Aiding Big Biz & Poor
by Mark Pickens •
Thursday August 29, 2002 at 02:29 PM
Mention food aid and most people imagine ships
overstuffed with generous American assistance for
hapless, starving countries. But layered beneath the
aid is a different story of the U.S. government lining
the pockets of multinational agro-companies and
undercutting Africa’s own farmers.
The U.S. sent developing countries six million
metric tons of grain and other food assistance in
2001. Most Americans would be chagrined to learn
that just under half of American food aid is not
donated but sold to developing countries, making it a
major boon for the giant American agro-companies
including Cargill (see p. 12). The U.S. government
buys surplus American grain to resell at special
prices to developing countries.
“The food-aid program represents a free government
service designed to help grain-trading companies
expand both their current and future sales,”
according to a study published by the University of
A 1997 newsletter of the U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID), the government
agency in charge of U.S. foreign assistance,
acknowledges this. "The principal beneficiary of
America's foreign assistance has always been the
United States. . . . Foreign assistance programs
have helped the United States by creating major
markets for agricultural goods, new markets for
industrial exports and hundreds of thousands of
jobs for Americans."
When the U.S. isn’t selling
grain, it's dumping it on poor
countries and collapsing local
agriculture. Paradoxically, in
emergency situations free food
can be one of the worst things.
The sudden arrival of millions
of tons of food aid can undercut
the prices of locally produced
food and drive local
farmers out of business.
Somalia is one case in point.
By the time Marines arrived to distribute
food in December 1992,
the country was already emerging
from its famine and had just harvested
a full crop. Nonetheless, food aid poured in,
driving down the prices received by local farmers for
their harvest by a whopping 75 percent. Many
Somali farmers, unable to make a living by selling
their produce, were forced to abandon their farms
and join the lines for handouts of imported food.