The detriments of foreign food aid

“I don’t want your money for the people of Bolivia if it’s for charity, that’s disrespectful.”

This surprising statement came from lead financial officer of MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates) Gerhard Pries last Tuesday night during his presentation for International Week on the harmful effects of food aid.

“My work,” Pries said, “is to prove to money hungry Wall Street that investing in Bolivia and Ghana is a good thing to do. It’s good for the world, it’s good for the banks and it’s good for you. I will not be able to move much money if it’s all based on charity.”

Pries claims that the most important form of aid is investing in that country’s economy.

“We’ve done a lot of damage by sending used clothing to Haiti,” Pries expressed.

“I’ve seen container loads of used clothing coming into the Haiti port and killing the business of local garment makers. Really, how stupid can you be? They need jobs to create livelihoods to feed their families, to create local institutions. How do they do that if we keep stopping them?”

As a micro financer, it is Pries’s job to invest in countries around the world and help them grow their local economy.

“I’ve created investment management companies taking private capital investment from Wall Street and Bay Street, from New York, Toronto and London, and moved into developing countries, Bolivia, Ghana and places like that,” explained Pries.

“I aim to invest in these poor countries in order to create economic vibrancy and jobs for the poor.”

Sharing another instance that exemplifies his philosophy, Pries discussed the work of the Gates Foundation which allocated $2 billion to Pakistan following the flooding that occurred last year.

“They took the $2 billion and they popped it onto debit cards and they distributed it to a whole bunch of people. What the people did then was go to their neighbour who runs a shop to buy what they needed. What that did was re-inflate the economy,” he said.

Pries could not stress this importance enough. In the kindest way he could, he laughed at charity groups building houses or sending food to countries in need.

“They’re not helping,” he said, shaking his head. “It makes them feel good, it makes me feel good, but in the long run, that’s not what they need.”

“People don’t get fed through aid,” Pries stressed to his audience. “You feed the person for a day but it doesn’t provide them a life. For me it’s about making business work for the poor because ultimately, business is what puts food on the table.”

Pries finished his presentation by saying: “Food security comes through sustainable livelihoods. There is no food shortage in the world what there is, is a lack of money to pay for it.

“So those countries, they need economic vibrancy in their communities to pay for it. Many Africans I have talked to tell me, plead with me to tell people to keep the aid out, it’s killing [them].”