Governor David Beasley takes the helm of the World Food Program (WFP) this week.
The governor has his work cut out of him. As America looks to lower its contributions to the United Nations, WFP is likely to take a major hit. More than $2 billion of its $5 billion budget comes from America in cash and in food – the latter being delivered to areas hit by drought and famine, and in need.
UN observers and Washington analysts already indicate that Mr. Beasley can use his influence with fellow South Carolinians – Nikki Haley, UN Ambassador, and Senator Graham, chair of the relevant Senate Appropriations sub-committee – to ensure that the cuts are not fatal to WFP.
Mr. Beasley can do more. He can turn this crisis into an opportunity for reform: he can transform how the WFP does its business.
First, hit the ground running – have a SWAT diagnostic - and secure impartial advice. Like some of his predecessors, he needs to take a look at the entire strategy and business operations of WFP using external actors – including prior WFP leaders. Private philanthropies can help on this front, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation did in 2012.
Second, evaluate the various instruments at WFP’s disposal and use the more effective ones. Cash and vouchers not only work, they work well – much better than food distribution in most cases. They are cheaper since they have lesser transaction costs- in a tight budgetary environment, it is a no-brainer to scale these.
Third, source more food locally, this has the potential to secure hundreds of millions in savings, if not billions. Transportation costs alone account for nearly a quarter to a third of the total when one ships food from America to areas in need. Locally sourced food reduces delivery time to the hungry and those in need from 3 months to about a month – it is less so for cash and cash vouchers. WFP pilots like Purchase for Progress have already laid the groundwork on this front. Do we want to keep the hungry, hungry for 90 days at an additional third of the cost?
Fourth, manage risk better. While WFP has world class logistics expertise, its financial risk management is not yet up to par. It purchases all of its emergency food from spot markets which result in high costs. Mr. Beasley can start using financial risk mitigation tools, which are common in other sectors, to bring done WFP costs substantially- this is again an opportunity for reform: WFP donors can be prodded to help him use these tools, as a pilot to start with, to gauge their potential.
Fifth, all this is possible only if the 2018 Farm Bill has provisions that can address the interests of America’s farms and help WFP become more efficient and effective. There are trade-offs, but tight budgetary environments can help resolve such trade-offs in an optimal way, provided there is good leadership. Gov Beasley needs to work with his South Carolinian compatriots, but also use his pulpit as a global food security leader.
We need the WFP to flourish in these trying times.
We need the WFP to flourish as the world sees some of the largest droughts in recent history – spread across Africa.
We need the WFP to flourish otherwise civil wars, like in Syria, will continue and human induced famines kill hundreds of thousands.
All it requires is inspired leadership that can act, and act well.
In Matthew 25, the Bible says: “‘Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, my Father has blessed you! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink.’” Gov. Beasley, as a faithful Christian, is well aware of this verse, and he has the opportunity now to act on it, through a secular vehicle.
WFP quenches hunger and thirst for millions of people daily – and we need it to flourish and not famish.
M. Patel is a global development professional working in public and private sectors in Asia, Africa, Europe and America.