Haiti Doesn’t Need Your Old T-Shirt… Or Our Surplus Rice

AJWS has been saying for a while that shipping surplus U.S. food thousands of miles to developing countries is about as useless in ending global hunger as, well, sending them our old T-shirts.

According to this article in Foreign Policy Magazine, here’s a great acronym for the leftovers people send to the poor under the guise of helping: SWEDOW (“stuff we don’t want”).

Charles Kenny makes it clear and compelling why casting our SWEDOW on the Global South isn’t going to foster sustainable change—it just clears out our closets and the coffers of U.S. farming surplus to make room for the next useless T-shirt or bumper crop. Kenny also does a great job of explaining the rationale behind AJWS’s food justice campaign, Reverse Hunger: Ending the Global Food Crisis:

“The mother of all swedow is the $2 billion-plus U.S. food aid program, a boondoggle that lingers on only because of the lobbying muscle of agricultural conglomerates. (Perhaps the most embarrassing moment was when the United States airdropped 2.4 million Pop-Tarts on Afghanistan in January 2002.) Harvard University’s Nathan Nunn and Yale University’s Nancy Qian have shown that the scale of U.S. food aid isn’t strongly tied to how much recipient countries actually require it — but it does rise after a bumper crop in the American heartland, suggesting that food aid is far more about dumping American leftovers than about sending help where helps needed. And just like secondhand clothing, castoff food exports can hurt local economies. Between the 1980s and today, subsidized rice exports from the United States to Haiti wiped out thousands of local farmers and helped reduce the proportion of locally produced rice consumed in the country from 47 to 15 percent. Former President Bill Clinton concluded that the food aid program may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked.… I had to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did.

Read more here, and then sign the Jewish Petition for a Just Farm Bill to help AJWS reverse this problem in 2012.