Should the Maersk Alabama have been there in the first place?
Posted on April 15, 2009 at 4:51 pm
My attention was caught by an article stating that the Maersk Alabama was transporting food aid to Somalia, Uganda and Kenya. I immediately wondered what food could we possibly be sending that would be worth the time and expense shipping it from the US.
What was the Maersk Alabama shipping?
“This food aid shipment from the United States contains vegetable oil, corn soy blend, wheat and dehydrated vegetables and will be distributed in Kenya, Somalia, and Uganda by USAID’s implementing partners including the World Food Program and Private Voluntary Organizations.”according to USAID
However the typical diet in Uganda is not wheat and corn soy blend – whatever that is – instead they eat:
“plantains, cassava, sweet potatoes, millet, sorghum, corn, beans, and groundnuts.” according to Countrystudies.us.
Imagine if another country were concerned about America’s poor and sent tons of sorghum to our homeless shelters. I personally don’t know a single recipe that uses sorghum. I have no idea what it tastes like, and I’m not even certain what it is exactly. And I would definitely have problems cooking with it.
Do Kenyans have any idea how to cook with wheat, do they even have ovens? When I lived in Thailand I splurged and bought an oven because I missed baked goods. However, I had a hard time baking because it was difficult to find baking soda, baking powder, or butter. Even though I grew up cooking with flour I rarely did so in Thailand. Are the Kenyans going to be able to do any better?
It is far more expensive to ship food than to purchase food in the region
The food was grown in the US, then packaged and shipped overseas on a US ship with US staff. In general about half the money spent on shipping food aid is for logistics and transportation and not for the actual food. It would have been far cheaper to purchase food in those countries or in neighboring countries. Purchasing food locally also increases the likelihood that the food is something they normally eat and know how to cook.
“Food aid involves high logistical costs. For instance, $92 million -
nearly half of WFP’s (World Food Program) tsunami-relief budget of $210 million – was
allocated for logistics for the transport and storage of food.” Food Aid and Food Sovereignty: Ending world hunger in our time
“As seen in the case of the tsunami, cash assistance can often be more appropriate than food. The provision of cash may better match people’s needs and has multiplier effects over local production and business in recipient countries.” Food Aid and Food Sovereignty: Ending world hunger in our time
By shipping in food and giving it away for free or at a highly subsidized rate, we risk undermining the economy. Farmers and shopkeepers struggle to sell their goods if they are competing with free food. Think of the economic hit US ranchers would suffer if Argentina decided to help the US by importing in boatloads of cattle and distributing beef for free.
“Food aid often undermines local production. The focus on food aid
combined with insufficient assistance provided to agriculture results in side effects for the local economy and agriculture and consequently undermines recovery.” Food Aid and Food Sovereignty: Ending world hunger in our time
Shipping food takes longer than buying it in the region
While living in Thailand, care packages from home were shipped by sea and took three months on average to reach me. If there were a food crisis in the US would you want your children to wait three months for a food shipment?
“The inertia of the food aid procurement process very often results in late deliveries that affect local production. For instance, in southern Africa, several countries affected by a failed harvest in spring 2002 were forced to ban relief food distributions one year later when NGOs were still distributing food at the time of the following harvest, i.e. depressing local prices at a time local food was again available. Logistical constraints had seriously delayed the procurement of food by NGOs and WFP and large quantities of food were still undistributed in April 2003, when the intervention was scheduled to end.”
It’s time to rethink the way we deliver food aid
With the pirate situation in the Indian Ocean getting worse not better, and our own economy in crisis, this is the right time to reexamine the way we provide food aid.
Sources of additional information on food aid:
The Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business, by Graham Hancock