The Impact of food aid on farmer communities in Mozambique
The Impact of food aid on farmer communities in Mozambique
Introduction: the times that help helped are long gone….
Help thus appears to [ordinary people] as innocent as eve, although it has long since changed its colours and become an instrument of the perfect – that is elegant- exercise of power. The defining chracteristics of elegant power is that it is unrecognizable concealed supremely inconspicuous. Power is truly elegant when, captivated by the delusion of freedom, those subject to it stubbornly deny its existence (Marianne Gronemeyer in The Development Dictionary, 1992).
To be honest, solidarity has its lilmits. In real life when somebody all the time is asking this and that and the other from his neighbour, sooner or later, there are two options or the neighbour will get tired or he will start making demands for ‘favours” from the other.
Starting from this principle one soon perceives that food aid in the context of international cooperation doesn’t fit in the conventional frames of mutual assitence and starts taking on characteristics of domination and imposition of production, consumption and economic patterns.
It is true that the image donor countries convey is that they are ready to give without any condition attached; just helping! But we noticed that in the name of food aid a real “food aid industry” has been created exemplified by the World Food Program. Here it is of interest to mention that in all the existing codes of conducts it is explicitly stated that no food or type of food should be forced upon recipients.
At the same time, poor countries seem to follow the wave of this industry as they don’t seem to tire to make appeals (iin the case of Mozambique annualy) not for development aid but for emergency aid. We could conclude that we are in a permanent emergency. This behaviour contributes to maintaining this industry, as these countries don’t look for alternative local solutions for their problems.
The idea to agree that the present system of food aid is free from interests, is naïve if we look carefully at the effects of food aid.
Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having food enough to eat. It is not the characteristic of there being not enough food to eat (Amartya Sen, 1981).
It is true, for example in times of droughts or flooding, that there is a drop in the availability of food, this is, a reduction of production and food stocks, but in general there is food.
The reduction in the supply of food causes the food prices to rise. They rise so much that they become unavailable for the most vulnerable people. The problem of hunger is simply that certain people don’t have the means to acquire this food. This can happen in regions, within a country or on a global scale.
The problem of hunger is thus explained by the lack of reserves and the lack of adequate distribution mechanisms on the household level as much as on a national level.
When we talk about reserves we mean food stocks, reserves in goods (for example in southern Mozambique cattle has this function) or monetary reserves capable of aliviating the lack of a suficient production.
To encounter solutions for the hunger problem we have to ask ouselves why are there no reserves on the household level as well as on the State level?
And a second question is, why, when there is surplus food, are there not being organized efficient distribution mechanisms?
In the case of Mozambique we can come up with at least 4 explanations:
q The effects of the war (the number of cattle is still not on pre-war levels, traders are decapitalised and have problems buying all the surplus produce available)
q The lack of a rural credit and saving system.
q Low prices for agricultural produce (low prices demotivates to produce large quantities, but also deprives the farmer from the possibility to gain enough to have some savings)
q The lack of a coherent government policy in the area of food security (for example issues like infrastructure, taxing system among others).
Besides these explanations, we also observe that on an international level the injustices of the international trade system do not help to get out of this situation; the profits which multinational companies make in international trade are horendously superior to food aid and development aid and don’t compensate the losses of poor countries resulting from the international trade rules.
The experiences in Mozambique with food aid
In Mozambique on the average there is suficient food production to feed the whole country. Therfore food crises are not caused by a lack of food but by distributional problems. The backbone of this production is the family farming sector, which produces about 90% of the agricultural production in the country. Therfore whatever measure to improve food security (i.e. to prevent food crises) has to mainly target this sector.
UNAC did a study on the impact of food aid provided in 2002 to Southern Africa . The idea for the study came from the bad experiences in previous years. Our fears were confirmed by the facts encountered in the field. The issue is not necessarily the direct effects of the food aid but the “side effects” of this aid.
The programme of emergency aid to Malawi supplied excessive quantities of maize to Malawi. Malawi received 300 thousend tons of maize, while the estimated need was 250 thousand tons. This estimated quantity in itself was already quite high as is shown by Malawi wanting to export 100 thousand tons the next year (2003) while local maize production had a deficit of 38 thousand tons of maize.
The impact of this aid in the rural areas was the following:
1. The destruction of the maize market for the producers in 2003. Prices started to come down in January while in “normal” years prices would only go down from April onwards. At the same time traders didn’t manage to sell their stocks, so they still had considerable stocks which inits turn tied their money causing a lack of cash available so that they were not interested in buying maize in 2003.
2. Farmers abandoning the production of maize because of this destruction of the market. Farmers clearly indicated that they were going to look for alternative crops (like tobacco) as the production of maize wasn’t worthwhile in such a market.
3. The loss of an opportunity to have a good income in 2002 and 2003, which in its turn impeded the aforementioned creation of reserves in the rural areas. We already refered to the importance of reserves above.
On basis of previous experiences and to avoid a negative impact on the regional market the European Union (EU) decided to buy 40 thousand tons of maize in the north of Mozambique. To facilitate the access to this program for traders the EU decided to buy the maize in packages of 200 tons. However this pormise was not honoured. However the idea in itself might have been good, the requirements on the traders were such that they practically excluded small and medium scale traders in a similar fashion as phytosanitary measures are used to protect certain markets.
In these same years (2002 e 2003) some areas in the south of Mozambique were also finding themselves in a hunger situation while many other areas had food in excess. The possibility of buying this surplus production as food aid and distribute this in the affected regions (allowing not only to mitigate the hunger impact but also thus supporting producers in other areas) was not being considered. And thus the country ended up importing genetically modified maize. This situation of importing food while there actually is surplus food in the country continues today in the food for work programs.
To give some concrete and practical examples we present two cases from Nampula. In 2002 the southern part of Nampula province and the northern part of Zambezia province were hit by the Cyclone Delfina. The Union of Agricultural Cooperatives of Nampula (UGCAN) had 60 tons of local maize immedeatly available. Looking for ways to make this maize available to the affected population UGCAN learned that decisions and the buying of emergency aid was done in Maputo (2000 km away) and that it was not possible to consider buying maize from the UGCAN. It was only possible when a donor directly bought (a part of) the maize form the UGCAN and delivered it to the government warehouse in Nampula. The rest of the food aid was imported maize coming form the warehouses in the south of the country.
This same Farmers Union already several times provided its members food and seed on credit to be reimbursed after the next harvest.
In general we notice that any help comes from large scale production farms where so called improved technologies and seed are being used (in Mozambique for example a variety of maize called matuba is distributed). It happens that when these seeds are introduced a big part of the production is lost in the grain storage by plagues. This in contrast to local seeds which are far more resistent to this type of problems. These new seeds thus reduce the possibilities of storages and thus increase the vulnerability of the comunities.
A new dimension: food aid and GMOs
If we would have a free market in the world, this means a situation whereby governments do not interfere with the normal functioning of free markets (what is being produced, how it is produced and when it is being produced), we would never have GMOs. Something, which is expensive, doesn’t resolve any problem which could not be resolved more efficiently and cheaper by other means and in which many people don’t have an interest in buying like GMOs, would never be viable.
Unfortunately GMOs enjoy the protection of certain governments and very influential monies (the big agro-chemical businesses).
Analysing GMOs in this context used as food aid but leaving these obscure interests aside is an illusion. GMOs will increase the dependency on seed produced by these companies.
On top there are no guarantees that these products can be safely consumed without posing a health risk (a clear example are cases of contamination with Starlink maize which is considered unfit for human consumption).
The countries promoting GMOs are trying to promote GMOs by tricks and manoeuvering like taking advantage of extreme situations of hunger to spread GMOs in the form of food aid.
The argument is: Eat GMOs or die. Options much more suitable to help fighting hunger in a sustainable way are not being considered.
Who dares to refuse food aid in the form of GMOs is being portrayed as insensitive to the suffering of the population in the face of the infinite goodness of the ones offering GMOs.
Why aren’t mechanisms created to buy food aid in local and regional markets in stead of buying food aid in the local market of the donor country?
What are the best ways to create and maintain easily accessible reserves on the household level as well as on a national level?
What are the costs of food aid in relation to the loss of production because of this food aid?
How do governments from countries receiving food aid think to create food stocks in a neoliberal environment in order to reduce its dependencies?