And give us our daily bread: Why food aid has not led and will not lead to food security

Since the end of World War II, the International Community has made an effort to fight hunger worldwide. After the 90’s, the outcome looked promising. However, food insecurity levels first became stagnant, and are now on the rise again. This article will argue how food aid cannot eradicate global food insecurity.


With devastating famines and food shortages after World War II, the International Community made an increasing effort to fight global hunger (Shaw 2007). For the first time, the right to freedom from hunger was established as a human right (Rosenman 1950 cited after Shaw 2007). The FAO and other international organisations were founded to meet that daring challenge. In the 20th century, many milestones were reached: Global food production rose exponentially and could feed now the whole world population, making hunger a problem of distribution rather than production (Serageldin & Landell-Mills 1994). However, hunger stayed prominent, especially in the Global South. Even today, most people suffering from hunger and undernutrition live in Africa and South Asia (Swinnen & Kosec 2023). This is mirrored in my experiences growing up, seeing African children on massive billboards of non-profit organisations, asking for donations to support food aid. Hunger seemed and still seems to be a problem for poor countries, that rely on richer countries for their goodwill in food distribution. But, food security is much more complicated than that.

The political economy of food security

Agricultural policy, which is closely intertwined with food policy and food security, underlies a specific problem other industries do not face: Agricultural production takes time. Because market reactions are only possible with a time lag due to the growth period of agricultural products, it is more difficult for the market to be regulated by supply and demand. This affects all countries, however, the situation becomes more complicated as the agricultural sector is now connected globally and has been for quite some time. In the 20th century, the U.S. and the EU were the most important international players in the agricultural sector and thus controlled grain prices (Schanbacher 2010). The EU agricultural policy was heavily criticised in the late 20th century because of the massive subsidies leading to overproduction and dumping of agricultural products on the global market (Bulmer et al. 2005). Due to the reorganization of the global agricultural market with the U.S. and the EU at the top, countries of the Global South found themselves highly dependent on the two leading actors because of food import dependency (Schanbacher 2010). Also, the industrialization of the agricultural sector in the Global North contributed to climate change (Mbow et al. 2019), which in turn leads to the responsibility of industrialized countries towards countries without an industrialized agricultural sector. 

However, countries of the Global South are in a more difficult position due to other factors. First, due to their proximity to the Equator, countries of the Global South already suffer more from the effects of climate change. Natural catastrophes are prone to happen more regularly in these regions with unstable climates (Huq & Adow 2022). Second, in countries of the Global South, armed conflicts are more common (Uppsala Conflict Data Program & Natural Earth). Thus, food policy and food security can easily be neglected by political decision-makers due to the government setting other priorities. People who hunger or starve are usually part of the poorer and more uneducated population. Thus, they do not have a strong lobby to stand up for themselves. Non-profit organisations can administer acute assistance with food aid. However, this dependency on the goodwill of others cannot be a long-term solution for ensuring food security. 

Why food aid will not lead to food security

The general public’s contemporary perception of food security leads to several problems. First, as already mentioned in the introduction, food insecurity, and especially hunger, are considered to be a problem of the Global South. This becomes evident as special indices for measuring food insecurity do not even include North America and Europe in their statistics (GHI w.D.). But, contrary to this widespread conception, food insecurity is on the rise in North America and Europe. This does not only include the malnutrition of people due to high-calorie, nutrient-poor diets but hunger becomes more prevalent as well. The term “food poverty” (Rost & Lündalv 2021) refers especially in European research to people who are too poor to afford a balanced diet that meets their needs. Researchers argue that hunger is only not as prevalent in European countries due to welfare state systems and the efforts of local food banks (ibid.). 

This situation points out the real problem of food insecurity: Structural food insecurity – meaning consistent food insecurity, not food insecurity and famines due to natural catastrophes or other extreme situations – affects poor people, no matter where they live (Gregório et al. 2014). Thus, food insecurity is not a geographical, but rather a global problem that must be tackled by governments in a national and international approach.

Second, there is a structural problem with the global food markets. Food insecure people are often in a situation where they cannot change their situation and are dependent on food aid or food relief programs for several reasons. One of them is the lobbyism of the food industry. Food industries are global players with immense annual revenues. This economic asset can be used – and is used – to influence political decision-makers on national and international players (Lee 2023). One prominent example is the protest against the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy, which aims for more sustainable food production in the EU and a healthier diet for EU citizens (EU Commission 2020). Other examples include lobbying for domestic initiatives such as import taxes or bio-fuel initiatives which drive up global food prices, in turn weakening food security in food-importing countries (Gillson & Fouad 2015). Thus, citizens are dependent either on the goodwill of governments to pursue a food policy which makes healthy and nutritious food affordable or on the goodwill of (international) organizations involved in food aid. This food relief, however, is nothing more than symptom management. Governments have a responsibility to ensure human rights for their citizens. Rather than listening to lobbyists, governments must stick to their commitment to achieving and realizing human rights globally. We need a change in global food systems to establish global food markets offering affordable prices for everyone. 


The International Community has been trying for about a century now to end hunger globally and has always failed. Global food insecurity persists and is even on the rise, driven by different factors like climate change and economic instability in the global market. Especially countries in the Global South are affected by this dynamic, which exacerbates the north-south divide. 

Therefore, crucial change is needed. Food security is a human right and important for everyone to live self-determined. Thus, policymakers must prioritize the well-being of their citizens over the interests of powerful food industries, promoting sustainable and equitable food systems. It has been possible for several decades to feed the entire world population with agricultural production. It is a moral disgrace that it is still put into reality today because of economic interests.


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