Ask an expert about food aid

When I was a little kid, my sister (who never ate her vegetables) used to wish aloud at the dinner table that she could send her broccoli to Africa, where the kids really need it.

At the time, I liked to think of myself as not quite so naive -- I knew we couldn't literally send our vegetables to Africa. It would taste really bad by the time it got there.

Yes, shipping leftovers probably isn't a best practice in terms of humanitarian food aid. But what about food security? And malnutrition prevention and mitigation? And ready-to-use therapeutic food?

Asking questions like these is absolutely essential in better understanding the complexities of humanitarian work. It's also why we're continuing with our expert interview series -- in which you have the opportunity to ask your questions to aid professionals. Our first post on this topic was "Ask an aid worker about the Horn of Africa" with World Vision's Betsy Baldwin. In this second installment, I'd like to introduce you to Paul Macek.

Paul is the senior director of food security and livelihoods team. He leads a team of specialized program officers who focus on food security, livelihoods, economic development, nutrition, agriculture, and environment.

A typical day for staff on his team includes meetings about food aid programs with colleagues, World Vision partners, and donors. His role also includes conducting field assessments of our food programs around the world.

Paul has degrees in history and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Master of Arts in international affairs with concentrations in international development and political economy from American University in Washington, D.C. Paul joined World Vision U.S. in 2009 after serving for 14 years in various capacities with Catholic Relief Services in Africa.

When Paul agreed to be our interviewee, he also told me, "Food aid can be an extremely effective means to saving lives and building sustainable livelihoods -- but food aid is just one tool within a wider food security approach that focuses on economic development and improving agricultural productivity and practices."

Ask Paul your questions about food aid by leaving them in the comments section. Remember, the point is to ask questions that will help us better understand food aid and its relation to humanitarian aid work.

On Tuesday, we’ll pick the top six or seven questions and give them to Paul for his response. (And if you like someone else’s question, leave a reply saying so. That way, we can get a sense of what questions are of most interest to you.)

Look for Paul's answers and responses this Friday, just in time for World Food Day, October 16!


    I was wondering what happens after a child is nourished with Plumpy Nut and no longer needs it. What happens next to prevent that child from slipping back into severe malnutrition? I think Plumpy Nut is a great restorer for children who are so close to death, and it seems to work miracles for them. But I wonder what happens after the children are nourished by it--are they brought back only to slip back into starvation?

    What is your vision for food sustainability for the world?

    In the Horn of Africa where 30,000+ children have died from the current famine, what is the biggest challenge to solving the problem? Available supply? Workers needed? Security & cooperation of governments?

    When people come to the food distribution areas, how long do they stay? Whenever they leave, do they just end up malnurished again? Is there ever fights that break out over the food being distributed?

    I saw a documentary on the aftereffects of the Holocost after the end of WW2. The soldiers tried to give their food to the malnourished camp survivors but the food made them sick because their bodies weren't used to eating/digesting it. I imagine it is the same with starving children in the horn of Africa. what is in the food in the tubes that I saw recently at my church in a film by World vision?

    I don't know much about food aid, but I know it is an important issue with much debate; can you clarify for me the stance World Vision takes on food aid and the pro's and con's of that stance?

    What can one regular person do to make an impact in the crisis if severe hunger or famine? I know world vision can do bigger things as an organization; what is the most effective way for someone like me to help?

    Could we use the same strategies we use to feed troops to feed the hungry in the desert?

    It is hard to know that there is enough food in the world to feed everyone plenty, but so many are starving. What are the top 3 challenges to getting the supply to the demand?

    Thank you for all you do!

    Unfortunately, the food used in the American military is culturally specific and relatively expensive compared to our food aid programs. We don’t need “meals ready to eat” (MRE's) to feed people and this food would be very unfamiliar to them. And so we work hard to find suitable food products that allow us to meet cultural and dietary requirements with reasonable costs. Thanks for your question, Jenn.

    Hi! Thank you for all you do lending strategy to global efforts to help heal our world. I would like to know what your approach is to the tension between feeding children with no strings attached (religious or political) but still making the most of the feeding connection to ensure children get the tools they need to grow up and break out of the poverty cycle. Thanks again!

    Can you please comment on the monetization component of U.S. food aid programs (as opposed to feeding programs) as a form of economic development. Specifically, two questions: 1) Can monetization ever become more cost efficient when U.S. law requires the use of often more expensive U.S. flag vessels to transport U.S. commodities available for monetization, the availability of which largely result from the "false economy" of U.S. farm policy price supports (thus making the combined total cost to obtain, transport, and monetize the commodities exceed the sales proceeds received and then used for economic development. It seems that direct cash contributions from the US Government would be more cost effective and cheaper for U.S. tax payers as well as to impact the end beneficiaries? 2) How does U.S. domestic farm policy price supports philosophically "square" with the goal of foreign economic development when the farmers' production costs (without their own price supports) means the foreign farmers have less chance to compete in terms of sales price on a fair open market basis?

    Recently, my husband and I discussed making a bigger contribution to World Vision after I was sickened watching a report about a man who was asking for financial advice. The man had $10 million in mutual funds, had a six-figure job, and wanted to know if it was a good idea to buy a Harley. Flabbergasted at finding out the man was not struggling with bills, the radio host told the man to buy the Harley. I couldn't believe it. He had $10 million just sitting around while children are dying all over the world from starvation, illness, and lack of clean water. When you know that there are people out there who can put a huge dent in the needs that World Vision works so hard to try to meet, how does that make you feel?

    Does World Vision ever distribute food aid with other organizations? How does World Vision work (in general) with other organizations?

    It's great to send food aid, but how can we invest in people's lives so that they can create their own sustainable practices of farming/working so they won't need our food aid? A goal of US Aid should be to work themselves out of jobs (in an ideal world).

    So my question would be: what are you and your organization currently doing to not only provide food while there is a need, but to train and equip so there will no longer be a need for food aid in the future?

    Submitting a few questions on behalf of a friend....

    1. What's the most dramatic way food delivery has changed in the last 10 years?

    2. How much of your budget do you spend on armed guards for the travel and distribution. Has that increased?

    3. How do you make sure that food ends up with people who need it and not commandeered by armed militias or terrorist groups?

    4. Food prices are skyrocketing, why?

    5. What are some of the best success examples in your past?

    Thanks for your questions. I'm answering 2 & 3 here, answer to #5 is in the Part 1 response post, answers to 1 & 4 is in our Part 2 response post)
    <strong>2. How much of your budget do you spend on armed guards for the travel and distribution. Has that increased?</strong><em>
    As a standard procedure, WV does not use armed escorts or security services during its distributions. Concerns over security at all WV distribution projects have increased and we have implemented new and improved security procedures and training for our staff . In some instances, security at distributions are ensured by the local authorities, local police, national guard, and/or the United Nations. This is to ensure the safety of the food, the distribution staff, and the beneficiary community members.
    3. How do you make sure that food ends up with people who need it and not commandeered by armed militias or terrorist groups?</strong></em>
    WV implements a rigorous beneficiary selection criteria and methodology for targeting people to receive food. This is needs based. Secondly, we monitor the distributions (weighing, transportation, etc.) and have food monitors visit beneficiaries in the home on a random sample basis following a distribution to verify use. Through these best practices we are able to catch problems and take appropriate corrective action. If necessary, we will also cancel or temporarily suspend food distributions if we believe there could be a security incident or threat of food diversion.

    Submitting another on behalf of another friend...

    I heard that some countries are turning down U.S. food aid because it comes from genetically-modified crops. That seems crazy when people in those countries are starving. Or do they have a point?

    I've learned recently that India has begun its own food aid programs--despite being a major recipient of aid money.

    Is it common for people to redistribute aid in other countries? If so, what are the biggest causes that these people consider more important than food?

    Is there a negative correlation between food aid and wars? I.e. do people who receive or give food aid have a smaller chance of getting involved in wars?

    For the sake of context, I've heard that many countries are struggling because their governments are highly corrupt or mismanaged. Do you as an organization contribute to or otherwise try to influence foreign governments to improve transportation of food items?

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