USDA taps emergency funding to buy US commodities to address war impact

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The Biden administration will spend $282 million on domestic commodities such as wheat as part of a food aid package for six African nations experiencing severe drought and food insecurity, USDA and the U.S. Agency for International Development said Wednesday.

Commodities being purchased are hard red winter wheat, soft white wheat, yellow split peas, lentils, sorghum, vegetable oil, RUSF (Ready-to-Use Supplemental Food), and SuperCereal Plus, a USDA spokesperson said. “Commodities will arrive at their destinations approximately three months after they are called forward by USAID. They must be purchased, transported to a U.S. port, and then shipped to their final destination,” the spokesperson said.

USDA is tapping the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust for the first time since 2014 to buy the commodities. That is the full amount of funding available through that account. 

“When extraordinary and unforeseen food needs arise, the Secretary of Agriculture may authorize the release of funds at the request of the USAID Administrator for the purchase of U.S. commodities in order to address emergency food assistance needs,” according to USAID.

USDA is spending another $388 million from its Commodity Credit Corp. to cover the shipping and handling expenses, including the cost of ocean transportation.

In addition to Yemen, the commodities also will be provided to Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan, countries that have been hit especially hard hit by food inflation, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “is leading to a staggering global food crisis.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “America’s farmers, ranchers and producers are uniquely positioned through their productivity, and through the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, to help directly feed those around the world impacted by these challenges.”

Wheat makes up 46% of the average diet in Yemen, according to IFPRI.

“The world is suffering from historic levels of global food insecurity, which is being exacerbated by the impact Russia’s war on Ukraine is having on global food supplies,” the agencies said. “Available estimates suggest an additional 40 million people could be pushed into poverty and food security as a result of Russia’s aggression.”

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