Cover Story

Feed My people

"Feed My people" Continued...

Issue: "Food fight," May 3, 2008

Hirsch said that his agency is testing the various food-aid models in a pilot project in Lesotho in South Africa. "In some communities we are distributing exclusively cash to the beneficiaries. In other communities we are distributing a combination of cash and food (50 percent cash and 50 percent food), and in some other communities we are distributing only food."

World Vision has similar pilot projects in Pakistan and Zambia. "These pilot programs have been launched prior to the major increases in food costs, in order to test and research potential 'best practices' before expanding those approaches," said Walter Middleton, vice president for World Vision International's food programming and management group.

Aid groups wrestle with whether it is best simply to give hungry people food or to allow them to earn money to "buy" it. For World Vision, whose food aid programs total $340 million or about 15 percent of its overall budget, testing what kind of short-term relief works best is part of a two-pronged approach: "To respond to the short-term crisis caused by the current increases in food costs, we are calling for an immediate increase in resources, both public and private. People are having problems feeding their families and need immediate help," Middleton told WORLD.

Long term, the aid group believes, wealthy countries have an obligation to assist poor countries "to build stable food supplies and for them to benefit economically from increases in commodity prices by investing in sustainable agriculture," Middleton said. "It is a tragedy that many small farmers around the world are not benefiting from the increased return from selling crops at higher prices."

The new fight to feed the world's poor may have hit suddenly but will not go away overnight. Wheat analyst Austin Damiani of Minneapolis-based Frontier Futures told WORLD: "General inflation and the weakness in the U.S. dollar are exacerbating prices. When the dollar goes down, then investors buy commodities. If the dollar rallies, then you will see investors with money in commodities put money back into government securities, into cash." That could help bring food prices down.

When finance ministers and central bank heads of the seven leading industrialized nations met in April, analysts like Damiani hoped they would take action to support the sagging U.S. dollar. But that did not happen, Damiani noted. Instead they emphasized emergency measures like shipping stockpiles of grain and underwriting the cost of increasingly expensive food donations to poor countries. In the absence of a change in monetary policy, are U.S. and other consumers looking at long-term food inflation? Damiani said, "Yes, I think so."

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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