Hunger, Crisis and Business: The Perfect Storm of Food Aid

Food First | 07.01.2008

At the June 1-4, 2008 FAO Food Security Summit in Rome, representatives of 181 countries reaffirmed their commitment to food security goals from previous summits held in 1996 and “Five Years Later.” Delegates voiced concern about the lack of progress toward the UN Millennium Development Goals. That’s it for the good news.

Originally, this Summit planned to tackle agrofuels, climate change and food security. However, due to the explosive inflation of food prices—and the United States’ and Brazil’s refusal to allow any criticism of agrofuels—the FAO was forced to adopt a narrow focus on the food crisis that currently plagues one fifth of humanity. In fact, in 2007—on the eve of the food rebellions in Haiti, Mauritania, Indonesia, Egypt, and other countries— food aid had reached an all time low of 5.9 million tonnes.1 Something had to be done.

Unfortunately for the poor and hungry in the world, the Rome Summit was a failure. The government representatives the World Bank, elements of the FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Program all ignored the structural causes of the current food crisis, and the fact that—according to the FAO—we already have 1.5 times the food necessary to feed everyone in the world. They ignored the results of the recent International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which promotes the re-allocation of agriculture to small-holder farmers and peasants and warns that neither the agro-industrial complex nor biotechnologies will solve the food crisis. They ignored the protests of 100 civil organizations from 50 countries that met at the same time in Rome under the motto “Terra Preta” (Black Earth) to demand food sovereignty as a human right.2 Consequently, the batch of recycled recipes offered as “solutions” to the crisis were very simple: more Green Revolutions, more trade liberalization…and more food aid. Perversely, these are the same measures that created the broken global food system in the first place.

The Rome Summit mustered U.S. $12 billion in new commitments to manage the current crisis3 falling far short of the $30 billion solicited by Jaques Diouf, General Director of the FAO, who emphasized the need to reconstruct agriculture in the Global South.4 Without going into the specifics of the FAO’s request, it is striking that even in the midst of this crisis, agricultural assistance is a miserable fraction of what is needed. However, even before the Summit, the World Food Program (WFP) easily managed to raise the $755 million for emergency food aid that it requested from the international community. Even though the WFP is still short half its annual budget of $4.5 billion, it has had more luck getting funds for emergency food aid than Director Jaques Diouf has had in his campaign to reconstruct agriculture.

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How do we explain the ease with which Northern governments support emergency food aid programs, but resist supporting agriculture?

Also in this issue of News & Views:

  • Mud Cookie Economics in Haiti