|Essays on Food, Hunger, Nutrition, Primary Health Care and Development (AVIVA, 480 p.)|
|15. Viewpoint: Nutrition Planning - What Relevance to Hunger?|
· What role has international aid played in the level of agricultural self sufficiency of the underdeveloped countries, in the training of manpower and in the transfer and adaptation of technology?
· What has the role of international technical assistance been?
International food aid expanded greatly after the 1950s. Food distribution and subsidization programmes became one fashionable way of intervening to attempt to alleviate malnutrition. For years these programmes were coupled with US grain surpluses. The food grain imports, mostly PL 480 Title II aid, had a negative impact on local grain prices and diminished the economic incentives for local farmers to grow the same grains. As a result they ended up shifting to other more profitable, often non edible, crops.
It is difficult to assess how much food dependency this has created. But what is clear, is that now, when world food surpluses are erratic, poor countries are often forced, in times of scarcity, to compete with the affluent nations in the world market for badly needed grain to feed their people. Third world countries are slowly beginning to realize that it is economically sound to become self-sufficient in food and some internal investment is being redirected to agriculture and food production. Fortunately this approach is also becoming popular with the donor agencies.
Services through technical assistance have also been provided by international agencies dealing with food and nutrition. Have these efforts had any significant impact? I doubt it. Most of the technical assistance available has been connected with single shot interventions in nutrition mentioned above. Too often have technical assistance missions been short term and with little real involvement in the problems by the consultants. More often have the goals of the agency been fulfilled rather than the needs of the recipients.
Technical assistance has been significant mainly in the training of manpower and in the transfer of technology. In training, the emphasis in the past has clearly been biased towards the higher national echelons with little attention to intermediate level cadres and an almost total neglect of low level executors. Training has usually been short term, ideologically biased, too general, theoretical and unrealistic given the local physical and political conditions. The participants in such courses have rarely been given the change to or been able to, implement what they learned. The dark age of attempting direct transfers of technology is passing. Failures have been reported by the dozens. Fortunately, some lessons have been learned from this naive approach and more efforts are now being directed, both in research and implementation, towards the local adaptation of technologies particularly in agriculture and in rood preservation and food processing.
The single shot intervention approach is also slowly being replaced by concepts, such as comprehensive rural development, multisectoral nutrition planning and others, which in general try to understand the deeper nature of the problems of the poor, especially the rural poor. Gross misconceptions about these sectors have often explained the failure of well intended programmes.
The best example or this is perhaps the new understanding that is emerging about the subsistence former sector which accounts for a large proportion of the world's malnourished. It is becoming understood that subsistence farmers already maximize their output in terms of their expectations and needs. They cannot afford to introduce new technology to increase output, and even if they could, they would not be motivated to increase production. We should, therefore, study their maximization mentality in each locale. ("Why don't you produce more?"), to determine the constraints that should be tackled in order la have them increase output with their particular level of technology.
The World Bank, at least, is one major international agency that is moving along these lines in its explicit policies which are oriented toward helping the small farmers of the third world.