Last week one of the items of “Top Hunger News” featured on Bread for the World’s blog was this video, recently released by NPR, explaining the unintended impact that giving away free food has had on the local economy in Haiti.

In the aftermath of January’s devastating earthquake in Haiti, post-disaster relief is creating a new kind of problem for businesses there. The massive influx of food aid has altered the price of rice, throwing the delicate balance in Haiti’s food supply chain out of whack and threatening to collapse the country’s rice market. – Bread blog

I watched the video and with its implications on my mind, throughout the week had conversations with different people and read more on the topic of food aid, like this article about outside organizations overwhelming Haiti’s local aid economy.

Last week I blogged about Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty. The questions and wonderings and conversations I had surrounding food aid were piqued in part by one of the chapters, “Who’s Aiding Whom?” focusing on Nazareth, Ethiopia in 2003. The authors write of Jerman Amente, an Ethiopian farmer and grain trader who “shook with anger” when he saw American food intended for starving Ethiopians pour into the country, while homegrown Ethiopian wheat, corn, beans, peas, and lentils “languished untouched” (86). Kedir Geleto, the manager of a grain-trading operation in Ethiopia, says in the chapter, “American farmers have a market in Ethiopia, but we don’t have a market in Ethiopia…We don’t oppose food aid. When there’s a deficit in the country, of course we need it. But when there’s plenty of food in the country, then it’s unbelievable” (87).

I’m relatively new to this conversation about food aid. While I certainly had a sense that not all aid is equal, and that very well-meaning people with good intentions can actually cause harm, the past few weeks have been the first time I truly gave these ideas more than a passing thought. With just a little digging I found a wealth of opinions and information that help me be better informed and more respectfully critical. Here’s my question: who else is new to the conversation about food aid and what have you been learning? How about veterans? What should we know?

Julie Reishus