Toward Measuring the Impact of the World Food Program's Purchase for Progress Initiative

December 12, 2008

Is purchasing food aid locally the answer to higher global food prices, to the inefficiencies associated with imported food aid, and to farmers' low incomes? While donors and international organizations have been purchasing food aid in recipient countries for years, the idea got a new boost with the Purchase for Progress (P4P) initiative. The idea is simple: rather than import food aid from the U.S. or Europe, the WFP will purchase food commodities from local farmers to distribute within the same country or region.

In this essay, post-doctoral fellow Jenny C. Aker supports the innovation of the P4P but with some reservations. She questions some of the assumptions of the P4P, namely that farmers do not have access to markets, that establishing a parallel sales mechanism is an effective and sustainable means of increasing farm-gate prices, that such purchases will have a minimal impact on consumers’ prices, and that higher farm-gate prices in the short-term will serve as a sufficient incentive for farmers to increase production in the long-term. She outlines some of the potential unintended negative consequences of the program if not properly monitored, which are of particular concern in Sahelian countries with inelastic supply.

Aker suggests that WFP and its donors measure its impact on a variety of groups in the short-and medium-term, in order to ensure that it is not doing (undue) harm and to identify the conditions under which it will work.

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