The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

New caucus on Capitol Hill puts effective aid front and center

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The Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance was re-launched on Capitol Hill by Reps. Ander Crenshaw and Adam Smith at an event last Thursday. USAID Administrator Raj Shah was the event’s keynote speaker, and Oxfam America President Ray Offenheiser was a panelist. Ray’s remarks focused on reform progress made in the last few years by both […]

The Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance was re-launched on Capitol Hill by Reps. Ander Crenshaw and Adam Smith at an event last Thursday. USAID Administrator Raj Shah was the event’s keynote speaker, and Oxfam America President Ray Offenheiser was a panelist.

Ray’s remarks focused on reform progress made in the last few years by both Presidents Bush and Obama. Key among these reforms has been how the US invests in agricultural development. The new “Feed the Future” initiative has meant more resources for agriculture, vital for the livelihoods of the majority of the poor. Yet Feed the Future has also meant a smarter way for the USG to provide this support: an ownership approach that helps strengthen the compact between states and citizens. Ray noted that even in its early days, we can already see some of these changes Feed the Future has put in practice:

“In Malawi, as in other countries across Africa, Feed the Future is supporting the country’s priorities as expressed in its CAADP compact, an African-developed framework. Before, the US was less concerned with supporting a country strategy and more about identifying problems and proposing discrete solutions, which were often scattered.”

“In Guatemala, Feed the Future has meant that the USAID mission is consolidating its many efforts. This means providing nutrition programs in the same communities where they’re supporting smallholder participation in export crops like green beans and gourmet coffee. So hopefully down the line, we’ll see smallholders not only benefiting from higher incomes as a result of these value chains, but their children also thriving from healthier diets.”

“In Haiti, we saw at least two important changes: first, a US commitment (through USDA) to help build the capacity of the government to do agricultural research, extension, and education through the Ministry of Agriculture. This is huge contrast to the traditional US approach in Haiti which largely bypassed the Ministry. And second, the continuation of a recent US effort (through a program called WINNER) to boost the production of crops for local consumption instead of just for export. This is particularly important as Haitians face rising food prices on top of every other challenge in rebuilding their nation.”

At the Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance Launch.  Oxfam President Ray Offenheiser is at the center.  Photo by Oxfam America.
At the Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance re-launch. Oxfam President Ray Offenheiser is at the center. Photo by Oxfam America.

Aid at its best can help strengthen public accountability, complement a government’s budget to provide public goods, and support citizen efforts to hold governments accountable. The reforms Ray highlighted show promise for increasing local ownership and accountability, but there’s still work to be done in Washington:

“[w]e’re seeing great progress in countries, but it’s worth noting that even our inability to pass budgets on time is affecting our development programs. For example, in Cambodia, there has been a delay in USAID’s rollout of the Feed the Future program because the FY11 budget process dragged on. In the absence of budget clarity, it is difficult for USAID to make firm commitments and plans for multi-year efforts like Feed the Future. If we are to expect farmers to develop themselves, it takes time and predictability of funds.”

The Caucus will be an arena for Congress to discuss actions they must take to support effective foreign aid. Oxfam America, along with other coalition partners in the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, recently released a new policy agenda for Congress: From Policy to Practice: Maximizing the Impact and Accountability of US Global Development Efforts. This policy agenda is a roadmap for policymakers to build on the aid reform successes , such as President Obama’s first-ever US Global Development Policy, and the major reform effort at USAID (USAID Forward) that will strengthen US government development efforts and help the US implement the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action.

Ultimately, ownership means supporting effective states and active citizens’ efforts to determine how they use aid resources as part of their broader development agenda. The launch of the Caucus is a sign that Congress is taking up its responsibility to see that US aid is as effective as possible in enabling people around the world to escape poverty.

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