It has been found that food aid has not improved the living conditions of the poorest people nor helped to build a development momentum. There is an associated disincentive effect, and in addition food aid often goes to benefit urban consumers rather than those in real need, in doing so changing food tastes in favour of imports such as wheat flour for bread making. Food aid has been used as a way of disposing of the agricultural surpluses of the developed countries and has acted as a disincentive to the local production of food crops. Feeding programmes for mothers and small children are not always carried out in the context of broad-based health and nutrition programmes, and often do not use locally produced foods. Food-for-work schemes, where food is exchanged for labour on public works, are another channel for nutritional relief, but do not attack the roots of poverty or create a sustainable income. Food aid programmes are rarely implemented as part of an overall, well-planned and coherent food strategy.
Food aid allocations for 1982/83 were approximately 9.4 million tons of cereal equivalent, very similar to the quantity actually shipped in 1981/82. However, a smaller proportion of food aid was shipped to low-income, food-deficit countries in 1981/82 - 79% – when compared to 81% in 1980/81. The proportion of cereal imports of these countries covered by food aid was at a low-figure of 18%; in 1977-78, it was 24% but had steadily declined since. Food aid basically stagnated during the five years to 1982, while the cereal imports of the low-income countries increased over 30%.
More recently, food aid from the European Union has trended downwards since 1994, both in terms of allocated quantities, number of projects and number of countries. In part, the reduction is attributed to the selectivity criteria applied to the quality and presentation of NGO requests; there was also a decrease in NGO requests coupled with an increase in direct aid programmes.