Helping to Get Food Relief into Hungry Mouths with the End of the Cold War, More Countries Are Requiring Food Aid. the Past Head of the World Food Programme Reflects on Aid Priorities

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JAMES INGRAM, the executive director of the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP), left the post this month after 10 years. The WFP, with a staff of about 1,600, funds $3 billion of development projects in nearly 100 countries and handles more than a quarter of the world's food aid. He was interviewed at WFP headquarters here. Excerpts follow:

What are the most important lessons that you've learned as head of the WFP?

There has grown up a certain dependency on aid ... in both the donor community and the recipients. I think that too much of it is ill-directed.

I'm not talking now about the failure of policies and so on in developing countries. I'm talking about the misdirection on the part of the developed countries of so much of their aid.

I don't agree very much with the new conditionality which is being applied. That doesn't mean that I believe one should give aid when it's manifestly ill-used. But I think it's better not to give aid in bad situations than to be always trying to establish conditions.

Some of our development projects - our soil conservation, tree planting, and so on - {are} very much "in" at the present time; but we've been doing it for 20 years.

You've said that creative food aid can be used as a development tool rather than simply as a charitable act.

It works by paying people with food. If people are poor, they attach considerable value to using an additional dollar to purchase food. You could pay them in cash. And for every dollar they get, they'll spend 80 cents on food. You can therefore pay them in food, and if it's an appropriate food, you are serving the same interest ... you're generating employment.

I mentioned our soil conservation and tree planting, our flood-control projects, our land-development projects. You can create good assets with that labor. What is disappointing, though, is that in such projects we have found it difficult to get sufficient resources from other donors to pay for the complementary inputs, and they can of course be quite large.

You also feel it is important that third-world governments themselves see that they can use aid for development and not just as a handout.

That's not always easy to do. …