The UN in Ethiopia has warned that food aid can sometimes hinder, rather than help, the needy.
A report by the UN Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia (EUE), entitled "Food aid is not development", said vital food deliveries were often late or never arrived, compounding the problems faced by tens of thousands of families who are dependent on the handouts.
It looked at two of the most food-insecure areas of Ethiopia - North and South Gondar of Amhara Region.
Unscrupulous traders - who deliver the aid - often used funds to buy cereals when the market price was low and then resold it a couple of months later when prices had increased, the report said. The profits they made far outstripped any penalties they faced for non-delivery.
“Food aid too often does not arrive in time and sometimes not at all,” said the report by Hugo Rami of the EUE. He added that this placed massive strains on desperate families who then turned to other means, such as cutting down forests to sell as charcoal.
“Though well meant, food aid purchases on the local market have a negative long-term effect for the beneficiaries and the community as a whole as there are no mechanisms in place that guarantee in-time deliveries,” the report said.
It called for traders who defaulted on vital deliveries to be “blacklisted’ and said there should be stiffer financial penalties as a deterrent against non-delivery.
It also said more all-weather roads should be built so that aid could be delivered all year round if necessary, and stressed that massive deforestation must be prevented.
The EUE recommended linking “conditions” to food handouts, such as preserving the environment or effective family planning. It noted that many of the food shortage problems faced by families in the region were compounded by a “largely uncontrolled increase of the population”.
“Overall, food aid leads to an over-exploitation of natural resources if no changes in policy are made,” the report said. “The result is increased dependency on food aid – all in all a downward spiral.”
The EUE also argued that employment generating schemes, where locals are given food or cash for work, were often ineffective.