International Development

Food Aid

A general definition of food aid is that it is the provision of food and related assistance to tackle hunger, either in emergency situations, or to help with deeper, longer term alleviation and achieve food security so that people don’t have to live in hunger or fear of starvation. It flows in the form of food or cash to purchase food in support of food assistance programs. Per the United Nations, there are still over 850 million starving people in the world today, so there is a lot of work still to be done in achieving food security if you believe such is a goal to be desired.

The big donors of food aid are large international institutions that are mainly from the developed countries (i.e. The US, Western Europe, and Canada). Both the US and Canada were the first countries that started providing food aid since the 1950s and had both accounted for over 90% of global food aid until the World Food Program (WFP) joined in the 1970s.

Other noticeable institutions are the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) that are predominantly US-based (i.e. World Vision, CARE and the Catholic Relief Service (CRS)). The European Union (EU) on the other hand is the second largest food aid donator since the 1970s.

Currently, there are three types of food aid and which are:

  1. Program Food Aid: – This is a form of in-kind aid whereby food is grown in the donor country for distribution or sale abroad to countries that are in dire need of food assistance. This is typically a government-to-government transfer. Rather than being free food, recipient countries typically purchase the food with money borrowed at lower than market going rates.
  2. Relief/Emergency Food Aid: -This is typically for emergency situations, such in cases of war, natural disasters, etc. where food is distributed for free and presumably, out of the good will of the donor nations.
  3. Project Food Aid: – This is food aid delivered as part of a particular project related to promoting agricultural or economic development, nutrition and food security, such as food for work and school feeding programs.

Food aid is a noble endeavor at first glance; it shows the best out of humanity. However, there are a few adverse effects of food aid that affect the recipient country quite severely, sometimes severe enough to counter the primary benefits of food aid.


First, the receiving country should be cautious about the acceptance of food-related assistance since it can/is still used as a foreign policy tool. The donor’s support may seem to be out of good intentions but behind these intentions lie national (donor) interests which in first sight aren’t recognizable, and this is one of the significant problems because food aid and famines can be and have been exploited as commercial opportunities. Therefore, as mentioned earlier, recipient countries should be careful because it is/can be used to expand and gain more power (the donor) in these regions where policies are made up to benefit the donor’s needs.

For instance, the dumping of cheap surplus food on developing countries by the donors opens for them new markets so that they can sell their products, which then strengthens their exports. On the other side, it weakens the recipients’ country because money flows out of the country and this encourages the increased consumption of cheap imports resulting in the undermining of local agriculture, thus driving the “non-competitive” farmers out of agriculture and growing food insecurity, hunger, and poverty.

Food aid is provided with the assumption that there is a shortfall in supply, which is a myth – rather the truth is that people starve because they cannot access food, because it is too expensive, or they have too little money than is needed.

Cut food aid, since it is not benign anyway, if you need to bring about food security (for African countries), then eradicate subsidies in the US and Europe – any economist would tell you that, well let’s hope so.

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