If there’s any wisdom we can glean from the unprecedented events of the past year, it’s how important it is to support each other and our communities and come together during tough times. The U.S. rice industry takes that lesson to heart, both in our own backyards and beyond our borders.
International food aid was one of our greatest cumulative achievements in 2020. U.S.-grown milled and fortified rice supported the fight against hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition — all growing problems worldwide — at a level not seen for the past 10 years. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt supply chains, logistics and developing economies, the need for rice in international food aid will only become greater.
The number of countries receiving rice through U.S. food aid programs continues to diversify and increase every year, with approximately 120,000 metric tons of U.S.-grown rice distributed to 27 countries. Five of those are first timers. USA Rice has long advocated for more widespread use of fortified rice in international food aid, and our efforts have paid off.
Last year, fortified rice accounted for approximately 44,000 metric tons —35% of all rice in U.S. food aid, more than ever before. 2021 looks to be another strong year for rice in food aid, and the increased use of fortified rice is a trend that shows no signs of abating.
3 aid programs
This achievement would not have been possible without the U.S. rice industry’s partnership with three government food aid programs. McGovern-Dole Food for Education, the USDA’s global school feeding program, was the primary purchaser of fortified rice last year — all nine Food for Education projects awarded in 2020 included U.S. rice, and eight of those included fortified rice.
The U.S. Agency for International Development as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food for Progress have also increased the use of rice in their programs.
Last year, 33,720 metric tons of U.S. rice was delivered to Burkina Faso and another 17,000 metric tons to Guinea, West Africa, by Food for Progress, and we expect similar success with the completion of that program in 2021. Although the pandemic has certainly posed a daunting challenge for international food aid, these crucial agencies make sure U.S. rice gets where it’s so desperately needed.
Publicizing rice-based food aid
In fall 2020, USA Rice hosted a webinar titled “Fortified Rice in the COVID-19 Era,” bringing together panelists from U.S. food assistance agencies to discuss the benefits of fortified rice in a pandemic-stricken world. In attendance were food aid representatives, government officials and staff from volunteer organizations.
A cooking demonstration and free samples showcased how fortified rice is practically indiscernible from regular milled rice in terms of taste and texture. It also remains nutritionally rich despite rinsing or soaking, which is common practice in many countries that receive food aid.
“The Rice Stuff” podcast did a deep dive on all three of the major U.S. food aid programs and the challenges they’ve faced during the pandemic. In episode 4, “Food Aid 101,” USA Rice’s food aid consultant Rebecca Bratter explained the ins and outs of how U.S. rice helped address the unprecedented number of current humanitarian crises worldwide. Give it a listen if you want to understand these programs better and get an insider’s perspective.
Rice is the universal language, a staple in almost every regional cuisine, and that’s why it’s so important that the U.S. rice industry provides a safe, nutritious and familiar product to countries worldwide that need it now more than ever. I’m proud to see our crop alleviate famine, malnutrition and food insecurity, and feed the world year after year.