Global Humanitarian Group Rejects U.S. Aid
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up: waiting for an encore - the amazing story behind the story of Ralph Ellison's second novel.
But first, we want to talk about food aid. Most of us know about the tons of food the U.S. government ships overseas to help fight global hunger. But some charities say the program is actually harming the very people it should be helping. Among them is CARE, the same group that invented the term CARE packages. It's one of the world's leading humanitarian groups.
It announced last week that it would walk away from at least $45 million in annual food aid from the U.S. government. CARE officials say their program's distribution requirements - which allowed charities to sell the food to locals and then use the money to fund their work - undermines local farmers and may even drive up prices in already poor countries.
Not everybody shares that view, and in a moment, we'll hear from Ellen Levinson. She represents an alliance of charities that say the program works.
But we're joined now by Dr. Helene Gayle, the president of CARE, and she joins us from Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. Welcome to the program. Or should I say, welcome back.
Dr. HELENE GAYLE (President, CARE): Thank you. Good to be with you.
MARTIN: And on the face of it, Dr. Gayle, I bet it's hard for people to understand how CARE could actually turn down food for people who need it. So if you could talk to us about how the program works and why you think it may actually do more harm than good.
Dr. GAYLE: Well, the reason we made this decision was because we felt that although there are clearly short-term benefits of being able to have the food as well as the cash to help finance poverty-fighting programs, but that if we're really thinking about how we tackle chronic hunger and poverty in the long run, that we're probably doing a disservice by continuing this practice.
And so, we decided to support the purchase of food locally and regionally instead of having food that's shipped overseas from the United States to gradually phase out the practice of selling U.S. government food to raise cash for poverty-fighting countries and to work actively to seek ways that the U.S. government could perhaps change some of these policies around food aid. And so we're gradually phasing out of this practice of selling food crops for cash.
MARTIN: But what about the fact...
Dr. GAYLE: And really...
MARTIN: ...I'm sorry, Dr. Gayle. But what about the fact that under that system, the money stays in the country?
Dr. GAYLE: Well, yeah. The money does stay in the country. But the reality is it's a pretty inefficient way to get cash for poverty-fighting programs. So you buy food from farmers in this country. It has to be shipped on U.S. carriers across the seas. That takes four to five months. And then that is finally given out as food aid, often in emergency situations, so it doesn't get there very fast, and also sold and converted to cash. So it's a very inefficient way both for providing food assistance given the amount of time, the amount of resources to ship the food over. And it's also much less efficient than if the cash was given directly. That's our goal.
MARTIN: So you're not talking about this situation - in a situation like Darfur, where the whole reason that there's a food crisis is that there's a conflict. And part of the conflict...
Dr. GAYLE: No, exactly.
MARTIN: ...is to destroy the villager's food stocks in order to drive them out. So you're not talking about eliminating food aid - direct food aid in circumstances like that?
Dr. GAYLE: No, exactly. And we think that food aid is a critically important, particularly for emergencies. But one of the things that a program like this does is queue the resources that ought to go to emergencies, or focusing on the long-term hunger problems where this is probably not the best solution. So we really feel that emergency food aid is critical. But even in emergency situations, there's oftentimes when purchasing locally or regionally might be the more efficient way of getting food in more rapidly than shipping it from overseas - it takes several months.
MARTIN: What about the idea, though, that it helps build a domestic constituency for international aid?
Dr. GAYLE: Well, I think we...
MARTIN: That this is something people can buy into in this country, because they say, well, you know, we're helping others and we're also helping the American farmer. What about that argument?
Dr. GAYLE: Well, I think it's time that we start rethinking that as well. I think the American public is much more sophisticated and much more caring than perhaps in other times. The issue of global poverty is something that's front and center. We realize that we're in a globalized world, and that if we can help other economies grow and become stable, ultimately, that helps us more. And that's in our longer term self interest. But we've got to look at all of that and really make sure our solutions of today fit the problems of today and the realities of having a long-term impact.
MARTIN: Dr. Helene Gayle is the president of CARE, a humanitarian organization that fights global poverty. She joined us from Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. Dr. Gayle, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Dr. GAYLE: Michel, thank you.
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