Food Fight

By Gayle, Helene D.; Werker, Eric | Foreign Policy, January-February 2009 | Go to article overview

Food Fight


Gayle, Helene D., Werker, Eric, Foreign Policy


Eric Werker ("Power to the People," November/December 2008) accuses aid agencies of adopting a paternalistic approach that includes "dumping" imported food in poor countries. He is firing at the wrong target. In fact, a number of humanitarian organizations object to this very practice. CARE, for example, decided to abandon certain food-aid strategies because they were doing more harm than good. What Werker should demand is a change in government policy. That's what we're working for.

By law, most U.S. food aid to poor countries must be in the form of U.S.-grown food that's shipped overseas on U.S.-flagged carriers and then directly distributed or sold to generate funds for other development work. Approximately 65 percent of the expense goes toward transportation and administration. This outdated and inefficient system is more beneficial to agribusiness and the shipping industry than to the pool--or to the American taxpayer.

The generosity of the U.S. government and its citizens would be far better served if more food aid came in the form of cash. That would give humanitarian agencies the flexibility to respond in the most efficient and appropriate way to each situation.

Sometimes the best way to help involves buying food supplies locally or regionally, which stimulates production within developing countries. Werker favors vouchers that poor people can exchange for whatever assistance they need most. Vouchers can be a powerful tool, one that CARE uses whenever possible and appropriate. But we can't make them materialize from nothing. …

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