Food Aid: Ethiopia

28 Dec

When it came to building a strong nation, the 4th president, James Madison, knew that during disastrous times aid must be given.  America’s first food assistance program occurred domestically in 1812 due to an earthquake that destroyed ninety percent of New Madrid.  This was the first time that laws were enacted to support victims with aid.  Over the next one hundred and forty-two years, the United States government worked its way to becoming the largest player in the fight for granting food aid.  The U.S offered food aid to Russia after WWI, famine relief to Europe after WWI and WWII, and it implemented the Marshall Plan to help feed and rebuild Western Europe with aid in 1948.  As Moyo (2009, 12) asserts, “Under the Marshall Plan, the United States embarked on an aid programme to fourteen European countries which saw the transfer of assistance worth roughly US $13 billion throughout the five-year life of the plan from 1948 to 1952”.  Six years later, President Eisenhower signed Public Law 480 into the Agricultural Trade Development Act which officially created the Food for Peace Program (FFP).   When the act was initially passed, the U.S. believed that giving food aid was a potential way to fight the spread of communism with specific countries in mind.  “The plan was clearly successful in bringing Western Europe back onto a strong economic footing, providing the US with the vehicle to influence foreign policy, winning it allies in Western Europe and building a solid foundation for US-led multilateralism.  Aid became the key tool in the contest to turn the world capitalist or communist” (Moyo 2009, 12).  In the beginning, Food for Peace was funded with surplus food supplies from the United States; however, during the 1980’s, Congress begun implementing funds for this project into the federal budget.   Since its creation, the Food for Peace Program has fed more than three billion people in one hundred and fifty countries over the last fifty-seven years.  Over that time, the Food for Peace Program has changed lives, reduced famine, promoted growth and/or sustainable development in developing countries and nations throughout the world.

Public Law 480 (PL 480) is broken down into three sections which are referred to as Title I, Title II, and Title III programs.   Both Title I, which deals with economic assistance and food security, and Title III, which deals with food for development, are no longer funded by the U.S. government.  Title III aid lost it funding in 1994 because it was believed that government-to-government grant aid funds were being misused and unequally distributed to certain sectors in the developing economies.  When it comes to U.S food aid, relief comes in the form of Title II aid which is devoted to emergency and private assistance programs.  These funds are distributed on an emergency need basis and for developmental programs which are supposed to reduce malnutrition in poverty stricken nations.  When it comes to giving Title II aid, Private Voluntary Organizations (PVOs) and the World Food Program (WFP) contact the U.S. Agency for international Development  (USAID) for a list of agricultural commodities that they feel will aid the country that’s in need.  Once the program gets government approval, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issues a bidding contract to commodity suppliers and processors.  After that, the Kansas City Commodity Office buys the commodities after the USDA awards the commodity contract to the lowest bidder.  At that point, the good go to a U.S. port where they are then shipped to the country in need.  In emergency situations, the USIAD can avoid all of those steps by sending pre-positioned stocks of food which are located both at U.S. Gulf ports and overseas ports for a quicker and less bureaucratic response.

PL 480 has changed thelives for over 250 million Ethiopians since the famine of 1974.  During that year, Ethiopians went through detrimental changes which shaped their economy, political structure, and their sense of independence because Ethiopia has been under some form of a dictatorship since that year.  As Moyo (2009, 22) concludes, “Having seen the failure of fifty years of competing aid interventions, donors now laid the blame for Africa’s economic woes at the door of political leadership and weak institutions from Ethiopia’s Mengistu to Liberia’s Samuel Doe, the competition among these leaders to be more brutal to their people, more spendthrift, more indifferent to their countries needs then their neighbors were”.  This was detrimental to prosperous growth for Ethiopians because they were entrenched in a deadly civil war from 1974 to 1991.  In 1974, the Derg and Meles Zenawi Asres took office after a military coup removed Haile Selassie, who was the last emperor of the 3,000-year-old Ethiopian monarchy.  During the 1980s, Asres cut his ties with the Derg and he became the chairman of the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) in 1985.  With the help of the United States, the TPLF overthrew the Derg in 1991.  Ethiopians citizens fought their way out of the TPLF regime and, since then, Ethiopia has been trying to make positive strides in the form of good governance; however, it must be taken into account that, their constitution wasn’t ratified until December 8, 1994 and, at that time, it didn’t take effect until August 22, 1995.  Converting from a form of dictatorship to form of “Democracy is seen as Africa’s economic salvation: erasing corruption, economic cronyism, and anticompetitive and inefficient practices, and removing once and for all the ability for a sitting incumbent to capriciously seize wealth.  Democracies pursue more equitable and transparent economic polices, the types of policies that are conductive to sustainable economic growth in the long run” (Moyo 2009, 41).

When it comes to aid for Africa and the developing countries in Africa, Moyo (2009, 13) notes that“Africa was ripe for aid.  The continent was characterized by a largely uneducated population, low-salaried employment, a virtually non-existence tax base, poor access to global markets and derelict infrastructure”.  These factors have made Ethiopia a prime candidate for aid since the early 1980s.  Moyo (2009, 16) notes that “In 1975 the US passed the International Development and Food Assistance Act, which stipulated that 75 percent of its Food for Peace Program would go to countries with a per capita income of less than US $300”.  Since the 1980s, Ethiopia’s economic state hasn’t seen much improvement.  In 2010, the World Bank noted that Ethiopia was the second-most populated country in Sub-Saharan Africa and their per capita income was only $390 US dollars compared to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa which was around $1,165 US dollars at the time.  As Moyo (2009, 5) asserts, “Africa’s real per capita income today is lower than in the 1970s, leaving many African countries at least as poor as they were forty years ago”.  Aid is nothing new to Ethiopia due to the fact that Ethiopians have received emergency food aid every year since the Great Ethiopian Famine which occurred from 1984 to 1985.

Since 2002, Ethiopia has been one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.  However, this growth isn’t sustainable growth; whereas, it’s viewed as an influx of citizen, many are refugees from Somalia, who are further stripping Ethiopians of the scarce resources that they have.  With all of this “population growth”, Ethiopia is still behind in terms of development because only 42.7% of the entire population is literate, 17% of the population is urbanized, 29.2% of the population live below the poverty line and, most importantly when it comes to education, the average male only attends school until he is nine and, for females, its age eight.  When an economy is set up this way, the UNDP Report (2005, 66) asserts that:

“Progress towards the reduction of absolute poverty is heavily conditioned by inequality. This is true not just for income, but also for wider inequalities in areas such as health, education and politics.  Income inequalities both reflect and affect wider life chance inequalities, starting with the chance of staying alive. The broader point here is that extreme inequality can constrain poverty reduction in low- and middle income countries for the same reason: the smaller the poor’s share of any increment to income the less efficient growth is as a mechanism for poverty reduction.”


Food insecurity is one of the major problems that Ethiopian citizens face on a daily basis. Ethiopia is highly dependent on rain-fed agriculture, but because of recurring droughts as well as intraseasonal dry spells, eight to fifteen million people face chronic food shortages annually. As a result of that, seven million people are annually provided with money to buy food through a productive public works programme that works directly with the Food for Peace Program.  The Ethiopian government can only do so much for their citizen on their own which is partly because they have a 33.2% inflation rate on their consumer prices, many citizen live on $1 US dollar a day, as a country they receive $4.645 billion in revenue, they spend $5.25 billion a year, and, most importantly, only 15.2% of their GDP comes from taxes (as of 2011).  The Food for Peace Program brings additional support to Ethiopian citizens because government-run programs can only go so far when you rank 171 out of 178 in terms of developed country in the world. In dealing with these food insecurities, Marianna Gomez notes that:

“I met Ghette a few days ago as she was carrying water back to her home. She said she would tell me her story and invited me in. Inside her small home, Ghette’s son Abeneezer is finishing a breakfast of Plumpy Nut—a peanut butter-based nutritional supplement for underweight children.

Ghette is 34 years old and has one child—a chronic illness, the details of which she doesn’t want to share, prevents her from having more. Her husband is an assistant carpenter and earns about $25 per month, so the family survives on less than $1 per day.

She receives food aid from one of the many government-run programs for low-income families. Each month she gets 12 kilograms of grain per family member and 2 liters of oil.

The program uses Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine program participation. As soon as Ghette’s BMI increases from underweight to the normal range, her government assistance will end. She says her government aid only lasts part of the month, and they cope by eating fewer meals a day.

The International Food Policy Research Institute reports that the price of agricultural products peaked in 2008, creating a global food crisis. Since then, food prices have been unstable in many poor countries.”[1]

Acquiring food is a major problem for many Ethiopian citizens.  In the US, food that we can’t produce is imported and food that is in excess is exported.  For Ethiopians, importing and exporting food is not done as easily as it is inside of a developed country.  Ethiopia’s major agricultural products are cereals, pulses, coffee, cotton, sugarcane, animal hides, khat and cut flowers with their major exports crops being coffee, grain sorghum (cereals), and castor bean.  Cereals constitute the majority of the food that is produced in Ethiopia.  Cereals may bring some cash into Ethiopia but it’s not a sustainable form of revenue or growth.  Ethiopian citizen learned this in 2008 when the cereal market went through a supply shock and, as a result, food prices rose which created an even higher level of food insecurity for the poor citizens.  When trying to acquire “new food(s)” that aren’t produced locally, Ethiopians are at a disadvantage because their purchasing power has been getting lower and lower over the past five years.  The currency in Ethiopia is the “Ethiopian birr (ETB)”.  With the exceptions of the Euro, the Pound, and the Yen, the majority of the worlds traded currency is in US dollars.  This is bad for Ethiopians especially poor rural farmers because their exchange rates have fluctuated over the years (see table 1).  As Moyo (2009, 30) concludes, “historically, on an economic performance basis, coastal resource-scarce countries performed significantly better than their resource-rich counterparts; leaving the landlocked, resource-scarce economies as the worst performers”.

Ethiopia’s infrastructurealso creates a huge problem for Ethiopia citizens.  Most rural farmland exists in places where no roads exist.  In 2007, out of the 36,469km of accessible road in Ethiopia, only 6,980km of it was paved.  This presents a huge problem in terms of mobility, food storage, food transportation both to and from the market, and, most importantly, access to the important public sector.  In order for sustainable growth to be achieved, both the public and the private sector have to compliment each other.  When it comes to sustainable development not all environments are created equal which is especially important when considering that Ethiopia has been a land locked country since their lost with the De Jure Independence of Eritrea on May 24, 1993.   Geographical environment and topography are so important that Moyo (2009, 29) concludes that:

“Certain environments are easier to manipulate than others and, as such, societies that can domesticate plants and animals with relative ease are likely to be more prosperous.  At a minimum, a countries climate, location, flora, fauna and terrain affect the ability of people to provide food for consumption and for export, which ultimately has an impact on a country’s economic growth”.

Ethiopia’s industrial sector only has seven major industries- food processing, beverages, textiles, leather, chemicals, metal processing, and cement processing.  When comparing these industries to the rest of the industries in the developed “world”, Ethiopia isn’t a major player because most developed countries can produce or do produce these things cheaper and, at times, more efficiently.

One major key tosustainable development involves meeting the basic needs of the citizens in these developing countries.  The Food for Peace program tries to ensure that these needs are met by providing the basic forms of food that is necessary to survive.  Food aid can be seen as a way of providing hope to starving, sick, and malnourished Ethiopians.  Ethiopia ranks in the top five for African countries that deal with a high risk of major infectious diseases (see table 2).  As Moyo (2009, 5) asserts, “Africa is the only continent where life expectancy is less than sixty years; today it hovers at fifty years.  One in seven children across the African continent die before the age of five and roughly 50 percent of Africa’s population is young- below the age of fifteen years”.  When it comes to comparing the statistics for Ethiopia compare to the entire continent of African, it must be noted that 46.3% of the population is under the age of 14 and the average life expectancy in Ethiopia is only 59 years.  The International Food Policy Research Institute notes that 35% of Ethiopian children are underweight and an astounding 40 percent of the population is malnourished.

The best way to observe if an implemented plan was successful is by examining those who benefited from the program.   Many countries that previously received food aid in the early years of PL 480 have become self-sufficient, they’re agricultural exporters, they can purchase products on the open market, and, most importantly, they’ve become international donors for other countries who are in need of aid.  When it comes to the effectiveness of the policy, some countries end up better off than other countries.  For over thirty years, Ethiopia has been plagued with an ongoing cycle of famine.  In 2003, the USAID and FPP organizations shipped aid to 13.2 million Ethiopians which averted another widespread spread famine outbreak.  The constant reoccurrence of famine does not mean that the current policy is not working to improve and save the lives of Ethiopians; whereas, it’s more of a sign that the country needs long term help because it has not been adequately able to sustain development in the long run.  When it comes to Food for Peace, slow growth in Ethiopia does not mean no growth.  In that same year, Food for Peace made sure the nutritional requirements were met for 61,000 people who were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.  At that time, members in the Ethiopian community noted that absenteeism for underweight children who were in school fell from fifty-two to thirty-seven percent.  In 2009, the Food for Peace organization and other private donors constructed ninety-five km of roads which connected ten Dewe communities, they built three troughs for livestock watering, they rehabilitated five shallow wells, five schools were also rehabilitated, they trained 137 farmers in water conservation, and they also trained 100 women in heath, nutrition and hygiene behaviors.

In 2007, the USAID established the first food aid warehouse in Djibouti to have food aid on stock when it was needed in Africa or Asia.  Within that year, fifty-seven percent of the prepositioned food made its way to Ethiopia and the Sudan without the normal 3 to 4 month shipping time.  Reviewing the success of the warehouse in Africa, USAID raised its storage capacity from two million to ten million over the next two years.  Ethiopia also received one hundred and eighty-two million dollars worth of aid in 2007.  In 2008, the WPF improved the lives of 482,000 children in nine hundred and fifteen schools, throughout Ethiopia, by just providing school time meals.  Ethiopia needs so much help that in 2009, Ethiopia was ranked second overall in countries that received Food for Peace Program food aid which was 386.4 million and 328 million also went to Ethiopia from the emergency food program.  In 2010, the U.S. contributed one hundred and seven million dollars to the WFP mission in Ethiopia.  The Food for Peace Program works directly with the USAID’s Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) which tries to prevent wide spread droughts and famine across Ethiopia.  In response to the current drought, which occurred in 2011, $231,192,658 dollars has been used to help 1.2 million Ethiopians.

Some U.S. policy makers want Congress to overhaul two provision of the Food for Peace Program.  Its been estimated that government could save over 500 million dollars a year by ending the U.S. food aid cargo preferences and by eliminating monetized food aid to the receiving countries.  In 1954, the U.S government added a provision to food aid commodities which mandated that seventy-five percent of the commodities must be shipped with registered U.S. vessels.  Policy makers argue that this provision was added by the military to ensure that ships and crews were available during war time.  In 2006, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) noted that taxpayers paid $140 million dollars in unnecessary transportation cost.  Consequently, the cost of U.S. food aid shipments are both sixty percent higher than European nations and only one-third of the U.S. federal food aid dollars actually purchase food.  The second program gives the U.S. Agency for international Development (USAID) the right to have private voluntary organizations (PVOs) sell a portion of the aid that they received from the U.S. to pay for development projects and the administrative costs associated with the PVOs.  In 1996, PVOs only sold twenty-eight percent of the aid, but by 2001, that number jumped to sixty percent.  What’s worse than profiting off of food aid?  The fact the American taxpayer foots the bill!  The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (Oxfam) also criticizes that the use of monetized food aid is not only a bad way for developing countries to acquire money for developmental projects but it also makes the recipient country more dependent on food aid.

With the rising cost of food, the U.S. government (Congress) wants to cut back spending on the program.  Cutting spending in some places/sectors may be necessary, but to cut spending to the Food for Peace Program would be a death sentence to many underprivileged citizens in the world.  A mist these Food for Peace budget cuts, the World Food Program USA (WFP USA) rallied two-thousand grassroots advocates to jump on the bandwagon for maintaining funding that aids poor countries around the world. Thanks to the help from these grassroots supporters, the budget cuts have yet to be enacted.

One way to reduce the amount of Food Aid that is shipped to Ethiopia would be to eliminate import tariffs on goods that come from developing countries and exported subsidized food that also goes to these countries.

“Estimates suggest that Africa loses around US $500 billion each year because of restrictive trade embargoes- largely in the form of subsidies by Western governments to Western farmers.  With millions of tons of subsidized exports flooding the market so cheaply, African Farmers cannot possibly compete.  Like cotton, sugar subsidies hurt Africa.  The charity Oxfam estimated the regime has deprived Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Malawi of potential export earnings of US $238 million since 2001” (Moyo 2009, 115).

Western nations believe that we are helping because we supply many Ethiopians with the food that they need, but we are often hindering their growth because we don’t want their food.  This is not sustainable and it slows development in developing countries like Ethiopia.  The US must eliminate this policy if these countries are ever going to achieve Broad Based Sustainable Development.

“Industrialized countries discriminate against processed agricultural commodities from developing countries.  This is true for coffee, oil seed, rubber, and many other commodities.  This is done to protect the processors of such products in the industrialized countries.  Most parties would benefit if coffee, cocoa, and rubber were processed in developing countries where wages are lower, so they could be imported and sold in industrialized countries at lower prices” (Weaver 1997; Rock, 1997; Kusterer, 1997, 147-48).

The food that we supply should come with additional support in the form of education.  The US government spent millions if not billions of dollars on teaching US citizens how to farm both efficiently and successfully, but, when it comes to places like Ethiopia, Moyo (2009, 153) notes that, “The West sent aid to Africa and ultimately did not care about the outcome.  China, on the other hand, sends cash to Africa and demands returns.  With returns Africans get jobs, get roads, get food, making more Africans better off, and (at least in the interim) the promise of some semblance of political stability”.  Giving food aid to Ethiopia is obligation that America must never forgo on.  Changes can be made to make sure that Ethiopians can develop and grow like all other NICs, but we must not turn our back on a country that has been involved in civil strifes, feminine, and food insecurities.  If aid was initially given to stop the spread of communism in the 1940s, what will happen to Ethiopia’s 90,873,739 citizens and, most importantly, to the estimated 1 billion people in Africa (in 2008 Africa’s population was estimated at 967 million)[2], if the still somewhat communist country of China continues to takeover with the unprecedented amounts of FDI that they flood into many African countries?

Developmental change starts with educating, feeding, empowering, connecting and vaccinating the children in developing countries.  In 2011, The Food for Peace program awarded Ethiopia thirty million dollars in aid a year for the next five years.  This number is much lower than previous years, but with the inclusion of new roads, and educated Ethiopians, the thirty million can go a lot further than the millions from previous years.  There are eight different tribes in the Lower Omo River in Southwest Ethiopia that have inhabited Ethiopia for the past 2000 years (Bodi, Kara, Kwegu, Mursi, Nyangatom,etc.).  When the FFP connected the 10 Dewe tribes, that was a good start but since then the Ethiopian government has been building a highway that will eventually connect (government speculating completion will be in 2014) the Omo tribes to  4 other tribes, and also to the main sector inside the Ethiopian economy.  As pat of their Millennium Development Goals, the Ethiopian government has pledge to donate 10 million dollars a year for the next five years to educate and empower Ethiopia’s subsistent agricultural farmers.  This a positive step forward for the Ethiopian government because their economy is based on agriculture, which accounts for 41% of their GDP and houses 85% of the countries total employment sector.  It must be noted that when it comes to developing counties like Ethiopia, growth is not always equitable and profit producing; however, if certain steps are taken by the government, broad based sustainable development can be achievable.  Weaver, Rock, and Kusterer (1997, 66) assess that:

“Governments can do a number of things to promote broad-based growth.  It helps if the income-producing assets, land and educated and healthy labor, are equitably distributed at the beginning of the development process.  Government needs to carry out land reform when its not equitably distributed.  Governments must finance basic education and basic health care for all so that workers and farmers can take advantage of the opportunities provided by equitable growth.  Finally governments must create safety net to provide basic necessities for those who are by passed by growth.”

If steps like this are taken, monitored, and implemented so that positive growth results in the end, the Food for Peace Program may one day be eliminated!


Works Cited Page

Carter, Alix. 2011. “Joint Emergency Operation Plan NGO response to emergency food needs in Ethiopia.” February 14. (February 8, 2012).

Corum, Jason. 2011. “From Congress to Ethiopia: How U.S. Foreign Assistance Encourages Children to go to School.” June 22. (February 8, 2012).

Moyo, Dambisa. 2009. Dead Aid: Why Aid is not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux Publishers.

Norris, John. 2011. “Five Steps to Make Our Aid More Effective and Save More Than $2 Billion.” May 5. (Febuary 8, 2012).

Shah, Anup. 2007. “Food Aid.” December 3. (February 8, 2012).

United Nations Development Program. 2005.  Human Development Report International cooperation at a crossroads: Aid, trade and security in an unequal world. New York: UNDP

Weaver, J., Rock, M., & and Kenneth Kusterer. 1997. Achieving Broad-Based Sustainable Development: Governance, Environment, and Growth with Equity. Connecticut: Kumarian Press—ethiopia.html,,menuPK:295939~pagePK:141132~piPK:141107~theSitePK:295930,00.html



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Posted by on December 28, 2012 in Political Science


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