I happened to have picked up the June 2009 issue of Harper's magazine and noticed a very intriguing article entitled Let Them Eat Cash: Can Bill Gates Turn Hunger into Profit? I was also fortunate to have found the article online.
Fredrick Kaufman wrote this article after attending a conference on global food security, climate change and biofuels in Rome in 2009. This is a long article that sometimes goes in tangents and is perhaps too long and too intellectual. But it does bring up a series of very good questions and compelling points.
First, let me start with an excerpt (which really explains the main point of the piece):
The stories varied in focus and emphasis but employed the same basic plot points: biofuel production, caterpillar plagues, commodity speculation, crop disease, drought, dwindling stockpiles, fear, flood, hoarding, war, and an increasing world appetite for meat and dairy had bubbled into a nasty poison. Every day, another 25,000 people starved to death or died from hunger-related disease: every four seconds, another corpse.
You might have noticed that the headline (or subheadline) has a reference to Bill Gates, who has offered assistance to the World Food Programme (WFP) to help address one of the inequities of the current global economic system: a trade system that has tended to benefit the mutinational conglomerates at the expense of the small and medium-sized agricultural producers.Rising prices for corn, cooking oil, rice, soybeans, and wheat had sparked riots in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, and nineteen other countries. Not to mention Milwaukee, where a food voucher line of nearly 3,000 people descended into chaos. (“They just went crazy down there,” said one witness. “Just totally crazy.”)
Oddly enough, almost none of the food riots had emerged from a lack of food. There was plenty of food. The riots had been generated by the lack of money to buy food, and therein lay what may have distinguished today’s hunger from the hunger of years past. Therein lay the substance of the Rome conference.
Gates was going to provide funding to help expand the WFP's "program of local purchasing to small farmers and grain traders in the farther reaches of their client nations."
But Kaufman expressed some skepticism, suggesting that despite the good intentions of the WFP and Bill Gates, the efforts would have the effect of creating a different kind of "dependency" on the west.
Perhaps my synopsis is somewhat simplistic, and there are many more complexities (and historic references) mentioned by Mr. Kaufman.
As we consider approaches to foreign aid, we in the west have to examine all the questions that have been put on the table. We must look at creative solutions to ending hunger, such as the one Bill Gates has proposed. But we must also look long-term goals, such as promoting self-sufficiency.
It strikes me that today's readings have some relevance to the topic at hand, especially the Gospel. There is one line (Luke 12:15) that must guide our quest to find solutions. "Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions."
By the way, Mr. Kaufman, also wrote a very good piece for Harper's entitled How Wall Street Starved Millions and Got Away with it. That is a topic for another blog post.