FOOD MATTERS: International aid not always in people’s best interest

NANAIMO – There are strong similarities between food banks, welfare and international emergency aid.

There are strong similarities between food banks, welfare and international emergency aid.

In each case, what was intended to be emergency help has led to dependency instead of temporary assistance.

In our communities, we have had community economic development (CED) for decades, but the poverty gap has widened. Something is not working.

A public quarrel has erupted between Dambisa Moyo, Zambian celebrity economist, and Bill Gates, philanthropist, over Gates’s attempts to fund aid megaprojects, particularly in agriculture, in Africa.

Moyo made her name with a book called Dead Aid, in which she pointed out the obvious: that aid is not working. She began the quarrel by criticizing the Gates Africa project and Gates, stung, retaliated with insulting comments in a public forum.

You might think that they have opposite points of view, but the only difference is that Moyo appears to believe that unrestricted global corporate enterprise will solve the economic problems of African nations, while Gates wants to share the wealth he acquired from global enterprise in charitable efforts of questionable value.

In her 1971 book, Aid As Imperialism, Teresa Hayter came much closer to identifying the causes of underdevelopment than either Gates or Moyo.

She argued that institutions, notably the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, set up by the United Nations after the Second World War to deal with world poverty, served the interests of the rich nations and worsened the situations of the poor ones.

One of the bugbears of our international aid has been tied aid: aid tied to business interests in Canada.

Businesses in Canada see opportunities to contract for government funds to deliver development projects and increasingly seek partnerships with the larger and more conservative NGOs like WUSC, Plan Canada and World Vision.

I think there are many skilled and dedicated people working for government and NGOs delivering projects that make a difference and deserve support.

Aid is undermined by national and business interests which are not the same as the interests of the recipients.

And it seems blindingly obvious that most global trade is exceedingly unfair to everybody except executives and shareholders. We need global fair trade.

Cheap food and other goods from overseas based on low wages are bad for primary producers overseas.

What they need is access to markets dominated by global businesses so huge that they have lost their connection to their origins.

Expecting Canadian farmers to compete with offshore prices based on low wages is not fair.

Small-scale, local farming is the best kind of social enterprise because there is nothing more useful to people than healthy food.

Get to know your farmers and processors and you will find the best food.


Marjorie Stewart is board chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at