A model to solve global food security based on dignity, not charity? What would it take? And most importantly, would it ever work? Or is it just some crazy idea discussed at universities and in the cafes of DC, Geneva, and London. Sure, nice thought, but really? That’s just not how international development works.
The international community is spending hundreds of millions and many of our brightest minds fighting food insecurity and malnutrition with donations, handouts, and reactive and expensive medical interventions (think PlumpyNut).
But people living in extreme poverty around the world? They have money, they are consumers. Yes, the amount of money they have to spend on an essential item like food is often small, but that does not mean that any person deserves to be defined as a charity project. Every day, people living in extreme poverty spend money on food. Sometimes, it’s World Food Programme school rations they are buying, the result of a corrupt – but entrepreneurial – school administrator siphoning off donations to resell in the local market (which happens more often than you would think, especially in Liberia).
Regardless, people living in extreme poverty buy food. People living in extreme poverty are consumers.
Yet the international aid community is not set up for consumers – It is set-up for recipients of charity.
And so, the status quo continues. Nutritious food offered through a model of charity – until the latest grant money runs out.
On the other hand, the Nestle’s and Coca-Cola’s of the world have figured out that people living in poverty are consumers, and want to be treated with the respect that comes with that designation, not with the pity of being labelled a charity project. That’s why you have 100 million Nestle bouillon cubes being bought every day in Central and West Africa. That’s why a bottle of Coke is easier to find than water in many remote communities.
If we can all agree that people living in poverty buy food, then why are we spending billions giving away food? In emergency situations, yes, there is a need for food aid, but as an everyday reality that exists in perpetuity? I think it’s about time we start over.
So what do we know for sure?
People living in poverty are consumers, that’s something out of our hands. What can be impacted is the quality of food being consumed? Salt and sugar-filled flavor enhancers and sodas? Or nutritional food designed smartly?
And the best part? Nutritional food does not cost much more than a bottle of Coke or a Nestle bouillon cube, if produced utilizing local ingredients.
International development is an industry set in its ways. And the big food companies make millions dumping damaging products on consumers living in poverty. Is change possible?
In our own small way, with an incredibly unsexy but effective fortified porridge, we believe it is.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – R. Buckminster Fuller