From VOA Learning English, this is As It Is. Welcome to the show. I'm Caty Weaver.
The United States is the leading supplier of food aid around the world, at a cost of about 1.5 billion dollars yearly. But critics say the system is slow and inefficient. The United States Congress is considering legislation that may change how America provides food aid in the future.
Today, we have two reports that explore the issue of food aid. Does it work better when the aid is in the form of money? Or should such aid always be provided as food?
Humanitarian agencies in the Sahel area of Africa are struggling to deal with a cycle of food crises. The United States government provides about 1.5 billion dollars in traditional food aid. But it is now considering directing as much as 45 percent of that aid into newer food aid programs like "cash for work." These programs pay villagers to work on community improvement projects.
Jim Tedder reports.
It is market day in Sadio, a village in the Diourbel area of Senegal. It is also payday for about 800 people involved in the "Yokkute" program.
The aid organization Catholic Relief Service runs the program. It pays villagers to improve local agricultural and waste and water systems.
Yokkute means resilience in the local Wolof language. The program's goal is to help Sadio's population succeed again after years of poor harvests.
Program coordinator Pape Said says money is better than food for this at-risk community.
"The people can buy the food they'd like to have. But people in need have more needs than food alone, like healthcare. So with cash they can buy food but they can also address their other needs."
But there can be problems with money as well. Some workers like Gass Kane want their payment in food or food vouchers. She wants to block family members from using her earnings to buy unnecessary things.
"We prefer the food because it's useful for the whole family."
Catholic Relief Service does not force program participants to buy food with their money. However, the group pays workers on market day to help urge them to choose food purchases.
Local shop owner Waly Faye says he can see the difference in sales.
"This program supports the merchants. Before, it was only between the aid program and the beneficiary. So with the Yokkute program, they have brought in the small shop owners. So, instead of two players, now it's three."
Local farmers also profit. They can sell their produce and grain without competition from imported food. Catholic Relief Service's Pape Said says the program's workers also are improving crop production.
"In these half-moons, we are correcting the soil, which is mostly sand. So to increase water retention, we add manure and compost. Good fertilization could double, triple or quadruple the harvests."
Aid groups are watching to see if the United States Agency for International Development will support more programs like Yokkute in the future.