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Stretching Aid Dollars

THESE aren't easy times to be rounding up funding for an obscure foreign-aid program. Still, the International Fund for Agricultural Development is doing its best.

A critical $30 million of the funds IFAD would like to gather from various country donors is tied up in the US Agency for International Development (USAID) budget. That budget is under extreme constraints this year, with deep cuts in many areas.

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Few dispute the value of the work done by IFAD, a small branch of the United Nations (260 staffers based in Rome). The agency runs some 33 projects around the globe and has pioneered, among other things, "microcredit" programs for small farmers and sustainable dry-lands agriculture in parts of Africa.

The US share of IFAD funding was originally in the State Department's international-organizations budget, but when that got slashed, it was passed to USAID in hopes of shaking loose the dollars there. Alas, there's not of lot shaking room in USAID's $12.1 billion appropriation (11 percent below '95). As always, almost half of it is earmarked for Egypt and Israel (an enduring legacy of the Camp David agreement) and much of the rest has various other congressional earmarks.

But it has to be hoped that USAID will yet find a way to fulfill the US commitment to a part of the UN that has striven for efficiency and has learned how to do a lot of good with relatively little. That would seem the immediate future direction for most aid agencies (including USAID), and those good at it should be encouraged.

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