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Cornell economist to bring Fanning lecture Nov. 4

University of Georgia

Nationally known economist Christopher Barrett will debunk myths of foreign farm aid during this year's J.W. Fanning Lecture. The annual lecture will be Nov. 4 at 10:30 a.m. in the Georgia Center for Continuing Education at the University of Georgia in Athens.

Barrett, professor of economics and management at Cornell University and co-director of Cornell's African Food Security and Natural Resources Management Program, will deliver the annual lecture in room K/L of the Georgia Center.

An expert in development economics, Barrett will discuss "Food Aid, American Agriculture, the World Trade Organization and International Development." The lecture will be based partly on Barrett's coauthored book, "Food Aid After Fifty Years: Recasting Its Role," published earlier this year.

Food-aid myths

Barrett will address a number of myths about U.S. food aid. For example, farm interests have long held that U.S. food aid provides substantial benefits for U.S. farmers. However, in a recent interview with The New York Times, Barrett argued that various intermediaries enjoy most of the gains from U.S. food aid, not American farmers. These intermediaries include large U.S. grain merchandising and shipping firms.

His research established that several nonprofit aid organizations depended on food aid for a quarter to half of their budgets. While the organizations distribute food in poor countries, it's not well known that they have also become grain traders, selling much of the donated food on local markets in poor countries to generate tens of millions of dollars to aid their antipoverty programs.

Barrett's research established that at least 50 cents of each dollar's worth of food aid is spent on transport, storage and administrative costs in the process of selling food to raise money for foreign aid.

Inefficient

He calls this an extremely inefficient way to finance long-term development. It would be more efficient, he says, to simply give the money directly to nonprofit groups.

In some poor countries, Barrett believes the hunger problem may not be the lack of food, but the fact that the people are so desperately poor that they can't buy the food that's available.

In a PBS interview, he said much aid has been given to poor countries, but some of it has been channeled toward debt relief, emergency assistance and other things that don't effectively address the issues of improving the productivity, health and education of the countries' populations.

As a result, people in these countries remain unproductive and desperately poor. "We absolutely must do something now," Barrett said.

"It's the humanitarian imperative," he said. "But we also need to anticipate that this problem will recur if we fail to address the underlying structural causes, if we don't improve agricultural productivity and ... the marketing infrastructure so people can earn a living."

For more information on the Fanning lecture, call (706) 542-2481.

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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