Local Purchases of Rice as Food Aid Overstated

November 04, 2011

In addition to the problems of allocating food aid discussed in the previous post, another significant problem is the lack of local procurement, which can be more effective than importing in emergency situations. The U.S. government, which has begun a local and regional procurement pilot project, found in a 2009 study (PDF) that:

Local and regional purchase is an important tool, enabling food aid agencies to respond quickly to emergency food needs, both during and after food crises and disasters.

Local and regional purchase can be a timely and effective complement to in-kind food aid programs.

The pilot project is also “based on the view that local and regional purchase has potential value for strengthening and expanding commercial markets, stimulating local and regional production, and reducing emergency food aid requirements.”  Yet thus far, the pilot project has only limited funds and was undertaken in just 12 countries in 2010 (only seven countries are benefactors of the program in 2011).  Together the 12 country programs made up less than one percent of all U.S. food aid in Fiscal Year 2010.

After the earthquake, noting that Haiti has gone from producing nearly 50 percent of their annual rice consumption in 1988 to around 15 percent now, CEPR published a report on food aid  that proposed “that international donors seeking to support Haiti’s agricultural sector and provide food to those in need could help Haiti become more self-sufficient by” using local procurement to purchase Haitian rice. According to the World Food Program Food Aid Information System, Haiti received over 110,000 metric tons (MT) of rice as food aid in FY2010, with the U.S. providing 57,000 MT of the total. According to the WFP, only about five percent of this came in the form of local procurement, despite the previously discussed advantages. Upon further review, however, even this low number is drastically overstated.

The WFP reports 5,566 metric tons of locally purchased rice was provided as food aid and that over 60 percent of this total (3,564) came from the United States.  This appears to be stretching the definition of local procurement.  The U.S.  International Food Assistance Report 2010 notes that USAID purchased “3,564 tons of commercial rice of U.S. origin in Haiti with assistance from USDA.” While technically this purchase was made locally, the purchase was for rice of U.S. origin.  Eliminating this from the amount of rice purchased locally drops the share down to less than two percent of total rice distributed. The table below shows the breakdown by country of local purchases, after removing the purchase of U.S. rice in Haiti.

Table: Local Purchases of Rice – 2010















Total as % of Overall


Although it is clear that at the policy level the United States and other donors are starting to grasp the importance of local and regional purchases, this recognition has yet to manifest itself on the ground in any significant manner, at least in Haiti. To read about the role of the shipping industry in preventing food aid reform, check out the post from earlier this week.

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