The Problem With Giving Free Food To Hungry People : Planet Money The unintended consequences of giving out free rice in Haiti: Long-term damage to the local economy.
NPR logo The Problem With Giving Free Food To Hungry People

The Problem With Giving Free Food To Hungry People

Planet Money and Frontline have been reporting on the Haitian economy after the earthquake. Here's the latest:

Haiti's earthquake left the nation's rice economy in ruins. That's a big deal, because many Haitians eke out a living distributing and selling rice, the nation's staple food.

First, the quake damaged the nation's main port, disrupting the regular supply of imported rice.

Then, aid groups distributed free rice to thousands of people — who stopped buying rice from street vendors. As demand dried up, the street vendors stopped buying from small, local rice wholesalers.

That's been a devastating blow to many vendors and small wholesalers.

One alternative some groups are considering: Rather than giving people free rice, give them money or vouchers to buy rice from local vendors.

If done right, this holds the promise of both feeding hungry people and keeping the local economy intact.

Of course, giving out money or vouchers also carries its own set of risks. Done wrong, it can send the price of rice soaring, which makes it harder for people who don't receive aid to get enough food to eat.

Send us your questions: Adam Davidson will answer viewers' questions about Haiti on Tuesday. Submit your questions here.

Watch the earlier reports from the Planet Money-Frontline series on Haiti:

Why Do Haitian Bus Owners Spend So Much On Paint Jobs?

The Pedicure Economy In A Haitian Tent City