You could say Ellie Ann’s family business is third world agricultural development. Her father, Paul Lang, is the co-owner of Natural Products, a board member of SALT International*, the past president of the Soyfoods Association, and the founding director and a board member of the World Soy Association. She has learned a great deal at his knee.
Today, Bayard & Holmes are pleased to welcome Ellie Ann as she shares with us one of the things she learned from her father. The unexpected, damaging consequences of US foreign food aid programs.
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TEACH A MAN TO FISH
By ELLIE ANN
America is generous. No doubt about it. Our country gives over $58 billion a year in foreign aid. That’s a lotta Benjamins. In fact, most countries in the world, except for Western Europe, Canada, & Australia, receive aid money from the US. While the money goes to a lot of cool infrastructure projects such as hospitals, providing clean water, and schools, I want to concentrate on one project that’s been going on for far too long: unsustainable food aid.
You can’t even begin to think how it harms the poor.
I guess I should clarify something. There are two kinds of aid: development and relief. Relief is providing a starving, homeless person with food and shelter. It saves their life. This is important and necessary. However, it’s not a long-term solution, even though it’s been going on for a very long time.
Development work is much more complicated. It means changing the way things work. Paul Lang, co-owner of Natural Products, board member of SALT International, and founding director of the World Soy Association, just happens to be my dad. He says, “Relief is simple. Development is complicated. Developmental work means dealing with issues of culture, justice, infrastructure, government, wars, gender, and economy.” But it also provides the long-term solutions that cannot be achieved through relief aid.
So say you have $30k you wanted to share with the starving people of Gao, Mali. You could spend that money on rice and milk, and feed the whole village. This has been THE WAY most developed countries have dealt with starving populations in Africa and Asia. However, Lang says, “When we give away a shipload of grain to a poor African country, it feeds people until the grain is gone, but it guarantees that no farmer in that country can produce grain for sale when the market is flooded with give away food.”
Free merchandise cripples the economy.
But is it simply good-hearted innocence that led to these harmful practices? No. It was greed.
Lang explains that in the past, the US produced much more grain than it could consume. The government decided to give away this excess grain away as foreign aid. Free food as foreign aid still continues to this day. How sweet!
Not really. You see, when the government does this, two things happen that make our agri-system win, and theirs lose:
1.) The price of grain to the USA farmer goes up because the excess grain disappears. The American agri-system wins.
2.) The recipients of the giveaway get to eat, and live, but there is no development, and their economy is crippled by the influx of free grain. The agri-system in their country loses. The poor stay poor. The poor lose.
In an economic cycle, money is turned over within a local area five or six times before it leaves the country. When the US donates $5k dollars worth of food to a poor village, people eat the food, and the next day, they are left with only empty bags in their hands. The economy is the exact same as it was before the donation.
However, if the US donates a $5k tractor and bags of seed wheat, then a farm is born. Once the farm is established, employees will be hired, gas, electricity, and water will be purchased, wheat will be sold to locals, and the produce could even be exported to surrounding areas for cash. According to the economic law of money turnover, the $5k would turn into $25-30k of economic activity. Just think how much that would revolutionize a village.
SALT International has made it its business to develop agriculture in developing countries. For the past fifteen years, SALT International trained farmers how to grow soybeans, built a soy factory, and handed the reins over to trusted locals to run. That’s a lot of economic development! Now, they are doing the same project in Erbil, Iraq. They’re all about providing sustainable, appropriate, local technologies.
It’s about time we put a stop to world hunger, but world hunger cannot be thwarted through unsustainable food aid. If an impoverished community is empowered to develop its economy within the country, then the economy will rise, and poverty will fall.
As the adage goes. “Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.” That’s how you feed one man. But a whole region? Lang says, “Teach a man to build a factory, and you will provide incomes for thousands of farmers and change the economy.”
*The mission of SALT International is to be a catalyst for economic and social development by establishing and supporting sustainable agri-businesses in lesser developed nations. SALT is currently operating in Northern Iraq and Afghanistan.
Note from Piper: This is from another organization, MamaHope, which expresses the sentiment well. Enough with pity. These are capable people…. African Men. Hollywood Stereotypes.
Thank you, Ellie!