By Christopher Barrett and Daniel Maxwell (2006). Food Policy, Vol. 31(2), pp. 105-118.
Food aid is an increasingly contentious subject. It is one of a handful of significant points of disagreement in current agricultural trade negotiations under the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s Doha Round, as the United States and the European Union wrangle over the possible trade displacement and developmental effects of food aid. Food aid is often blamed for creating disincentives for small farmers in recipient countries by depressing food prices, distorting markets, discouraging overdue policy reforms and fostering dependency. Humanitarian agencies distributing food aid have recently been accused of both manipulating individual recipients – for example the food-for-sex scandals in West Africa in 2001/2 – and being manipulated by major powers during international conflict and post-conflict recovery, as reflected in former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s comment that the humanitarian agencies operating in Afghanistan is early 2002 were a significant “force multiplier” for the US military. Observers on all sides have decried the use of food aid as a political weapon in open warfare (e.g., Sudan) and internal political crises (e.g., Zimbabwe), as well as in diplomatic maneuvering (e.g., with North Korea).