Famine amid plenty

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has at last admitted that food aid can distort local markets, helping to perpetuate the conditions that demand food aid in the first place. But it does not go far enough in addressing the root causes of famines persisting amid plenty.

Food aid is rarely bought locally. The United States, which gives more than half the world’s food aid, buys mostly from its own U.S. farmers. This food aid in kind destroys local markets. During the famine in northern Kenya last year, southern Kenyan farmers could not afford to drive their surplus up north, knowing it would be worthless on arrival.

In 1993, by the time food aid reached Somalia, a food crisis there was over; the recent harvest had been good. But as food aid inundated the market, prices fell by 75 percent, pushing many local farmers into further poverty and hunger.

The FAO says food insecurity, defined as a daily shortfall of 100 to 400 calories, affects 800 million people all the time or frequently. Most are among the 1.2 billion extremely poor, earning the equivalent of $1 a day or less.

This poverty has not been solved by aid (money or food); in fact aid often helps prevent reforms. Only economic growth can lift people out of poverty.

[Excerpt of an article by Luther Tweeten, a professor of economic policy at Ohio State University]

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