Food Aid or Food Sovereignty?

October 18, 2005
Source
IPS - Inter Press Service

By Anuradha Mittal

OAKLAND, Oct 18 2005 (IPS) - International food aid, initiated in 1954, is the most publicised instrument put forward to fight hunger, especially in southern countries, where millions of tons of food are shipped each year. However, geared towards the dumping of cereal surpluses in developing countries, the aid system has promoted the trade and foreign policy interests of the donor countries at the expense of the hungry over the last fifty years, writes Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, a research and educational institute. The opening up of markets, along with food aid in kind, has deluged developing countries with agricultural commodities dumped by developed nations at below the cost of production. This has deepened the agrarian crisis in the developing countries, whose one billion-dollar food trade surplus of the 1970s became an 11 billion-dollar deficit by 2001, converting developing countries into major importers of food while destroying livelihoods of small family farmers. What the hungry really need is an enforcement mechanism that ensures the human right to food. This would require support for national policies that protect the livelihoods of small farmers and increase national food availability. Examples from hunger crises around the world clearly prove that policies that help countries develop their own agricultural sector and strengthen their small-scale farmers actually help feed more people in the long run.

There is another form of hunger that is less visible: the chronic day-in and day-out hunger which affects an estimated 852 million people — and this number is growing at a rate of almost four million per year. This widespread hunger rarely makes the evening news but it is just as deadly. Each year it kills between 30 and 50 million people. Its victims include approximately 6.5 million children each year — one every five seconds. Small farmers, our food producers, make up nearly 50 percent of the world’s hungry population and are often hardest hit.

In November 1996, heads of state from 186 countries gathered in Rome for the World Food Summit and pledged to reduce by half the number of chronically undernourished people (815 million then) by the year 2015. But the current hunger statistics make it obvious that the fight against hunger has yet to show any gains.

International food aid, initiated in 1954, is the most publicized instrument put forward to fight hunger, especially in southern countries, where millions of tons of food are shipped each year. However, geared towards the dumping of cereal surpluses in developing countries, the aid system has promoted the trade and foreign policy interests of the donor countries at the expense of the hungry over the last fifty years.