Even as Africa Hungers, Policy Slows Food Aid” insists the NYTimes. Ah, so. Another “bashbadbush” article, we presume. But actually, the article is a “Bash big agribusiness and big bad shipping companies” article. And the problem is not Bush’s proposals, but pork barrel politics in Congress.
If you bother to read the entire “MEGO” (my eyes glaze over) article, you find that actually Bush has arranged for the US to supply HIV medicines to these people, and it’s some of the NGO’s, especially the UN World Food Program, is complaining that the US dares to prefer to send US food (thereby helping US farmers) than buying food locally, “from Zambia’s own bountiful harvest, piled in towering stacks in the warehouses of the capital, Lusaka.”

Huh? So all that article that laments poor starving children due to drought ignores that they had a bountiful harvest. So why the hunger? And if there is so much food, why doesn’t Europe or even the local Zambian government buy the food and supply it to the people?

It’s enough to make a man cynical.

Actually, there are quite a few things in the article that have to be weighed and balanced.

One: People are hungry because they are sick and poor. Because of HIV, there are many children without parents, or parents might be too sick to feed them. Often they are cared for by extended family.

Two: One reason that those with HIV are still alive is charities, including big bad Bush’s administration and Big Bad Microsoft’s Bill Gates sending money to fund programs to supply HIV medicine and/or treat the malaria/TB that kills people before HIV can kill them.

Three: People usually only grow enough for themselves. The grain in the silos may or may not be from larger farms, who grow commercially and sell to feed cities. Often grain surplus from small farms is bought by grain merchants.

Four: The article does mention the problem of buying locally: it makes the price of grain goes up, so more poor people can’t afford to buy it. One of the largest “man made” famines in India was caused by the British buying up grain to store in case of a Japanese invasion. Farmers sold the harvested grain at a high price, but those in the city and farmers who had oversold their rice and ran out then couldn’t afford rice and starved.

Five: Importing “cheap” grain often undersells the local market (charity food often ends up sold on the black market), so local farmers go broke. Indeed, one of our local problems here in the Philippines is cheap vegetables from China may make our own farmers go bankrupt. It’s a problem of globalization. But at least, globalization brings in other jobs in a way charities don’t.
So what do you do?

There are no easy answers.

I myself give money to my church missionaries and to Oxfam. I’ve seen their work in Africa and trust that not too much of the money will be stolen or misused.

Here in the Philippines, we are trying to build up our business, and the end result will be jobs and lifting people out of poverty.

And that is the real answer. But the “long term” solution without short term help is a heartless thing.
But in the meanwhile, like the Good Samaritan, we need to feed those who desperately need help. There is no “one” answer. There are only many small hands doing their jobs.

Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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