer dollars, but also deliver more impact for those dollars.
KRIPKEWe had a fight on the floor of the House with a vote that was very, very close and it was very bipartisan also. So and then we see the farm bill coming out in the end with some improvements -- not big improvements, but some modest steps forward. I think the trends of history are in our favor. And I'm very thankful for the bipartisan support in making the food aid program more effective.
GLICKMANAnd, Kojo, if I just may say. Gawain talked about history. So there's two great examples of where the United States provided both humanitarian assistance and food assistance to countries that basically came out of the developing world into the developed world. One is South Korea, after the Korean War. It was a disaster over there. And largely through agricultural improvements and U.S. assistance, we were able to take a country and move it into the modern world.
GLICKMANAnd the same thing's true with Brazil. They're different -- every country's different. They're not exactly like the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, but it's an example of how food assistance and humanitarian assistance, working in the direction of trying to build up institutions within a country, can make a big difference. So it's happened there and it can happen all through sub-Saharan Africa as well.
NNAMDIHere is Vipen in Germantown, Md. Vipen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
VIPENGood afternoon, Kojo and the guests. I want to thank you very much for the program, you are doing it. The purpose of my call, I've been in this country for 40 years, but I want to go back to almost 60 years. When I was in India, about seven or eight years old, at that time I remember I was getting milk -- a milk powder in my village. And we were -- my family of four were drinking the milk and making the tea and so on at that particular time. And I'm very much in support of that and I appreciate it.
VIPENThe second thing, there's a program used to be called PL40 (sp?) . I do not know whether it's still existing or not. But I remember, we used to get wheat and rice under this particular program from (word?) store at reduced price. And I know my childhood -- during my childhood -- I had my rice and the (word?) tea from the school. And this program has been very, very big help to the community in India, and I assume it would be throughout the world.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. And I'm afraid that's all the time we have. But Vipen was talking about his experience in India some 60 years ago. And we're talking about improvements in the delivery of food aid so that it can lead to sustainability, especially among small farmers all over the world, with Dan Glickman. He's a former agriculture secretary of the United States and a former of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's currently vice president of the Aspen Institute and executive director of its Congressional Program.
NNAMDIHe's also co-chair of the Global Agricultural Development initiative for the Chicago council. Dan Glickman, good to see you again.
GLICKMANThank you, Kojo, very much.
NNAMDIAnd Gawain Kripke is director of policy and research at Oxfam America. Gawain, thank you for joining us.
KRIPKEGreat to be here. Thanks.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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