Food Aid after Fifty Years: Recasting Its Role

By Flynn, Karen | African Studies Review, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Food Aid after Fifty Years: Recasting Its Role


Flynn, Karen, African Studies Review


Christopher B. Barrett and Daniel G. Maxwell. Food Aid after Fifty Years: Recasting Its Role. London: Routledge, 2005. 314 pp. Illustrations. Glossary. Notes. Bibliography. Index. No price reported. Paper.

Although he died four years before the U.S. Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act initiated the modern era of international food aid, the French sociologist Marcel Mauss (1872-1950) could have foretold one of Barrett and Maxwell's conclusions about the guiding forces behind the first fifty years of the U.S. food-assistance program. On the first page of his classic text The Gift, Mauss asserted that such aid, while "in theory voluntary, disinterested and spontaneous [is] in fact obligatory and interested." While offered in the name of charity and humanitarianism, much of contemporary food aid is self-interested and self-serving not only for U.S. and other international government officials and policymakers in wealthy countries, but also for disparate actors ranging from nonprofit hunger-relief NGOs to profit-seeking agribusinesses and maritime companies.

Not that the inevitable, less-than-honorable motivations behind the provisioning of food assistance detract from the fact that millions of lives have been enhanced or saved. International food assistance-while flawed-is certainly a good thing. Nor does this predictability in any way lessen Barrett and Maxwell's accomplishment. Their book is an excellent read. The eleven chapters of Food Aid after Fifty Years comprehensively explore the history and the future of food assistance with breadth and clarity. The authors also use empirical evidence to disprove thirteen common myths about food aid, including the myth that it is primarily concerned with feeding the hungry (Myth #1), that it is an effective means of supporting U. …

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