Food Aid Roundtable in Tifton, GA
Food Aid Roundtable in Tifton, GA
By Whitney Griggs, CARE’s Southeastern Regional Advocacy Coordinator. CARE held a unique event in Georgia last week to raise awareness that foreign assistance benefits people in the U.S. in many of the same ways it benefits people in developing countries – by providing economic and employment opportunities that help people support families.
Here’s Whitney’s event recap:
We held the roundtable discussion at the University of Georgia Conference Center in Tifton, Georgia for several reasons. One was to provide an opportunity to reengage with Congressman Austin Scott’s (R-GA 8) offices. His former Legislative Director took a learning tour with CARE to Niger in 2016. It was also designed to get all of the parties to the table from Congressman Scott’s district (rural South Georgia) who are involved with sending food overseas.
We brought CARE’s Vice President of Advocacy, David Ray, together with Congressman Austin Scott, Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) researchers from USAID and the University of Georgia and Allan Chiyembekeza, Malawi’s Minister of Agriculture, to talk about how U.S. foreign assistance affects the local economy and how food aid can be done better. The UGA students and members of the local agriculture community in our audience were very invested and interested in this topic because the peanuts grown nearby get sent overseas in our USF’s, which are high-calorie nourishment packs.
We kicked the event off by touring the Mana factory with Congressman Scott and his staff along with UGA and USAID researchers. The Mana factory creates nutritional packets for kids in developing countries who are so severely malnourished, they can’t eat regular food. Mana produces an easy-to-administer nutritional supplement made from peanuts grown in the area, with extra vitamins, dairy powder and sugar added in. Three of those a day will save the life of a starving child.
Having Mana in the county is a major economic driver. Peanuts are a major cash crop in Georgia and local peanut producers love this program because they get to sell them their crops. In fact, this year, they’re expecting bumper crops and they’re especially grateful for this market opportunity.
As we toured the factory, we talked about how important it is for the local economy to have that production facility. Mana’s factory is located in Georgia’s second poorest county and it offers stable jobs with health insurance and benefits in a place where few jobs are available. One of the statistics we heard was that, “people are more likely to go to prison in this county than graduate from high school.’
We continued the conversation later at our panel discussion, which included Senator Isakson and stakeholders from UGA and USAID. We talked about why the peanuts in this supplement have to come from America. We learned that they actually have perfect peanut-growing soil in many parts of Africa but salmonella, cytotoxins and mytotoxins also grow in their soil and are a huge health concern with peanuts. Farmers in Africa don’t currently have the ability to control those potentially disease-producing organisms the way they can in Georgia. And until they’re able to produce peanuts for themselves safely, they have to depend on foreign assistance for this and other basic but critical foodstuffs.
We talked about approaching food aid with a whole-of-government approach that involves different government agencies, NGOs and research universities in the creation of more sustainable food aid. David Ray offered the Global Food Security Act as a great example of this whole-of-government approach, which is ultimately creating more security for growth in smaller African markets.
We also talked about how NGOs need to work together instead of competing for long-term food aid dollars. We discussed why it’s important to include the private sector and large research facilities in food aid programming because including more stakeholders and expertise means we’ll get food to hungry people faster. It also means we’ll increase profitability and market access for American businesses and research opportunities for American universities that could eventually help us teach people to grow their own food.
The overarching goal of the event was to show the impact that food aid and foreign assistance have both domestically and around the world, which is something Senator Isakson has been very outspoken about. He commented during our discussion that ‘this Administration’ wants to cut foreign assistance and that he wasn’t going to let that happen because he sees how important ‘soft power’ is.
The impact of U.S. foreign assistance’s “soft power” can be felt in small factories like Mana in South Georgia, in food aid programs in Africa and in the survival of children in developing countries around the world. The challenge now is in sharing that message on Capitol Hill and making sure foreign assistance gets the funding it needs.