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.
Food aid is not a panacea and should not be viewed as such. While such aid is important in both absolute and selective terms, the food gap in developing countries, both present and projected, is of a magnitude which makes it clear that the answer is not food aid but development: the development of food. Food aid should be used in response to emergency situations such as floods or famines. It can strengthen agriculture in the recipient countries, but just as important are the development strategies pursued by the recipient countries and increased flexibility on the part of the donors to adapt to the recipient's situation and be innovative in the use of food aid. Many current uses of food aid are linked to disincentive effects on local food production, to destabilization of economic traditions.
While food aid may lead to inertia, along the way it saves lives, creates jobs, and an humanitarian link between donor and recipient. The basic humanitarian instinct to give to those in need cannot be discounted. Food aid to developing countries has stagnated in recent years. The annual food aid target of at least 10 million tons of cereals recommended by the World Food Conference in 1974 was only reached in 1984-5, ten years later. Trend estimates of gaps between domestic food production and demand at a given prices that the 85 developing countries are not able to fill through commercial imports project food aid needs are to rise to about 36 million tons by 1990 and 56 million tons by 1995. For the 36 lowest income countries, food aid needs are estimated to be 18 million tons in 1990 and 27 million tons in 1995.