- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

The U.S. Agency for International Development announced yesterday it was buying $11.2 million worth of foreign wheat to feed the hungry in Afghanistan.
Officials said it was a logistical decision, designed to get the wheat into Afghanistan fast, as U.S. military air strikes intensified and a harsh winter season neared.
"We're using every available means and every available route to get food to needy Afghans before the winter sets in," USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios said in a statement in which he disclosed the purchase of wheat from Kazakhstan, a state to the north of Afghanistan.
The wheat is most needed in northern Afghanistan. From Kazakhstan, it will be transported to Turkmenistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan, and it will be bagged for further transport and delivery to the emergency operations in northern Afghanistan, the USAID said.
U.S. farm groups are understanding but also a little nervous about the government's decision to bypass American wheat in this situation.
"We always prefer that it be U.S. wheat [for these donation programs], since U.S. dollars are buying it," said Ross Korves, chief economist for the 5 million-member American Farm Bureau.
Mr. Korves said the farm bureau supports the war on terrorism "100 percent" and recognizes it "might be very difficult to move" U.S. grain from ports in Iran or Pakistan to where it is needed in Afghanistan, "given the time of the year."
"Clearly, we see this as a national security issue, so we find it acceptable. But we wouldn't want this to become a precedent," Mr. Korves said in a telephone interview from his office in Chicago.
Tom Mick, chief executive officer for the Washington Wheat Commission in Spokane, agreed.
"We're very supportive, if this is a short-term solution to a starvation problem but no one wants to delineate how short term this will be."
The federal government historically has tried to use American-grown crops for its food-donation programs, said Mr. Mick. "And we say they should do this wherever possible," he added.
A USAID spokeswoman said the agency does try to use food grown in the United States. She said two-thirds of the food making its way to Afghanistan was produced in this country. Even so, she said, buying food commodities in the region where donations are being shipped is common.
Mr. Mick said at least 160,000 tons of U.S. wheat are already en route to Afghanistan.
The USAID spokeswoman said the total is more than 200,000 tons, but the first shipment may not arrive until the middle of this month and it will take another two weeks to unload. In contrast, she said, the wheat from Kazakhstan should arrive in a week.
Said Mr. Mick: "American agriculture has been in the doldrums. The price farmers received [for wheat] was below the cost of production, and it's just now at the cost of production.
"Having more sales would be very helpful to farmers. If President Bush is serious about an economic-stimulus package, this food aid program would fit right in," he said.
Barbara Spangler, executive director of the Wheat Export Trade Education Committee, an affiliate of the National Association of Wheatgrowers, wholeheartedly agreed.
"We're the major provider of wheat products in that region. But we can't move through parts of Afghanistan right now" because of the military conflict and the fact that it will be start of winter there in the next few weeks, said Ms. Spangler.
Relying on foreign wheat is "not a problem in critical areas, where we need to feed people," she said. "But after they take care of the immediate problems, [USAID] should be using American grain exclusively."


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