Canada has won high praise from a senior official with the United Nations’ World Food Programme for becoming one of the first countries to make its minimum pledge to annual food aid up front in a new international treaty.
"Canada is one of the strongest supporters of the World Food Programme," said Pedro Medrano Rojas, acting assistant executive director, partnership and governance services of the WFP, in an interview Wednesday.
Rojas, in Winnipeg to meet with non-government organizations, said Canada deserves credit for taking a leadership role in negotiating the new convention, which marks a significant shift in the focus and management of food assistance offered to those who face hunger due to environmental, economic or political crisis.
"In the past, food aid was a function of surplus," Rojas said, noting countries supported the WFP as a means of reducing market-depressing stocks while helping to feed those in need. The first food aid convention evolved to regulate that distribution in order to minimize disruption to markets, he said.
"Today, I think we have moved from food aid to food assistance; food aid is one of the elements, but not the only one," Rojas said. The WFP strives today to intervene before famine strikes and to pursue developments that treat the elimination of hunger as an investment in human capacity, rather than a cost.
Rojas said the move away from emergency funding in a crisis and so-called "tied aid," in which countries’ support came in the form of commodities purchased from the donor countries is an important step forward.
Canada moved to untie its aid in 2008 and will now commit a minimum of $250 million annually in cash. This allows much greater flexibility in how food is acquired. It also allows the WFP to plan ahead.
Now, 86 per cent of WFP food purchases come from developing countries, a change that has helped reduce the lead time for distributing food in a crisis by 62 days and saved $40 million in procurement costs.
"That’s the equivalent of feeding 250,000 people for a year," said Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the WFP’s deputy director of procurement.
The Food Assistance Convention, ratified so far by Canada, the U.S., the European Union, Denmark, Japan and Switzerland as its founding members, came into force Jan. 1 and requires member countries to pledge a "minimum annual level of quality food assistance" to developing countries.
The treaty, according to Julian Fantino, Canada’s minister for international co-operation, will give the United Nations’ World Food Programme "the knowledge and certainty they need for long-term planning and purchasing, making them more flexible and efficient in what they buy and where they buy it."
In Canada’s case, the minimum commitment announced Tuesday will be $250 million per year in food assistance "promising to help make delivery of food more efficient," the government said.
— Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator at Carman, Man.