How can food aid be more effective?

Author:Abbott, Phillip

19 June 2012

If food aid is to be more effective donors need to consider both the goals of the aid, and its economic implications.

In May 2012, shortly before the annual G8 summit, the Obama administration announced the 'New Alliance for Food Security'. The project enlists 45 private companies who are to invest in food production in some of the world's poorest countries.

The availability and affordability of food in developing countries is a constant concern and malnutrition causes the death of around 2.6 million children a year. In the wake of the food crisis of 2007-08 many donors made a renewed commitment to food security. If projects such as the 'New Alliance for Food Security' and interventions by bilateral and multilateral donors are to be successful careful attention must be paid a number of issues surrounding their implementation. In his UNU-WIDER working paper, 'Foreign Assistance and the Food Crisis of 2007-2008', Phillip Abbott addresses this issue of implementation and highlights a number of key problems that policy makers need to keep in mind when designing and administering projects aimed at mitigating the effects of the food crisis.

The goals of food aid

Draft papers published before the May 2012 G8 summit confirmed the groups' commitment to addressing food security and outlined its goals as 'improving agricultural productivity, economic growth, food security and nutritional status'. While these aims are all admirable in their own right, careful attention needs to be paid to cases where these different objectives may conflict.

In the literature on aid it is generally presumed that economic growth is the appropriate measure of development effectiveness of aid. However, as Abbott points out, the goals of food aid are generally humanitarian in nature. Investment in agricultural production may not be optimal in terms of maximizing growth, but it is likely that any growth that does occur as a result of such an investment will be more equitable and lead to a reduction in poverty.

However, if too much attention is given to humanitarian goals the resulting policy reach can be short-term in nature. During the recent food crisis aid for the short-term solutions of providing food transfers and cash safety-nets probably exceeded longer term investment in agricultural production. In fact even investment in agricultural production was short term in nature, focused on importing fertilizer and seeds rather than agricultural research or...

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