Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My Munchable Soapbox: On Food Aid

On Friday I mentioned that we would be exploring food aid a bit. If you think about this topic, it's often in regards to a famine or crisis situation. In 2010, nearly 5.5 million metric tons were provided in food aid (a record low), about 14% of total cereal grain production in the U.S. And most of this food goes to a small number of developing countries, primarily in Africa. But let's start with a bit of history.
Well, we can trace the formalized food aid program in this country back to the Agricultural Trade Development Act of 1954. Yes, you read correctly, our humanitarian hunger assistance program began as a way to pawn off our surplus agricultural goods. Don't worry; President Kennedy renamed it "Food for Peace" housed under the infant Agency for International Development (USAID). But that doesn't change the fact that modern food aid really began as a response to the advances in crop production post-WWII, and has addressed the need of the government to offload the extra grain being produced, supported shipping fleets, and propped up addition to alleviating some hunger in developing countries.

Listen to Cornell professor Christopher Barrett give a quick synopsis on the history of food aid.

One of the contentious issues around food aid is in what form it should be given. More specifically, should industrialized nations just be dumping food on hungry countries, or should they (we?) attempt to provide assistance that supports local producers and domestic markets? A recent Guardian article tackled this dilemma, arguing that there is a need to build capacity within a country in order to have a long-term solution to hunger problems. Other arguments I've heard are more cultural in nature - recipients don't like the type of food received and it ends up being sold or used for some other purpose. From my own idealist point of view, it is probably a more effective and efficient use of resources to invest in improving agricultural methods and infrastructure of the ultimate beneficiary.

Ok, standing down from my soapbox. Feel free to weigh in.

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