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The impact of food aid on world malnutrition

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 May 2009

James N. Schubert
Assistant Professor of Political Science at Alfred University, Alfred, New York.
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Does food aid enhance or diminish the nutritional status of recipient populations in less developed countries? In proposing that the long-term impact is negative, critics have argued that aid depresses local food production, is maldistributed and mismanaged such that it does not reach the needy in sufficient quantities, or, where effective, that aid merely reduces the death rate relative to the birth rate, permitting more people to survive at the margin of existence. This study explores the long-term impact of U.S. Public Law 480 food aid through a crossnational analysis of aggregate data on aid receipts and change in nutritional status over the period from 1962 through 1974. Alternative hypotheses are tested through least squares methods and.mean difference tests in the framework of a nonequivalent control group, quasi-experimental design. This study supports the following generalizations: food aid is significantly related with improved nutritional status; the greater the aid, the greater the improvement in nutrition; higher aid recipients do not have significantly lower rates of growth in domestic food production; higher aid recipients do not have higher rates of population growth; and food aid may lead to greater meat consumption among higher aid recipients. Negative effects, experienced in some countries at some times, are not systematically incurred by all food aid recipients over time. In general, food aid does improve nutrition.

Copyright © The IO Foundation 1981

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1 For instance, see the Pearson Commission report, Partners in Development (New York: Praeger, 1969)Google Scholar, which took a mild reformist tone. Harsher criticism was offered by Goulet, D. and Hudson, M. in The Myth of Aid (New York: IODC N. America, 1971)Google Scholar.

2 Mende, T., From Aid To Recolonization (New York: Pantheon, 1972)Google Scholar.

3 See Hudson's, M. discussion of the cost of food aid to the U. S. in Super Imperialism: the Economic Strategy of American Empire (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1972).Google Scholar

4 Witt, L., “Food aid, commercial exports, and the balance of payments,” in Food Policy: The Responsibility of the United States in the Life and Death Choices, ed. by Brown, P. G. and Shue, H. (New York: Free Press, 1977)Google Scholar.

5 Commitment to prevent mass starvation is identified as a norm of the international food regime, while prevention of malnutrition and chronic hunger is explicitly rejected as a system norm. See Hopkins, R. F. and Puchala, D. J., “Perspectives on the international relations of food,” International Organization 32, 3 (1978)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Witt, “Food Aid.” On the politics of bilateral aid allocation, see Wittkoph's, E. R.Western Bilateral Aid Allocations: A Comparative Study of Recipient State Attributes and Aid Received (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1972)Google Scholar. On multilateral aid see Rowe's, E. T.National attributes associated with multilateral and U.S. bilateral aid to Latin America: 1960–1971,” International Organization 32, 2 (1978)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 For instance, see Prentice's, E. P.Hunger and History: The Influence of Hunger on Human History (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1939)Google Scholar.

8 Schultz, T. W., “Value of U. S. farm surpluses to underdeveloped countries,” Journal of Farm Economics 42 (1960)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Also see Shuman's, C. B. “Food aid and the free market,” in Food Policy, pp. 153–56Google Scholar.

9 Goering, Theodore J. and Witt, Lawrence, United States Agricultural Surpluses in Colombia, A Review of P. L. 480, Technical Bulletin 289 (East Lansing: Michigan State University, 1963).Google Scholar

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11 Srivastava, U. K. et al. Food Aid and International Economic Growth (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1975)Google Scholar.

12 Goering and Witt, U. S. Agricultural Surpluses in Colombia.

13 Rath, Nilakantha and Patvardhan, V. S., Impact of Assistance under P. L. 480 on Indian Economy, Gokhale Institute of Economics and Politics (Poona: Asia Publishing House, 1967) 1Google Scholar.

14 Umstott, Haven D., Public Law 480 and Other Economic Assistance to United Arab Republic (Egypt), USDA, ERS Foreign Report 83 (06 1964)Google Scholar.

15 Shuman, “Food aid and free market,” argues to the contrary that feed grains are not efficiently and cheaply convertible to human food, and that little food grain is diverted for animal feed. However, see the discussion of distributional problems by Christensen, C., “World hunger: a structural approach,”International Organization 32, 3 (1978)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 This argument follows upon an ecological systems approach. For a discussion of food and population from an ecological perspective, see Ophuls, W., Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity (San Francisco: Freeman, 1977)Google Scholar.

17 These include physical and mental retardation, central nervous system disorders, emotional and behavioral irregularities. See Krause, M. V. and Manan, L. K., Food, Nutrition, and Diet Therapy (Philadelphia: Saunders, 1979)Google Scholar; Scrimshaw, N. S. and Gordon, J. C., eds., Malnutrition, Learning, and Behavior (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1968)Google Scholar; Levitsky, D. A., ed., Malnutrition, Environment, and Behavior (Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 1979)Google Scholar.

18 For instance, see Rothschild's, E. discussion in “Food for Peace,” New York Times Magazine, 13 03 1977, p. 15Google Scholar.

19 See Srivastava et al., Food Aid and Growth. Their review of literature is complemented by abstracts of relevant food aid impact studies.

20 Mitchell, H. et al. , Nutrition in Health and Disease, 16th ed. (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1976)Google Scholar.

21 United Nations, The Protein Crisis, U. N. Publication No. E/5018/Rev. 1, 1971Google Scholar.

22 Related diseases are marasmus, which involves severe PCM in infants and kwashiorkor, involving protein malnutrition in young children.

23 Reutlinger, S. and Selowsky, M., Malnutrition and Poverty: Magnitude and Policy Options (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976)Google Scholar.

24 TheFourth World Food Survey (Rome: FAO, 1977), pp. 127–28.Google Scholar

25 Mitchell et al., Nutrition in Health and Disease.

26 See the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey: Plan and Operation, National Center for Health Statistics, U. S. Dept. of H. E. W., 1977.

27 See Fourth World Food Survey.

28 Reutlinger and Selowsky, Malnutrition and Poverty.

29 Data on calories normed by national requirements are provided in FAO sources. Average regional requirements for protein are provided in The Protein Crisis and data on per capita protein were normed by these requirements. For purely descriptive purposes it should be noted that the protein requirements were adjusted upwards by 15 percent in the source to account partially for distributional inequality.

30 Production Yearbooks (Rome: FAO, 1977).Google Scholar

31 Stanely, R. G., Food for Peace: Hope and Reality of U. S. Food Aid (London: Gordon and Breach, 1972)Google Scholar.

32 Indeed, the data are so skewed that the mean falls at the third quartile and is no less arbitrary a point of division than the eighth decile, at $. 11, which was the point selected. The median value, $. 05, is so low that the effects of higher aid are obscured. Tests with alternative cutpoints were run for several of the dependent variables. The difference between the group means increased directly with the value of the cutpoint. The value and significance of “t” also increased directly with the cutpoint up to the $. 11 level. However, for higher cutpoints the degrees of freedom in the high aid group became sufficiently small as to reduce the value and significance of “t” even though the mean differences grew larger. Finally, it was observed that at the. 05 level, for slightly lower and higher cutpoints than the one selected, the interpretation of findings remained unchanged.

33 Data on GNP per capita (1973) and exports per capita (1971) are from the CCPR (SUNY-Binghamton) Cross-National Data Archive. Data on population growth and growth in food production are from the Fourth World Food Survey and are for 1961–1970 and 1970–1976. Data on economic growth are from the United Nations, Statistical Yearbook, 1977.

34 Nie, N. C. et al. , Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (New York: Mc Graw Hill, 1975)Google Scholar.

35 Because greater change in nutrition is explicitly predicted for the higher aid group, one tailed tests of significance are appropriate. For all other variables, two tailed tests are applied because no differences are predicted.

36 Estimates are 1.37 billion out of a world population at the time of the Reutlinger and Selowsky study, Malnutrition and Poverty, of about 3.5 billion.

37 Aziz, S., “The world food situation: today, and in the year 2000,” Proceedings of the World Food Conference of 1976 (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1977)Google Scholar.

38 These values are based on the 89 sample LDCs. For all developing market economies, FAO studies estimate growth rates of.7 percent for 1961–70 and. 2 percent for 1970–76: Fourth World Food Survey.

39 Stauffer, R. B., “The biopolitics of underdevelopment,'1 Comparative Political Studies 2 (1969)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

40 U. N., The Protein Crisis.

41 Berg, A., The Nutrition Factor: Its Role in National Development (Washington, D. C.: Brookings, 1973)Google Scholar.

42 For an elaboration of policy alternatives, see Food and Nutrition Policy in a Changing World, ed. by Mayer, J. and Dwyer, J. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979)Google Scholar.