Monday, 1 September 2014


“As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: Take it or leave it.” - Buddy Hackett

For many years I was naïve enough to believe that providing Food Aid to nations that were impoverished and had large malnourished populations, was a noble and worthy cause. I know that one sixth of humanity goes to bed hungry at night, even in non-famine, non-emergency situations. I would try to do my little bit to help and donated money so that food from our surplus could be dispatched to these people. The situation in some of these developing countries has now become a chronic dependence on the rich, developed nations of Europe, America and Australasia for continuing handouts of food. This has led to a culture of “food dumping” by the multinational agricultural companies.

Let me differentiate immediately between emergency famine relief and the term “food dumping”. The former is a humanitarian action designed to provide food quickly in order to save lives in the short term – the latter is a calculated, long-term provision of food to a third-world country, such that its own agriculture and self-sufficiency is stifled.  The USA is one of the world’s largest “dumpers” (60%, in fact!) with wheat, maize, soybean, rice and cotton being the major crops dumped. The dumping of the surplus agricultural production for free (or at a very low price) to poorer nations means that the farmers from such countries cannot compete and are driven out of jobs, further slanting the “market share” to the favour of the larger producers such as the US and Europe. A clear-cut case of commercial opportunism lies at the heart of the matter.

The other concern is that food aid to the poorer nations is contaminated with genetically modified foods. No controls exist for this and a person living in Africa on the poverty line is unlikely to request a genetic analysis of the food they have been given free to feed their starving family. These poor people of course, may have the option to buy locally produced food, which in many cases is fully organic. However, the price of this local food is outrageously expensive.

In order to provide a long-term solution, aid must not only provide stimulation of local food production but also provide the support needed for the local economy to develop and help people to get out of the slough of poverty they live in. Canada, a large provider of food aid, has decided to use half its food aid budget to provide buy food locally in developing countries, rather than dump its own. This encourages local economies, rather than destroy them. Needless to say that my food aid dollar now goes towards initiatives that provide help to agricultural and industrial initiatives, rather than “food dumping”.

And some more sobering facts on poverty:
• Half the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day.
• The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined.
• Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
• Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.
• 1 billion children live in poverty (1 in 2 children in the world). 640 million live without adequate shelter, 400 million have no access to safe water, 270 million have no access to health services. 10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (or roughly 29,000 children per day).

How can I help?
United Nations World Food Programme

The image is: Kathe Kollwitz’s – "Poverty" (1893-94); Etching and drypoint - Statliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

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