Science - December 6, 2018

‘People must learn to be self-reliant’

Tessa Louwerens

For her research, PhD student Juliet Mubaiwa spent a lot of her time in her home country, Zimbabwe. There she saw some negative effects of food aid in rural communities. ‘If we keep on handing out free food, a sustainable system will never be established.’

Juliet Mubaiwa got her PhD on 14 November for her thesis on improving the utilization of indigenous legumes, such as Bambara groundnut and cowpea, in Zimbabwe.

Proposition: Food aid does more harm than good in recipient countries.

‘As a young girl I grew up in a rural area in Zimbabwe, before moving to the city for secondary and university education. So I have seen and experienced both rural and urban life. Many sub-Saharan countries like Zimbabwe receive food aid, from both non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the government. This is meant to reinforce food security, mostly during the lean season. But a constant supply of food aid has an adverse effect of causing the agricultural sector to shrink, which might actually aggravate food insecurity in the long-term. I therefore argue that food aid does more harm than good. Just to be clear: I’m not talking about food aid that is provided in times of acute need, such as wartime or natural disasters. I’m talking about sending grain to the same area, year in, year out, with no specific end goal in sight.

For my research I worked closely with people in the rural communities and talking to them I noticed a dependency syndrome. People know when food aid is coming, and even plan their calendar accordingly. Some households still cultivate crops like maize, which need quite a lot of water compared to some of the drought-resistant indigenous crops. There is no incentive to increase production of crops that do well in their area because it doesn’t matter whether their crops succeed or fail, because they know they will get food anyway. This dependence makes people more vulnerable to political manipulation.

Re:actions 1

  • Gert Jan Hofstede

    Makes perfect sense.