When a hungry child in a drought-stricken country gets an emergency bowl of cornmeal porridge, there's a good chance that corn was grown in the midwestern United States, packed into bags, shipped across the ocean on U.S. vessels, and distributed in the disaster zone by an American aid group.
Afterward, the charity organization might even sell some of the leftover corn in a nearby market in order to fund its other programs, like immunizations or maternal clinics.
Most people would agree that it's important for the U.S. to continue its food aid programs, which right now amount to roughly $1.5 billion every year, more than any other country in the world. But there's currently a fierce battle being waged over where exactly that food should come from and how it should be meted out.
On one side, a coalition of humanitarian groups hopes the 2014 federal budget -- which should be announced Wednesday -- changes the current, decades-old system run by the Department of Agriculture so that emergency food would instead be bought in the markets of the country it's intended to help, rather than in the U.S. This, proponents say, will be more efficient (no more shipping food over thousands of miles of ocean), better for local producers and growers, and less disruptive to the food economies of developing countries. According to Oxfam, simply buying these grains from say, Niger rather than Nebraska, would save so much money that aid groups could feed an extra 17 million people per year.