Thursday, November 25, 2010


"Food Aid" programs sponsored by many rich countries are intended to prevent starvation amongst the population in the aid receiving countries. While committing the quantum of aid the donors invariably insist on supplying food grains from their granaries through high cost delivery channels and there is a disconnect between the value of food supplied and number of beneficiaries actually covered. Surplus food grains stored as a part of the food security system for long time find their way to poor countries with suspect quality too. In a critical appraisal of the impact of such high "visibility" aid programs, some critics have pointed out the inherent inequality and adverse consequences brought about by such supposedly "humanitarian" services of donor countries.

Once the food finally arrives, it floods agricultural markets, destabilizing fragile local economies. Small farmers are the first to go bankrupt. Most of them are women like Khalida, who work small plots of land hoping to sell enough at market to buy cooking oil, flour, a bar of soap and a pair of shoes so a child can stay in school. These women are more than the backbones of their families: they grow most of Africa's food. Unlike giant grain corporations, these women farm without fossil fuels and harmful chemicals. Their sustainable agriculture practices are critical to meeting the twin challenges of feeding people and protecting the planet. Khalida and millions of other small-scale women farmers are the people we want to support with our food aid programs. Instead, the policy undermines the livelihoods of those who hold the key to long-term food security in Africa. Fortunately, there is a straightforward solution: the U.S. should buy food aid crops directly from local farmers in Africa. When the U.N. World Food Program did this, they were able to obtain 75 percent more corn to feed hungry families than when they purchased grain from factory farms in the U.S. Buying specifically from women farmers has an enormous added benefit. Studies consistently show that when poor women gain access to money, they use it to provide food, healthcare and education for their children. Now is the perfect time to push for this innovative solution and Sudan is the best place to start. Here are three reasons why:

It was not long ago that some senior American policy makers, while making tall declarations about economic aid to Africa, suggested that the poor farmers in this part of the world must use the GM technology for increased production! They further wanted them to procure the required inputs from that country, little realizing the logistical and practical difficulties inherent in such proposals. The bottom line is that more benefits must flow to the donor through such aid programs while they are least concerned about the benefits that can flow to the receiver! Similarly sending grains from the donor country brings about unintended negative consequences as detailed in the critical analysis cited above. The suggestion to transfer the aid money directly to the recipient country is an eminent one deserving consideration.


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