The NYTimes has an article about US Food Aid.

The dirty little secret is that although Bill Clinton felt Africa’s pain, it is Bush who is expanding US help for Africa (an area that is traditionally within European’s sphere of influence).The article discusses the problems of food aid. The US is the largest supplier of this food, and it is often given out via NGO’s including church NGO’s who work with famine relief.

Usually the US sends food grown in the US as food. This makes sense, since in famines the local food is often unavailable. However, since most modern day famines in Africa are partially “man made”, often there is local food available, but too expensive for the poor.

The advantage of sending US food is that Congress, who sees their farmers able to sell surplus crops, tens to support the program.

The disadvantage is that a lot of this food ends up on the black market, and by underpricing local food crops, end up bankrupting small farmers. But if you buy locally, you encourage the high prices and local farmers make money on the scarce food items. But in localized famines, or where refugees need to be fed (i.e. artificial famines) this would be cheaper and faster than sending US food there.

Of course, like any other direct funding, there is a danger the money will be diverted into the politicians’ pockets, but that is another problem that is not easy to solve.

The need is to allow farming to support families in comfort.

Pope John XXIII, a farmer’s son, once quipped that there were three ways that men could become bankrupt: Gambling, women, or farming, and that his father chose number three.

The problem remains the same today, and not just with food aid,but with policies that actually undermine the ability of third world farmers to become prosperous.
Here in the Philippines, our local farms, which are near enough to Manila to make growing vegetables a lucrative alternative to rice, we now see cheap imported vegetables from China (which is artifically subsidized by an undervalued currancy) and from Europe (which is subsidized by the EU policies). Local farmers cannot make a good profit, so their children tend to prefer to work overseas instead of staying home in a “dead end” agricultural job, even though thanks to land reform they own their own land.

Yet for Africa, European “green” politics i.e. the idea that one only should eat food grown locally, is endangering the African farmers who have finally managed to overcome the “hygiene” barriers against their foods, and now find that many groceries refuse to stock the foods since they are “imported”.

Being a physician, I just note these things for readers to ponder.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines. She writes on African problems in MugabeMakaipa Blog

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