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“Teach them how to fish” – Why Food Aid Programs Need to Change

The world’s population is growing.  Last month it was reported that roughly seven billion people call planet Earth home.  That’s up one billion in 12 years.  More people means further taxation on the planet’s resources and more poverty-stricken families.  Because of this, there is an increased demand on food aid programs worldwide.

The tool that has been used for food aid programs has always been a checkbook. The answer, however, is not to provide vast sums of money as a solution.  While these organizations cannot function without capital, throwing large sums of money at these programs doesn’t help to fix the problem.

Food aid programs are complex and difficult to administer.  An influx of cash is simply a short-term, non-sustainable solution, which is especially important to note in light of growing world population. In some ways, financial aid may worsen the conditions of the needy.

There are many obstacles that exist when it comes to getting help for those in need.  The idea of aid is noble and philanthropic, at the same time it can be challenging and difficult to manage.  And we can do better.

Many would assume that money will be managed properly and used to alleviate the suffering of people who have insufficient food, medicine, clothing and shelter, but mismanagement of financial aid is the core reason why intended philanthropy can sometimes fall apart. Financial aid creates many obstacles, including an environment that can easily succumb to mismanagement at its best, and corruption at its worst. Financial aid also creates a culture of dependency, where little incentive exists to build and sustain self-reliance. 

To overcome these obstacles, the answers lie in empowering individuals with the education and technology that will foster self-reliance and independence. They must have the knowledge to be able to manage their own natural resources in a productive and sustainable way. They must also exist in a stable environment, void of corruption, with a government that is held accountable for its actions.

As the world’s population increases and the need for food security becomes paramount, long-term sustainability will be crucial to empower individuals to become more self-sufficient and less reliant on others. 

The old adage is “give a man a fish; you have fed him for today.  Teach a man to fish; you have fed him for a lifetime.”  Our food aid programs should look more like educational classes than anything else.  These programs should not be enablers for poverty.  Instead, we need to teach people in a region how they can take care of themselves with the resources available.  Then and only then will we have provided a humanitarian good for the planet.

Jeffrey Geider is the director of the ranch management program at Texas Christian University in Forth Worth, Texas.