Food and Faith is a blog of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
No, I’m not about to give a review of the popular teen novel recently turned movie although the themes presented in the novel have a scary reality. I’m talking about the real life hunger game being played by those in power under the good deed facade that plays at heart strings but in reality disempowers many. You know the game, the one where the powers that be portray themselves as the do-gooders helping those in “need” but in reality are capitalizing on the misfortunes of others. Unfortunately, this happens all too often but most specifically I’m talking about a thing call food-aid.
The U.S. food-aid program while founded on good principles has spun into a money making business and a way to get rid of agricultural surplus. Food-aid was originally intended to alleviate hunger and clothing issues faced by European victims of war after WWI. The concept is brought to light in an excerpt from the book, “Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty” by Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman. The excerpt is focused on Food-Aid in Ethiopia, “Who’s Aiding Whom?” An online copy can be found here.
The following quote from the article puts things into perspective: “Following the 1984 famine, Ethiopia routinely had been the largest annual recipient of emergency food aid in sub-Saharan Africa. U.S. food-aid alone was running at more than $250 million a year leading up to 2003. As the volume of this emergency food aid expanded, the amount of longer-term aid to help develop Ethiopian agriculture and avert future famines contracted. In 2003, U.S. emergency food aid jumped to more than $500 million, compared to less than $5 million spent on agricultural development projects. And when that food aid came streaming in while Ethiopian farmers couldn't sell their surplus from the year earlier, a dark cynicism spread across the land: Maybe food aid was not meant to solve the hunger problem but perpetuate it.”
We are inundated with images of the starving poor in third world countries and led to believe that without our help they would starve when in reality are we the ones starving them? By dropping off loads of hunger-relief items it depletes the current market for local growers and producers and therefore creates further dependence on outside food sources. “… many Ethiopians had become so food-aid dependent, waiting in line for hours once a month to get their white bags emblazoned with the American logos rather than working to feed their families themselves. They consider it their right to get food aid.” I can’t help but to compare this image to the all too close to home reality of those standing in line waiting with the same dependency at the food bank.
I can’t help but to assume that people are making money off of this thing they call hunger relief and the following quote from Oxfam doesn't seem to ease my mind “Right now, fifty-three cents out of every dollar we spend on basic grains for food aid ends up in the pockets of middlemen as a result of red tape and regulations. These regulations protect special interests, at the expense of hungry people, and waste up to $471 million in US tax dollars each year.”
Don’t get me wrong I’m not bashing the food-aid program in its entirety; in fact I think it can be an effective program if utilized properly. Food aid just needs some serious reform. Instead of paying extra money to ship our products, which can take as many as four to six months, why don’t we first invest in local farmers who are producing the same kinds of crops? Why are we not spending more money to educate local farmers on sustainable agriculture practices which will help prevent future famines? Last time I checked the word “aid” meant to help, assist, AND support. What better way to support than to invest in local farmers where it is needed most and provide aid that can really last?