Wednesday, December 11, 2013

When Food Aid Doesn't Help

In Peru indigenous children are growing up stunted and with cognitive impairments, and food aid programmes are part of the problem. In response to the devastating malnutrition faced by indigenous communities like the Ashaninka, the Peruvian government has taken an approach championed by international organisations including The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Bank and the World Food Programme (WFP). This is the traditional ‘food aid’ approach carried out throughout the Majority World, based on the distribution of pre-packaged food produced externally (often by multinational food companies) and brought in to malnourished communities. This method has caused several problems for the Ashaninka community, which could have wider implications for global food aid policy.

One significant flaw is that the people the programmes were designed to help were not consulted in the planning process. The lack of involvement of the Ashaninka people meant local knowledge and dietary histories were not taken into account. This led to the frequent provision of inappropriate foodstuffs and astonishing errors such as largely lactose intolerant communities being provided with milk as a staple food. As a local Ashaninka professor put it, “we Ashaninkas are not used to eating the kinds of food donated. The kids don’t like it, the food makes them sick and creates health problems. They don’t go to indigenous communities to figure out what foods would be best.”

The most significant flaw in the food aid approach is its unsustainability. Putting resources into bringing food in from elsewhere rather than strengthening local peoples’ capacity to produce their own food is not conducive to a long-term solution to hunger and malnutrition. It creates dependency and means communities lose the skills they need to be self-sufficient. As one community leader said, “The government, by giving us things, is killing us with hunger….you eat and empty a can of tuna, and the next day, what are you going to eat? Tuna doesn’t produce more food. You could plant it, but nothing would be produced. But, at least for now, if the government was able to provide seeds that could grow, we could plant that.”

The use of externally produced foods in food aid programmes is part of a wider shift towards market-based food consumption, which creates further problems. This community is poor - that’s part of the reason they’re hungry in the first place – and the high cost of nutritious food frequently prevents them from buying it. Relying on buying food also leaves them vulnerable to the volatile global food market; during a price spike in 2007 and 2008, for example, the prices of major foods such as legumes rose by 29% and pig meat by 13%. The Ashaninka people, like poor communities around the world, experience a very close link between food price fluctuations and calorific intake – when prices go up they eat less, which means a fragile dependence on externally sourced, commercially bought food leaves them at an extremely high risk.

Enabling communities to have the power to produce their own food rather than rely on externally produced hand-outs is an approach known as ‘food sovereignty’. It is about the human right to food, and communities having the power over their own means of production, and there is evidence to suggest it is a more effective approach. When communities have the ability to produce their own food via gardens, fish ponds, and similar methods, coupled with a good use of natural resources like water and natural fertilizers, they have more access to food.

From Here

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