MICHEL MARTIN, host:
And we're going to continue our conversation with Ellen Levinson. She is the executive director of the Alliance for Food Aid, which represents 15 organizations that provide food and other services to impoverished countries. She joins us now in our Washington studios. Ms. Levinson, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Ms. ELLEN LEVINSON (Executive Director, Alliance for Food Aid): Hello.
MARTIN: And you heard - as you heard, we just spoke with Dr. Helene Gayle of CARE. She says the food aid program is inefficient and, in fact, it may undermine local anti-poverty efforts. And you disagree.
Ms. LEVINSON: That's right. We disagree. Our view is that many countries in the world are poor and they're food insecure. They rely on imports to meet their food needs. So besides helping them in agriculture productivity, we'll still have to give them support in the meantime.
So food aid is one of the most important means. And since they already don't produce enough, we need to provide donor food aid from donor countries. I understand the idea of buying locally. In fact, my members have - some of them have a lot of what we call unrestricted funds that they raise privately and they do buy locally, but only in small amounts, and they can't see it replacing larger scale food aid.
MARTIN: Are you concerned that CARE, because CARE is such a recognizable name -I mean, we even use that term among ourselves, you know CARE packages from home, you know, talking about the packages that parents send to, you know, their college kids, or, you know, their hungry college kids - that such a big name pulling out of the program will undermine the program overall?
Ms. LEVINSON: Well, there are so many other organizations, you're right, that aren't necessarily as well known - for example, Africare or Food for the Hungry - that are very competent organizations working in agriculture and health, sanitation in those countries and doing an excellent job. They may not be household names, but they're extremely good at their work.
MARTIN: But is your concern that if CARE pulls out that it somehow undermines support - domestic support for international food aid in this country that pulls out a pillar?
Ms. LEVINSON: Oh, I see. No, I don't. Over the past two years, CARE has been discussing this. This is not a new issue to us. Their statement was made official June of 2006. So we've known about this. It's already gone through the system. And it hasn't changed anything in the sense that we understand they want to leave food aid and find other ways to raise money, which is good, but not all groups agree with that. In fact, some groups feel that food aid is greatly needed.
One of my members is called Joint Aid Management. It's not from America. It's South African. It buys locally. It receives food aid also from the States. It's very concerned about moving more to local purchase because they think it's already maxed out.
MARTIN: But what about the substance of Dr. Gayle's argument and the CARE board's argument that this undermines efforts to improve local production and it actually distorts local economies? And for example, in this country, I think people have gotten used to this message now in a disaster, you know, the impulse that people have is send food, send the canned goods and the CARE - the agencies in this country - like the Red Cross - say don't do it. Send money. It's inefficient. This is the better way to help. Why wouldn't the same be true internationally?
Ms. LEVINSON: Yeah. And I agree that, in an emergency, it is very helpful to have most flexibility as you can to immediately respond. But food aid is only one of the tools we have to respond in an emergency. We do have cash, not only for local purchase, but for tents, medicines, and thousands of other things. So we really aren't limited in that regard. For ongoing needs, food aid is not disrupting local markets. It is not interfering with local production. If we bring in food aid, whether for sale or distribution, it's very small, very small amounts compared to what they have to import commercially.
MARTIN: What do you make of the fact that - and I'm afraid this will have to be our last question - what do you make of the fact that the European Union is already moving in a direction that Dr. Gayle is indicating, and the U.S. is actually one of the few countries that still delivers tons of food, the product itself? What do you make of that?
Ms. LEVINSON: Well, actually, that's what worries me, is in 1994 when the European Union changed to a policy of cash, within 10 years, they had cut their donations by tonnage levels in half. And now the U.S. has to pick up a lot of that around the world. So we are being forced to give more because the Europeans reduced.
MARTIN: Well, thank you. Ellen Levinson is executive director of the Alliance for Food Aid. Its charitable groups provide food and other help to those in poverty around the world. Thank you so much for speaking with us. It's an important topic.
Ms. LEVINSON: Thank you very much.
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