food aid

Is there a better alternative to food aid?

Picture yourself in a grocery store in Pakistan. You come across two piles of flour sacks. One pile contains higher priced flour. The other pile contains lower priced flour. Both piles hold the same nutritional value, but one is labeled domestically grown and is slightly more expensive than the other, which is labeled “USAID: Not Intended for Sale.”

You scratch your head in confusion, wondering why the store would sell food that was meant to aid hungry people, but the USAID label does not stop the storeowners from illegally selling them to the middle class, and neither does it stop most of the middle class from buying it. So you grab the cheaper bags of flour and head to check out.

When you step out of the grocery store, poor people begging for food or money immediately surround you. Your curiosity strikes again and you ask them why they don’t work instead of begging. They reply that they used to be farmers, but they were unable to sell their harvest in the market. They were forced to sell their land and swarm to cities for employment, which they could never find. As you drive away, you look at their starving bodies and depressed faces becoming smaller, thinking about who or what is responsible for this. Like many people today, little did you know that the answer was resting in the trunk of your car. This story is a real life scenario my mother and I would always experience while getting groceries in Pakistan when I was a child.

How can food aid be harmful?

The US is the world’s greatest donor of food to developing countries. In the past five years, the US has provided food aid worth more than 8 billion dollars through the World Food Programme. Although the US is giving all this food aid to fight hunger, in reality, it has the opposite effect. A major problem with food aid is that it is not freely distributed to the starving population it is meant for. A web of corrupt officials get their hands on it first, and then they sell it to the masses. In Somalia, half of the food aid did not directly reach the millions of mouths it was intended to feed. Instead, it filled the pockets of corrupt distributors, UN staff members, and terrorists. If aid to foreign countries is used to fill the pockets of such corrupt people, what is the point of giving foreign aid at all?

Furthermore, food aid is responsible for wrecking the food markets in the recipient countries.  If millions of tons of subsidized wheat from the US flood African markets, who is going to buy the more expensive crops grown by poor and uneducated African farmers? And when African farmers are unable to compete in the market, they are ousted, causing them to starve. This horrifying cycle has stunted African economic growth. Today there are three times more people affected by famine in Malawi than there were 25 years ago. In 1970, one in ten poor citizens in the world lived in Africa; by 2000, the number was closer to one in two. It is obvious that food aid is not helping.

We are giving food aid to developing countries so that they never develop. So they never become independent and rise up. So they remain what they are today. There is a simple solution to this problem, as stated by President Barack Obama, “Foreign Assistance is not an end in itself. The purpose of aid must be to create the conditions where it is no longer needed.”

So can such conditions be created in Africa? Yes, of course! Many of us have this common misconception that Africa is nothing but a desert. Nothing can grow in that wasteland. That is false. Africa has around 1.5 billion acres of uncultivated arable land, which is around 60 percent of the global total. It has thousands of miles of coastline, which gives access to oceans and seas copiously filled with fish. Without a doubt, Africa has the potential to become a rich continent. The only thing standing in its way is food aid.

Is there a better alternative to food aid?

There is a common saying that if you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day; however, if you teach a man how to fish, he will eat for a lifetime. Food aid programs are figuratively giving fish to millions of starving people. Instead of helping the developing countries to stand up on their own feet, food aid is crippling them.

The millions of dollars spent on food aid should instead be spent on other programs in developing countries. Programs that would spark a green revolution. We should teach them how to farm efficiently, provide them with infrastructure and machinery to carry out agriculture, and purchase the food they grow so their farmers can live by earning.

Some NGOs are already taking the lead. For example, AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) currently operates in eighteen developing countries. AGRA helps smallholder farmers support themselves and their communities by giving them access to heartier seeds, more effective tools and farm management practices, locally relevant knowledge, emerging digital technologies, and reliable markets.

Such development projects are far more effective than food aid, and if the US begins funding such projects, starvation can be vanquished once and for all.

When we think about the food aid the US is currently giving to developing countries, we have good thoughts. We like to picture planes dropping hundreds of packages of wheat over impoverished villages. We like to imagine mothers feeding their starving children with food supplied to them by aid from developed countries. We like to envision millions of poor people around the globe thanking us for our help. The sad reality is that none of this is actually happening.

It is time we open our eyes and see what is going on in the rest of the world.

These millions of people who are punished due to food aid are more than just numbers or statistics. They are actual people and they need our help. We tried to help them in the past, but we have failed, and we are failing right now. During the few minutes it took you to read this article, the US has provided around $25,000 of food aid. By tonight, it would have spent $4 million. We are spending money for the right cause but not in the right way. Now if we just make sure all this money is spent correctly, we can truly help heal the world.

Muhammad Tauseef Nadeem is a Yale Young Global Scholar 2016. Originally from Pakistan, he moved to the United States when he was a high school sophomore. He is devoted to journalism and is an editor of...

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