Inter Press Service, July 23, 2007
Title: “Mutiny Shakes US Food Aid Industry”
Author: Ellen Massey
Revolution Magazine, October 1, 2007
Title: “Starvation, Aid Agencies and the Benevolence of the Imperialists”
Author: Revolution Cooperative
Student Researchers: Susanna Gibson, Cedric Therene, and Chris Armanino
Faculty Evaluator: Keith Gouveia, JD
In August 2007, one of the biggest and best-known American charity organizations, CARE, announced that it was turning down $45 million a year in food aid from the United States government. CARE claims that the way US aid is structured causes rather than reduces hunger in the countries where it is received. The US budgets $2 billion a year for food aid, which buys US crops to feed populations facing starvation amidst crisis or enduring chronic hunger.
The organization’s announcement prompted argument about the forms and objectives of the aid given by the US and other big powers to third world countries and the role that most charity organizations are playing. The reasoning behind CARE’s decision is part of a years-long debate that has influenced everything from US trade and domestic legislation to the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization talks.
CARE’s 2006 report, “White Paper on Food Aid Policy,” points out that the current food aid program is motivated by profit rather than altruism. The policy, which dictates that donated money be used to purchase food in the home country, results in a program driven by “the export and surplus disposal objectives of the exporting country” and not the needs of people in hunger.
The US policy implements the practice of monetization, a food aid policy in which the US government buys surplus food from American agribusinesses that have already been heavily subsidized, and ships it via US shipping lines (generating transport costs that eat up much of the $2 billion annual food aid provided by the US government) to aid organizations working around the world. The aid organizations then sell the US-grown crops to local populations, at a dramatically reduced cost. The aid organizations use proceeds from these sales to fund their development and anti-poverty programs. But several groups, with CARE at the forefront, have pointed out that this policy has the effect of undermining local farmers and destabilizing the very food production systems that aid organizations are working to strengthen.
A policy that puts local farmers out of commission and undermines agriculture in developing countries becomes part of a process by which those countries lose the means to develop—and thus grow more dependent on the stronger and more dominant nations. These countries become more vulnerable in every sphere, not only economically but politically as well. The result is likely to be more hunger and less sovereignty as countries are tied ever more tightly to the world market.
“We are not against emergency food aid for things like drought and famine,” CARE spokeswoman Alina Labrada said, “but local farmers are being hurt instead of helped by this mechanism.”
The European Union has also been critical of the US food aid program. European countries all but phased out the practice of monetization in the 1990s. Only 10 percent of their budgeted food aid is reserved for crops grown in Europe. Suspicions remain that the US uses monitized food aid programs to avoid limits on its universally contested farm subsidies.
The UN World Food Programme, the largest distributor of food aid in the world, has rejected the practice of monetization and does not allow its grain to be sold by NGOs.
The past two US congressional farm bills presented proposals to shift portions of the food aid budget from grain to cash donations, to be made available for people in need to buy locally grown crops. Both attempts were voted down.