Even as many Americans continue to clamor that government hand just about everything into our waiting palms, elsewhere more people and groups are recognizing how vital free markets are to international development.
The international humanitarian relief group CARE recently rejected a shipment from the U.S. government of some $46 million worth of food to needy people in Kenya. CARE officials said that such infusions undermine development, because they rob local farmers and suppliers of the market they need to drive the area economy out of chronic poverty.
The Associated Press quoted CARE spokeswoman Alina Labrada as saying the group would accept emergency food supplies in areas hit by sudden natural disasters such as floods that wipe out local agriculture. When local farmers are able to produce, however, “(t)hey are being hurt instead of helped by this mechanism,” Labrada said.
Ousmane Ndiaye, director of a farmers’ and workers’ advocacy group in Senegal, said what the United States sends as humanitarian assistance is seen as crop dumping that hurts local agriculture.
“We have the resources that we need to nourish our population. We have land. We have men and women with the capacity to do it,” Ndiaye told AP. “We have millet here. But instead of buying the millet that comes from the middle of Senegal, some people prefer to buy sorghum from foreign countries.”
CARE announced in 2005 that it planned to phase out the famous “CARE packages,” in favor of cash assistance that would benefit local economies and help residents gain independence. European Union countries have acceded to the change, noting that the new strategies get help faster to the people who need it. Some aid organizations say twice as many people benefit from the changes.
By its own calculations, the government’s food aid policy is costly and inefficient. The U.S. Government Accountability Office in April released a study that found emergency food aid takes on average 4.5 months to arrive where it’s needed, and two-thirds of the cost of the program goes into packing and shipping.
U.S. officials have resisted the change, however, and their reason is less than altruistic.
American farm policy includes a $2 billion fund that our government uses to buy wheat, sorghum and other grains from U.S. farmers and ship them to other countries in the name of humanitarian aid. Those purchases raise prices artificially, affecting the prices U.S. consumers have to pay for bread, flour, cereals and other grain products. The Bush administration has called for a 25 percent reduction of those purchases, but has faced strong opposition from Congress members in both parties.
That battle is important now, as Congress debates the farm bill that will govern U.S. agriculture policy for the next five years.
Those who deal with the world’s poorest and hungriest peoples have discovered that handouts are the worst form of assistance that can be given, and the best way to combat hunger across the world is to encourage free trade, which builds up local markets and economies.
If we’re lucky, our representatives will have a similar epiphany, and change our farm policies accordingly.