The United States and U.S. Wheat Step Up to Address Yemen’s Desperate Food Needs
By Elizabeth Westendorf, USW Assistant Director of Policy
The United States has been a leader in helping those in need around the world for more than 60 years. In marketing year (MY) 2017/18, the United States sent approximately 800,000 metric tons (MT) of wheat overseas through international food aid programs, according to U.S. Wheat Associates’ internal tracking. Almost half of this amount, 385,000 MT, was soft white (SW) wheat that went to Yemen. Other recipient countries included Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali and Sri Lanka.
To put this number in perspective, the top five export markets for SW wheat in MY2017/18 were:
- Philippines – 1,174,200 MT
- Japan – 828,800 MT
- South Korea – 805,800 MT
- Indonesia – 599,100 MT
- China – 312,600 MT
Currently, an estimated 22.2 million people in the country require humanitarian assistance to meet basic needs, and 17.8 million of those need emergency food assistance. Wheat donations overseas vary from year to year because they are driven by need. Two years ago, Ethiopia was receiving the vast majority of wheat donations due to famine caused by drought that decimated local production.
Yemen is now receiving large quantities of wheat due to prolonged civil unrest that contributes to food insecurity. In August, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) hosted an event in Portland, Ore., to bring attention to the need for food in Yemen and the ongoing U.S. efforts to provide aid. The media event was held across the Willamette River from an export elevator where government-purchased SW wheat was being loaded into an bulk container ship bound for Yemen.
Yemen is experiencing the largest food security emergency in the world, with people facing famine because they are unable to access sufficient food on their own. To complicate matters, ongoing violence around key ports makes getting food into the country more and more difficult. So far in 2018, WFP’s work in Yemen has reached approximately 7 million food-insecure people monthly with food assistance and food vouchers. Other than U.S. wheat, USAID’s Food for Peace program has also provided U.S.-sourced peas and vegetable oil to the country, as well as ready-to-use therapeutic foods that combat severe malnutrition.
As we face a world with political instability and unpredictable natural disasters, the demand for food aid is unlikely to abate; instead, the recipient countries will simply shift from year to year.
Given this continued need, it is vital that the United States continue to be a leader in humanitarian efforts abroad. Wheat is a staple food source for much of the world, providing an average of 20 percent of calories and protein to people worldwide. If the United States is to remain a leader, then in-kind commodity donations must remain a key part of our donations programs.