What's the Best Way to Deliver Food Aid?

The question of how best to deliver food aid is a controversial one.  In recent years, economists like Dean Karlan and Ed Glaeser have suggested that direct cash transfers are the most direct, efficient means of delivering aid to struggling families in the U.S. and elsewhere.  In response to the debate, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) collaborated with the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) on several studies. Here's the Ecuador study comparing the effects of aid in the form of cash, food baskets, or supermarket vouchers.  And here's a summary of their findings in Ecuador, Niger, Uganda, and Yemen, which were also discussed at a recent IFPRI seminar:

Findings revealed that there is no one “right” transfer modality. The relative effectiveness of different modalities depends heavily on contextual factors such as the severity of food insecurity and the thickness of markets for grains and other foods. In three countries (Ecuador, Uganda, Yemen), cash had a relatively larger impact on improving dietary diversity as did vouchers in Ecuador, but in the fourth country (Niger), food had a larger impact on dietary diversity. Cash assistance was always significantly more cost-effective to deliver. In fact, researchers determined that if they repeated the study, but only distributed cash, they could feed an additional 32,800 people with the same project budget.

The Future of USAID

Foreign Policy has published an interesting interview with Rajiv Shah, a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator and former Gates Foundation employee.  Here's Shah on his efforts to bring a business-like mentality to USAID:

I've tried to bring that business-like rigor and the tendency to ask questions -- some would say I ask far too many questions -- to make sure that when we're spending taxpayer resources, we're doing it with that absolute focus that we are making an investment against generating a result.

More Misadventures in Foreign Aid?

Last week CNN told the story here and here of Derreck Kayongo, a refugee from Uganda now living in Atlanta. His father was a soap-maker, and Mr. Kayongo is following in his footsteps, but with a nonprofit twist: he cleans and reprocesses discarded used soap bars from American hotels and ships them to Africa. He started the Global Soap Project, a U.S.-based non-profit organization, to do this.

An inspiring story of someone trying to turn waste into something good. That of course is great, and I like the ingenuity. And I admire how Mr. Kayongo has managed to navigate both the nonprofit and corporate space to figure out how to mobilize people to contribute the soap, and to coordinate delivery to people in need.

But is the best solution here really half-used soap?