Food aid is never the answer to famine

For this essay I am going to be using primary data which will be collected from a range of resources. I hope to find more out about famine in other countries and cultures, how this problem can be improved and also how I can help.

When people think of famine they often think that the answer to this is to send food aid. We sometimes feel guilty about when we see others suffering on the television, such as on red nose day, and our response is to send a few quid through the post which makes us feel less guilty for a while so we forget the situation. But the situation doesn’t end for the people in these countries that are suffering, especially when the aid sent isn’t used in a way that is most beneficial for them and their future.

There are a number of issues at hand which are the cause of famine, and as I hope to prove, it isn’t just the country which has the problem whose fault it is.

Famine is a very complex issue with countries suffering in a number of ways, but basically famine may be seen as the regional failure of food production or distribution systems, this can then lead to an increase in mortality and other famine related diseases. Food aid on the other hand is what hopefully solves this issue, at least in the short term. Organisations ranging from Oxfam which is a charity, to political organisations such as the UN provide food aid for these countries. This can also include grants for the human consumption of food.

The Food Agriculture Organisation stated in 1986 that ‘there is sufficient food grown in the world to feed everyone- the problem is its uneven distribution and its increasing cost to buy and transport.’

At the time therefore no-one in the world should starve if there is enough food to go round. Though as I will soon explain, this is not so much the case now due to other factors, but it does suggest that if the world pulled together then the problem won’t be as significant as it is now.

Many of the countries which have or are suffering from famine are in close proximity to each other or most in the same continent. This would suggest a pattern and therefore a reason why certain countries are suffering. One country which has suffered a lot in the past and is currently suffering is Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is situated on the east coast of Africa and has an estimated population of just over 58,000,000 and has a GNP (gross national product) of only $100 per capital. The north-east and south-eastern parts of Ethiopia are deserts. Ethiopia suffers from droughts which makes growing crops almost impossible at certain times. Having part of their land in a desert illustrates just how difficult it is for them to wield crops. If Ethiopia cannot grow crops it brings exports to a halt, as the majority of their exports come from crops, but most importantly the countries people cannot be fed. If the government does not receive money through trade it cannot recycle this money back into the country, such as healthcare and infrastructure which will help improve the country.

Ethiopia has a debt of around $10,000 million. This is impossible for them to pay back, as they have no way of making money. This debt needs to be wiped out, as it has no way of paying it back. Ethiopia does not improve at a time where it has such a massive debt as all money that would go back into the country is being used on paying a debt which is un-realistic for them to pay.

In 2000 the Ethiopian government requested 821,000 tonnes of food aid. Eritrea is a country to the north-east of Ethiopia. It used to be a part of Ethiopia but now are separate countries, however as could be expected, there were conflicts after the separation. This has hampered many food aid efforts and has serious implications for the distribution of food. In 1984 the western governments were reluctant to send food aid to Ethiopia as it was feared this money would be used for soldiers instead of for civilians, or the money the Ethiopian government would be spending on food would then be spent on weapons as food would now be supplied by the west.

This tells us that food aid can only be the answer to short term famine if there is a participating government who will use the aid appropriately. One of the main problems in 1984 was the distribution of food aid. If food aid is to be fully affective it must e fair so that everyone gets some. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Union (EU) have suggested of improving infrastructure so more people get the aid they need. Food could then be stored correctly and transported to any location in need.

The western governments were criticized for the way in which they handled this crisis, and their reluctance at first to do anything at first. However, there are examples of different methods used by the UN. In 1982 the Turkana nomadic people of Kenya suffered their livestock being wiped out. At first only food aid for them was provided for the people but there was a new scheme introduced which although did not fully help as was hopeful, if this scheme was managed slightly better it would have had more of an affect. This was called ‘food for work’, under this system manual labour is remunerated with set quantities of food on a piece-work basis. The problem was that the system was not properly thought out.

New concepts which were completely new to the nomadic farmers and little effort was made by them as they did not believe that it would help them, they were right. The work set for them did not benefit them. Another problem was that opportunists were taking the work, who weren’t even farmers. Though this wasn’t a major problem it does prove that although well-intentioned, this ‘food for work’ system did not work properly. If it was managed slightly differently then this could have improved the situation for the nomadic people. There was some improvement, but not as expected

I have come to the conclusion that food aid can be the answer to famine but only in the short term. Food aid can provide short term relief for many people, who would otherwise starve and die. So in this instance, if it keeps people alive and with food inside them it is the answer. But where many organisations and the people of the western world make the mistake is that they think that food aid is the answer not just the short term. It is important to stress that food aid is a relief (short term) and not a solution. Food aid does not help the country develop, and so does not solve the problem of famine in the long run.

We can actually make the situation worse than if all that we do is provide food aid. This is because the country relies on us to bail them out in times of need where instead we should be providing long term aid which will benefit the country so that they can develop as a country and become self-reliant. There is a quote by Oxfam that epitomises the need and the importance of long term aid in suffering countries:

‘Give a man a fish, and he can feed himself for just one day. But give him the means to catch his own fish, and he can feed himself and his family for a whole lifetime.’

Though this is a very basic form of long term food aid it does symbolize how if we think of what the country could do with most which will improve the way of life of people in the long run, it means that they don’t have to receive hand-outs anymore.

Food aid also has other bad affects on the country. By handing out food we are destroying the local economy that produces food. People aren’t going to buy food when it is being handed out free by organisations. Although in a way some of the population are benefiting from free food, the farmers suffer as their crop goes to waste. This means that perhaps next year some farmers will no longer be able to grow crops because they have no money from the previous year. The people then starve, typically food aid is sent and the people are fed. Only this time the country is in a worse situation as before they had a market where people could buy food and could also be traded with abroad. As there aren’t as many farmers it means trade reduces and there are less places for people to buy food.

Food aid can also create a demand for exotic foods tot that country, such as rice and wheat. Although to us they aren’t exotic, to countries like Ethiopia this can have a damaging affect on the local market as the demand for foreign imports increases and sales of local goods goes down.

The OECD and the EU has suggested that the way to combat this is to provide cash instead of food aid. The money will then be used to buy food from the locals improving the local economy. This perhaps could mean that by next year better and cheaper crops could be grown, and also trade between other countries could be made. These two organisations suggested this idea for Ethiopia. The country can then prosper in the world market.

However when providing for the long term solutions, if the country is to be improved we must also think of aid that is appropriate for that country. An example of bad food aid is where tractors were sent. This country had no way of improving the situation by using those tractors. Long term aid must therefore be beneficial to the country which will hopefully mean they can stand on their own two feet.

The OECD and the EU have also suggested that the way forward for country who finds it hard to feed all their people is to improve the infrastructure in the country. If effective storage and transport of the crops can be made then this will help the country greatly. This is particularly important for large, land-locked countries such as Ethiopia. It means that all of the population can be feed instead of just the ones near where the food is grown. To tackle this, the decentralisation of where food is produced needs to be made so the food isn’t just grown in one area.

If the poor get poorer then they may never get out of the situation. We must make them realise that it won’t work if the western world has to bail them out all the time, and that the only way that famine is going to be eradicated is if these countries are able to support themselves without too much intervention from other countries.