Food aid does not address the underlying cause of world hunger

In a recent Huffington Post article, Drew Barrymore urged readers to give to the World Food Program to help end world hunger. I understand Drew’s concern and desire to help, it is what drives so much of international aid. However, food aid alone will not end world hunger, and food aid should be done carefully so that it does not harm the local economy – see my related post.

The best way to solve world hunger is to address the root cause of the food crisis

There are many factors that can cause a food crisis. Addressing these problems will provide longer term solutions to world hunger.

Is the food crisis caused by unemployment?

A food crisis can be caused by high unemployment. There could be food at the marketplace, but people are going hungry because they cannot afford to buy it. Imagine if the US’s economic situation were to worsen and unemployment increased dramatically. Would the best solution to a potential food crisis be for an aid agency ship food in? US farmers, cattlemen, and grocery stores would strongly disagree.

A better solution might be to develop a voucher system – food stamps – that would allow villagers to buy food locally. This puts money into the economy and keeps the farmers, grocers, and cattlemen from loosing their livelihoods.

Is the food crisis caused by the inability to get food to the marketplace?

When roads are damaged by conflict, natural disaster, or lack of maintenance, it can be too difficult or even impossible to get the food to market. Imagine if a disaster were to hit New York City and the bridges and ports connecting it to the mainland were destroyed. Would the best solution be for an aid agency to ship in food from Canada?

A better solution might be assisting the government or the local people to repair the roads, bridges, and ports needed to transport food.

Is the food crisis caused by high transportation costs?

A food crisis could be caused if the price of gasoline eats away any profit the farmers might have made by shipping food to market. In Thailand filling up a compact car costs 1/5 of a laborers monthly wages.  Imagine if gas prices in the US rose to $12/gallon, how would that affect food transportation. If the price of gasoline in the US rose so high that it was cost prohibitive for farmers to ship food into our urban centers would the best solution be for an aid agency to pay to ship food in from Mexico?

Better solutions might be subsidizing gas, helping farmers purchase vehicles that run on natural gas, or building more train lines.

Is the food crisis a political problem?

Suppose that the dollar fell so low against the Euro that US agribusinesses shipped most of their food to Europe because they could make more money there than selling it domestically. Would the best solution to the ensuing food crisis be for an aid agency to buy food internationally and ship it to the US?

Many food problems are caused because local farmers are forced off of their land and into city slums by agribusiness or other forms of development. If these root problems are not addressed there will be a continued food crisis.

Factors causing world hunger vary, a single solution is not the answer

Factors that cause world hunger are varied, and rarely are related to a lack of available food. Giving food aid does not address the underlying cause of hunger and is not sustainable over time.

Before donating to an aid agency that provides food aid, request answers to some critical questions:

  1. What is the root cause of the food crisis?
  2. Is there food available within that country or in neighboring countries?
  3. Where is the majority of the food purchased?
  4. What impact will food aid have on the local economy?
  5. What efforts are being made in conjunction with the feeding program to address the underlying causes?

Once you have answers to those questions put yourself in the villagers shoes. If this were to happen in the US, is that the solution you would want?