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Regional Hunger & Vulnerability Programme (RHVP)

Bio-fuels and food aid: The impact on southern Africa

Wahenga Brief number 13

Catherine Grant

Regional Hunger & Vulnerability Programme (RHVP)

May 2007

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Food insecurity is a real issue facing many developing countries in the world and the provision of food aid by multilateral and bilateral donors remains one of the main tools used to assist people in these countries. For the purposes of this paper, food aid is defined as “international transactions that result in the provision of aid in the form of a food commodity in a country deemed in need of receiving such aid” (FAO Committee on Commodity Problems 2005, 1).

The United States (US) provides more food aid than any other donor and much of this takes the form of in-kind donations of commodities to the World Food Programme (WFP) and international non-governmental organisations, such as Care and World Vision. The US policy has been criticised by some as being a means to dispose of surplus food that is produced by farmers that receive subsidies from government. There have been calls for a move towards the provision of food aid in grant form and this idea is currently being discussed by members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as part of the negotiations on new rules aimed at minimising the trade distorting effects of food aid.

There is a strong likelihood that if new rules on food aid are agreed by the WTO, the amount provided by the US will decrease. This possibility comes at a time when the amount of ethanol produced in the US has more than doubled since 2001 (The Economist, 2006). The emergence of ethanol as a competitor for the use of maize and other staple food supplies could result in a major adjustment in the economics and trade of global food production, including food aid. This could have significant implications for the countries of southern Africa. A number of countries in the region run a food deficit and regularly rely on food aid in order to meet the needs of their populations. The impact of the increased production of bio-fuels may have a negative impact on availability of food both from the perspective of an increased global price and lower production levels of stock for food. This paper explores some of these linkages and possible scenarios with particular reference to the impact of US policies on food aid to southern Africa.

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