This article claims:

While all efforts should be made to get emergency food aid to Africa during this famine, the tradition of US food aid in Africa is actually part of the problem. Giving food to the hungry seems like the epitome of charity, but under the current system it has stifled the growth of agriculture in Africa and helped continue the cash crop system forced on Africa during Colonialism.

This Facebook meme extends the claim to all countries:

enter image description here

This is not limited to Africa, either, and as the first article shows, this "charity" is affected by politics and affects business: Haitian farmers undermined by food aid

The food aid from the USA is also expensive ($2.3 billion in 2010) but not expensive enough to be adequately nutritious: U.S. food aid must boost nutrition for long-term recipients, adopt sturdier packaging

Does food aid cause famines?

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    Actually it's even worse than the image suggest, as it doesn't mention violence. IMO it's more like: shortage of food -> violence -> international food aid -> farmers out of jobs, join the paramilitary groups -> more violence -> worse shortage of food. At this point you have no farmers and warlords control the food from international aid. Note, that for example this was taken in account by EU food aid to ex-soviet countries. There food rather than given away, was sold.
    – vartec
    Nov 13, 2012 at 13:03
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    Without a detailed research, my opinion is the step three is phony, with a shortage of food at level of cronical malnutrition population, all the received / produced food is consumed. in semi-economic terms: the willingness to pay for food will buy all the supplied food or being unable to pay for locally produced food the farmer goes out of business for the economic reasons, not by the food aid.
    – Alen
    Nov 13, 2012 at 14:33
  • @Alen: economics 101, supply and demand. If you have supply of food for free it diminishes the value of food sold by farmers. Also, you say "willingness to pay for food" - that's right, people are not willing to pay for something that they get for free.
    – vartec
    Nov 13, 2012 at 14:40
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    @vartec: then the free food run out and you have to option of starve to death or buy food (or are they willing to die to get free food?), maybe they never get the free food (because is two warzones and one warlord away or simply to far away from where they live). under "people are not willing to pay for something that they get for free." idea a "food the homeless/poor program" is just hurting the food industry. Lastly simplify the the food problem to your "economics 101" is hurtful those people situation and unproductive to the question asked.
    – Alen
    Nov 13, 2012 at 15:06

2 Answers 2


Without food aid, farmers cannot survive a famine, and therefore any economic incentive or disincentive is a moot point. The cycle depicted in the chart is false, because it relies on a model of famine that is outdated and incomplete.

The cycle in the graphic depicts a speculative economic model based on famines caused by FAD - Food Availability Decline. Unfortunately, the FAD model does not take into account important characteristics of a famine, the most notable to this question being that agricultural workers suffer famines disproportionately. Farmers are the first to starve and the first to die of hunger. This is because famines work according to the FEE model - Failure of Entitlement Exchange, which replaced FAD as a more complete and accurate model in the early '80s. (Entitlement here being an academic term for "stuff to buy or barter.") What happens is that food and labor are both commodities - and a farmer's Endowment (an academic term meaning stuff he can use to trade or buy) is insufficient to exchange for enough food to survive. A bag of rice is worth X amount of hours of labor - but in times of famine, no amount of labor is going to be enough to exchange for food.

Non-agricultural workers - tradesmen, professionals, merchants and the political class - will usually have enough resources - endowments - to secure a share of a dwindling supply of food, or to import their own supply - entitlements. Farmers, who rely on part of their harvest as their entitlement, cannot do likewise. Similarly, once conditions improve, they need to return to farming to obtain other, non-food entitlements, such as clothing, education, phone bill, etc. - a depressed market due to food aid means poor prices initially after a famine, but that's better than, you know, dying.

This paper (in PDF) includes a good overview of the FEE model, with clear explanations for laymen, as well as various criticism of FEE and the responses to them.

  • So the people who grow food for a living, don't keep enough for themselves? No wonder there's a food shortage when farmers can't support themselves. Jan 16, 2014 at 10:37
  • I struggled through the conclusion of that 1993 paper, only to find that it claims to be incomplete: "By urging the study of the disaggregated entitlements of different social classes, this approach alerts the analyst to the asymmetries that may exist in the impact of these secular changes; and it turns out that these asymmetries are often very crucial in assessing the impact on hunger and poverty. A complete assessment of the entitlement approach cannot be done without bringing in this dimension of endemic hunger; but this exercise must be left for another occasion." Jan 17, 2014 at 10:37
  • @CeesTimmerman - Of course it's incomplete. This is an overview of the model, and addresses common criticisms in layman-friendly way. In-depth studies that take into account all factors of a given famine, and how they fit into the FEE model, are beyond the scope of the paper. There is a nice collection of papers for further perusal in the "References" section - your friendly neightborhood librarian can help you track down the ones that catch your eye (there's a 1977 study on the Bengal famine using the FEE approach that may be of interest.) Jan 17, 2014 at 13:48
  • I didn't find it friendly at all, and this fancy report argues, in true lay terms, that non-food production does increase food prices and causes starvation. Jan 18, 2014 at 0:25
  • Like your PDF prepends a "Why?" to the loss of food production, my answer clearly answers your claim of farmers dying first. (Because they're forced off their land.) Jan 25, 2014 at 16:21

Oxfam claims food shortages are caused by land grabs:

Land grabs

It's not necessarily a problem when wealthy companies invest in agricultural land in poor countries for commercial use. But when families are kicked off the land or less food is grown as a result, that's a very big problem indeed. Recent data indicates that at least 33 million hectares of land deals have been identified since 2001 – an area 8 times the size of the Netherlands.

And since the food price spikes of 2008, that's been happening more and more.

Demand for land has soared as investors look for places to grow food for export, grow crops for biofuels, or simply buy-up land for profit.

But in many cases, land sold as “unused” or “undeveloped” is actually being used by poor families to grow food. These families are often forcibly kicked off the land. Promises of compensation are broken. Often people are violently evicted by hired thugs.

Assuming The Office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman is a more credible source than Oxfam, here's one recent report Oxfam's land grab page linked to:

August 14, 2013

Background to the Complaint

The IFC-supported Agri-Vie Agribusiness Fund is a private equity fund with the purpose of making equity investments in agribusiness companies in Southern and Eastern Africa. In its current portfolio, Agri-Vie has invested in New Forests Company (NFC), a UK-based forestry company operating established and growing timber plantations in Eastern Africa. Operational in Uganda since 2005, NFC operates three pine and eucalyptus plantations - in the Mubende, Kiboga and Bugiri districts respectively.

In December 2011 affected community representatives, Oxfam International, Oxfam Great Britain, and the Uganda Land Alliance (a national consortium of organizations advocating on land issues) submitted a complaint to the CAO on behalf of people living around the plantation in Mubende. The complaint raised concern s about evictions and displacement in the plantation area, alleging that the evictions negatively impacted the communities by displacing them from land, destroying their private property, and forcing them to forgo health, education, and livelihood opportunities. The complaint also voiced broader concerns about the IFC’s due diligence.

Energy, Environment and Resources EER PP 2013/01, "The Trouble with Biofuels: Costs and Consequences of Expanding Biofuel Use in the United Kingdom", by Rob Bailey, April 2013 agrees with Oxfam's research:

Current biofuel standards do not ensure biofuel use is sustainable

Agricultural biofuel use increases the level and volatility of food prices, with detrimental impacts on the food security of low-income food-importing countries.

So Africans are too poor to buy their own food, if they can even grow it, because they're being robbed of their wealth by greedy people.*

If they were able to, they could aid themselves, so food aid is not the cause of famines.

*: Merriam-Webster defines "greed" as:

a selfish desire to have more of something (especially money)

And "selfish" as:

having or showing concern only for yourself and not for the needs or feelings of other people

Assuming the victims of alleged land grabs as "other people", then those responsible for them losing their land are greedy. QED

Feel free to refute my logic in the comment section.

Coca-Cola has committed to ending abuse among its suppliers:

In Q1 2014, we will incorporate and publish FPIC guidance into our Supplier Guiding Principles under the section regarding Laws and Regulations as well as in the Sustainable Agriculture Guiding Principles, establishing auditable criteria for FPIC to be implemented as new supplier audits are conducted.

Yet, if poor people cannot earn money by working for low wages, how will they be supported if not through aid (e.g. social security)? The USA had child labor (source, source), but is now #2 at obesity: Study. Would the USA have prospered without that shameful phase? The exercise of answering that question must be left for another occasion.

  • "Recent data indicates"? What recent data? Why should we trust this analysis?
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 16, 2014 at 11:55
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    And why should we trust your analysis? Why are these investors classified as "greedy"? Why does farming performed on land owned by investors result in food shortages, where farming performed by poor families does not? How is this at all related to whether aid helps or hurts Africans?
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 16, 2014 at 11:58
  • I've addressed your points in my answer, Oddthinking. Jan 17, 2014 at 10:50
  • If the starving people want a living, they should apply for a job at the bigger landowners and/or run for office. Eminent domain exists for a reason. Work for freedom. Jan 18, 2014 at 18:22
  • @jwenting Got recent proof? According to CBF, member of ICFO, Oxfam Novib St. is a good charity that spent 94% of its 2012 income on its goals. Jan 19, 2014 at 12:47

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