Monday, August 20, 2007

Teach A Man To Fish

MALELA, Kenya — CARE, one of the world’s biggest charities, is walking away from some $45 million a year in federal financing, saying American food aid is not only plagued with inefficiencies, but also may hurt some of the very poor people it aims to help.

CARE’s decision is focused on the practice of selling tons of often heavily subsidized American farm products in African countries that in some cases, it says, compete with the crops of struggling local farmers.[1]

There is a saying that goes, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” When I read this story I was reminded of this saying, because the saying is not contrasting a good and an evil. The saying is contrasting two goods and the better of those two options. I have always been conflicted by our efforts to feed the starving in foreign countries, not because I don’t believe in feeding starving people or in helping those less fortunate. I, like many of you am just heart broken when I see those images of starving children in those commercials and infomercials.

My reticence comes from a different place altogether, it is based in the science of human reproduction actually. Here is the scenario, the reason most people in these places are starving is because the eco-systems are failing. Usually it is a drought or some other natural phenomenon that has caused the agriculture of these places to not be able to provide food for their populations. The land cannot sustain the people living there. Let’s look at population growth in relation to hunger or the lack of. The more people eat, the more they repopulate, the more they repopulate, the more people there are to feed. So rather than alleviating the problem, using the current methods we are actually creating more people that are going to starve. If the land cannot sustain the number of people that are there now, how will it sustain more people?

The way a lot of these feed the hungry programs work is that we take all of our surplus, subsidized products and give them to the aid organizations in lieu of donations, the aid organizations then sells them on the open market in the starving countries and use the money to fund their programs. Sounds like a win/win situation on the surface. The aid organizations get to feed the hungry and make money to continue their work. The hungry people get to purchase food at a greatly reduced price.

With these programs what we are doing is dumping our surplus agribusiness products onto their local economies further crippling their already fragile agribusiness. The local farmers cannot compete with the sheer enormity of our dumping in the market place. The good news is that the people get food; the bad news is that their agribusiness never gets to flourish and so their economies continue to falter and their agribusiness continues not to be able to sustain the people. It is a catch 22 for the local people.

The Christian charity World Vision and 14 other groups, which call themselves the Alliance for Food Aid, say that CARE is mistaken; they say the system works because it keeps hard currency in poor countries, can help prevent food price spikes in those countries and does not hurt their farmers. Not least, they argue, it also pays for their antipoverty programs.

But some people active in trying to help Africa’s farmers are critical of the practice. Former President Jimmy Carter, whose Atlanta-based Carter Center uses private money to help African farmers be more productive, said in an interview that it was a flawed system that had survived partly because the charities that received money from it defended it.

Agribusiness and shipping interest groups have tremendous political influence, but charitable groups are influential, too, Mr. Carter said, because “they speak from the standpoint of angels.”[2]

Feeding the hungry is a noble thing and a charge from God, so I completely support it in theory. The problem is when the practice will actually cause more suffering in the long run than it alleviates. It seems that instead of helping to make these local people self-sustaining the goal of the aid agencies to keep themselves self-sustaining. I believe that this practice must be discontinued for the sake of those countries long term futures. Is it our goal to keep these countries in the aid/welfare mindset or is it to help them one day to become productive and self-sustaining? The long term interest of these people has to supersede any short term aid solution, no matter how benevolent it may appear. If these people are ever to realize their destiny as free and independent people fully accepting their place in world, they must be allowed to develop their own economies and food sources. A country that can’t feed itself cannot be independent.

CARE’s idea is that a profitable business is more likely than a charitable venture to survive when foreign aid runs out.

“What’s happened to humanitarian organizations over the years is that a lot of us have become contractors on behalf of the government,” said Mr. Odo of CARE. “That’s sad but true. It compromised our ability to speak up when things went wrong.”[3]

So when you are watching those commercials or are getting out the checkbook to donate to these feed the hungry campaigns think about what it is you really want to support. We must make our feelings heard through our donations and elected officials. Let’s help, but let’s help them to become healthy and independent. So, instead of giving them our surplus fish, let’s give them our know how and support to learn to fish on their own. This would be a project well worth our support and dollars.


[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

No comments:

HTML stat tracker