Improving Food Aid to Improve Maternal and Child Nutrition

February 1, 2012

The United States is the world’s largest provider of food aid products — procured by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and distributed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through partner organizations overseas. A growing body of scientific evidence shows that early childhood nutrition interventions, aimed at the critical “1,000 Days” window from pregnancy through a child’s second birthday, are extremely effective and cost-efficient ways to arrest the lifelong effects of malnutrition.

More than 100 country governments and civil society organizations have signed on to the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, which supports efforts to expand effective nutrition programs to undernourished pregnant women and young children. Reducing maternal and child malnutrition is a key priority of the U.S. government’s Feed the Future and Global Health initiatives.

There are opportunities to reform food aid to better align it with the objectives of these two programs. The U.S. Government Accountability Office has reported on inefficiencies in U.S. food aid procurement and distribution, while Tufts University has released an important study of ways to improve the nutritional quality of food aid. With debate on the next farm bill beginning, now is the time to improve this essential program.

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