Academic journal article International Journal on World Peace

The Paradox of United States Food Aid and the Challenge to Realist Theory

Academic journal article International Journal on World Peace

The Paradox of United States Food Aid and the Challenge to Realist Theory

Article excerpt


The United States is the world's largest provider of food aid to the developing world. The United States gave $2.3 billion in food assistance and another $300 million in agricultural assistance to the poorest countries in 2010 (USAID Greenbook). This food aid is the result of Public Law (PL) 480, which was created in 1954 to give United States farmers an outlet for their surpluses. Later to be called Food for Peace in 1959, PL 480 was a major effort to subsidize United States farmers and stabilize domestic food prices, while being lauded publicly as a policy to help the world's poor and hungry (Baldwin 1966: 200-215; Ruttan 1996; Diven 2001 and 2006; Clapp and Fuchs 2009: 127-128). United States food aid was directed largely at friends and allies during the Cold War but became part of a major international effort in the post-Cold War era to help the world's most needy countries. Today, approximately one billion people are defined as hungry, or lacking food security, which means that they eat less than 2,100 calories per day (FAO online; Peacock 2012: 5; USAID online).

This article examines the motivations and impact of United States food aid. Scholars have yet to determine the primary reason for food aid, especially at the present time. Moreover, scholars have not connected food aid with population growth. Over the last several decades, billions of people have been added to the global population and much of this increase has occurred in the most food-scarce countries that receive United States food assistance. Is United States food aid contributing to or facilitating in any way this massive population growth? The article attempts to answer this critical question. Furthermore, the article's research investigates the recipients' agricultural production sector and seeks to confirm the findings of previous studies on the effects of foreign food aid, adding new and more extensive data to test for impact.

Overall, this article argues that three separate tests need to be carried out together in one investigation in order to determine the full picture of United States food aid and its causes and consequences. Donor motivation, population growth, and agricultural production are the three most important factors in the equation, and three issues need to be brought together in one project. This article, furthermore, stresses the need to relate food aid with recipients' socio-economic growth and political stability. It contends that population growth should be watched closely in terms of national security concerns and the actual causes. This, surprisingly, has been lacking in past policies, and scholars, especially realist theorists, have not recognized the importance of this issue.

This paper declares that United States food policy needs major adjustments to improve results and reduce inordinate population increases and, possibly, the subsequent threats to the well-being and survival of friends and allies. This population growth, in effect, has undermined the recipients' abilities to feed themselves and, thus, threatens the stability and possible existence of the recipient governments in the long term. It also has led to a tremendous depletion or strain on natural resources and government allocations, especially fresh water, in many recipient countries, which may lead to future conflict and instability. In the end, this article demonstrates that United States food aid is motivated primarily by domestic institutional interests and is distributed only partly according to humanitarian concerns, all the while helping to facilitate recipient population growth and undermining recipient agricultural production.


When applying food aid to a theoretical framework, this article investigates whether domestic institutional interests have been a significant factor in United States food aid policy. In a broader theoretical debate, scholars have asked and tried to prove whether institutions matter (March and Olsen 1984; Moc 1989; Diven 2001 and 2006; Clapp and Fuchs 2009). …

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