In a news article *totally* unrelated to the current health care debacle, our paper had a back page article from the Associated Press called, “Food Aid, Ironically, Has Harmed Poor Nations.” Other papers called it “With Cheap Food Imports, Haiti Can’t Feed Itself.” (Our paper cut it in half; the full article is here.)
Just because warlords all over the world have been notorious for hijacking food shipments and funneling them to their supporters, leaving the most desperate (generally those who opposed the warlords in the first place, and so were already barely getting by) to starve?
Just because there has been comment after comment by people involved in actually delivering assistance about how massive amounts of food aid have undermined local farmers? When you can buy the UN food for 20 cents a pound but it costs the farmer 30 cents a pound to grow it… well, why bother? More and more farmers get out of farming, and, when the next crisis hits, the situation is even worse.
And that’s even before we get into the (also previously raised) issues about inappropriate aid. People sending boots and high heels to the tsunami relief in Thailand… where everyone wears something like flip-flops. Yellow corn sent to areas of Africa where yellow corn is only for cattle, and white corn sent to areas where white corn is only for cattle.
It turns out that, in spite of years of aid workers trying to raise the alarm, nobody really did anything different.
President Clinton apologized for encouraging policies in the 90’s to enable more U.S. rice to reach Haiti. By pressuring Haiti to reduce tariffs, Arkansas rice farmers got to sell more rice to Haiti. Haitians get more rice; problem solved, right? No. The devil is in the details, which is where the unintended consequences pop up.
Trying to correct this problem, in 2009, Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, proposed a White House Global Food Security advisor to promote local agriculture worldwide. (The bill had a Democrat as co-sponsor, and a similar bill in the House.) The advisor’s office would have a budget of $8.5 billion through 2014. At the beginning, I have to object to yet another spending project, although it would certainly make a lot more sense than what we’re currently doing. Sen. Lugar spoke at a symposium on the subject, associated with the Global Harvest Initiative. Then I looked at the sponsors: they include John Deere and Monsanto. Selling more mechanization to small, poor farmers overseas is not necessarily a good idea. And Monsanto?!?
Monsanto is the mega-company introducing patented gene-modified crops; they’re infamous for suing a farmer in Canada for “stealing” their genes by keeping some seeds to re-sow the next year, which is a breech of the Monsanto sales contract… except that the farmer in question never bought Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) seeds; his were infected with the GM genes through wind pollination. Monsanto’s crops are also heavily reliant on- who would’ve guessed?- Monsanto-produced fertilizers and pest control. Because of Monsanto’s market dominance, it’s becoming more and more difficult for farmers who want to avoid the GM crops to do so; if their neighbors plant the GM crops, the genes can affect every field around them.
Expanding U.S. businesses into the Third World is not a solution. (See another article here; the article is pretty tame, but the comments rapidly got into Monsanto, manufactured fertilizers, and the parts of U.S. agriculture we shouldn’t be using ourselves, much less exporting. It’s a good summary of the issue.)
The AP article on Haiti explained that decades of cheap, imported rice undermined Haiti’s agriculture. Haitian President Rene Preval is calling for an end of food aid, in favor of aid focused on agricultural development. BTW, President Preval is an agronomist from one of Haiti’s rice-growing regions. We just might want to listen to him.
Whatever happened to that “Give a man a fish/teach a man to fish” story? Have we completely forgottten the basics?
Emergency food aid is one thing. Long-term food aid is a bad idea. Encouraging developing countries to embrace an addiction to a program that requires the yearly purchase of imported seed, fertilizer, and pest-control will only create more problems and dependency. Except for Monsanto, which will probably be pretty pleased to have new farmers to sue.
We need to help countries discover truly sustainable agricultural practices and some sense of self-sufficiency.
Otherwise, we just encourage people to be dependent on U.S. handouts and desperate for someone to step in and save them when the next problem comes up. It may not be spelled out in the original bill, but it comes with the unintended consequences… except that certain people fully intended the consequences, it’s just that it wasn’t politically expedient to say so.
But, like I said at the top, this has *nothing* to do with the problems in the health care bill…