Most of us have had some experience with food aid.
Locally, many communities have food banks that regularly appeal for contributions. This aid stays here to
feed the less fortunate in our own community. On an
international level, we are asked to contribute toward
disaster relief, whether it is the devastation caused by
a hurricane or earthquake or the longer term food deficiencies attributed to drought. While few people would
question the need for this type of assistance, it has not
always been effective. One problem has been the length
of time it has taken for this aid to reach those in need.
For example, much of the grain promised by the EEC
for African famine relief in 1984 did not reach its destination until 1985. Despite these shortcomings, there
is little question that such aid is an important factor in
areas that have been devastated by a natural disaster.
Our assumption, however, is that the emergency is temporary and that once it is met, aid is no longer necessary.
There is also long-term food aid that is either given
or sold below cost by the DCs or is donated by international organizations. While it is difficult to be critical
of this aid, there is concern that it is not always beneficial. For instance:
Food aid can undermine local agriculture by keeping food prices below the cost of production. This can seriously reduce the amount of food grown locally. Every means possible must be found to increase the local output of food so that rural communities are able to grow enough to provide for their own people.
Food aid is not always sent to those countries in greatest need. In 1985-86, for example, Egypt received more than half the total cereal aid sent to Africa. In 1983 six out of the ten top recipients of US food aid were net exporters of agricultural commodities.
Food aid often does not get to the people in the greatest need. Most food aid is given to governments and how it is distributed depends largely on the policies of the recipient country. In some instances it is sold and the money is used to finance the government; in other cases it goes to the military or to those who can afford to buy it. Still more food aid is wasted or spoiled because of poor distribution systems.
Food aid is often tied to political conditions. In the 1974 famine, the US withdrew its food aid from Bangladesh to try to "persuade" that country not to trade with Cuba. Certainly aid is given by many DCs to keep a sympathetic government in power or to maintain good relations with the recipient countries. Food aid is also a means used by the DCs to get rid of their agricultural surpluses. Sold at low prices or on special terms, it is intended to develop markets in the LDCs and to create a dependence on food imports.
Aid has a tendency to perpetuate the existing political and social structures in a country, structures that often helped to create the need for aid in the first place. For example, why should the large landowners agree to land reform if the peasants who work for them as wage labourers or sharecroppers are supported by food aid? Would a government feel any urgency to help the poor if they could depend on a steady supply of food handouts from aid organizations and DC governments? Some countries find it cheaper to rely on food aid and as a result little effort is made to improve local agriculture.
But in spite of the difficulties it presents, we can't
ignore the importance of food aid. It has saved countless lives as well as created an awareness in the DCs of
the problem of world hunger. But we must learn to use
this aid more constructively. It must be redirected so
that it doesn't support the production of cash crops for
export or help to maintain a privileged class whose
increasing control over the land is part of the problem.
Nor should aid help agribusinesses to penetrate the
food economies of the LDCs. It should go to countries
where steps have begun to democratize control over
agricultural resources (beginning with access to land)
and where the emphasis is on changing from an agricultural economy of large estates producing crops for
export to one that stresses self-reliance. Aid should go
to those countries who have established through specific actions that their primary goal is meeting the food
needs of their own people.
One method that has been used successfully by some relief organizations is the triangular transaction. Money, not food, is sent to the area suffering from food shortages. Here it is used to buy food surpluses from neighbouring countries. For example, between 1981 and 1983 the FAO and the UN World Food Program bought 400 000 t of white corn from Zimbabwe (which produces more corn than it needs) for distribution to other African countries. There are a number of advantages to such a system. the primary one being that it encourages food production in the LDCs.
Answer the two questions below and send them via E-mail .
1) Outline the reasons why food aid is not always beneficial.
2) Most Western societies accept the right of private ownership of land as the norm. Land, like anything else, is a commodity to be bought by and sold to the highest bidder. However, private ownership of property is a fairly recent phenomenon. The Native peoples of North America, for example, knew nothing of private ownership until the Europeans began to take their land away from them. They soon discovered that control over land is power because it means control over food and other resources. Losing control over land means becoming dependent on those who have taken control. Large areas of land in the LDCs, are owned or controlled by large corporations and wealthy individuals, and their holdings are expanding. The people who are dispossessed of their land in the process have no alternative but to seek employment as wage labourers. But since there are so many people in this predicament and so few jobs, there are few opportunities for them to earn an adequate living. In most LDCs, this is a primary cause of poverty.
The following questions are difficult and controversial. Discuss each one in terms of the problem of producing sufficient food to meet the needs of all people living in the LDCs.
(a) If we generally accept that everyone should have access to air and water, why shouldn't the same concept apply to land or the food it produces?
(b) If the right to private property is a basic human right, how do we reconcile this with the fact that in exercising this right with respect to land, certain individuals and corporations are taking it away from others and that for many this could eventually be the difference between life and death?
Send your answers by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please make sure you give a title to your answers (ie. Answers to Food Aid) and sign your name.
Text material taken from "The Global Challenge" Stanford Quentin, Oxford University Press 1990 (pages 186-189)
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