“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for his lifetime.” This age-old adage suggests showing someone how to fend for themselves is better than doing it for them. So why does the United States choose to “give a man a fish,” or, in this case, bags of rice instead?
The United States Agency for International Development generously gave $2.5 billion last year in food assistance to people in developing countries. Sending food directly is controversial because it fosters dependency and can often overwhelm local agriculture communities by creating unfair competition. Instead, the United States should focus on “teaching them to fish” and helping impoverished people become independent through education and investments so they can drive their own prosperity going forward.
The U.S. has already had success with some types of programs where, instead of sending food, we invest in people so they can work to get themselves out of poverty. In Afghanistan, the U.S. army worked with locals in remote rural areas to help them increase their farm yields and modernize their farming technology. This kind of program gives the recipients of aid far more agency than sending food does. In addition to agriculture programs, the U.S. could focus on investing in other types of infrastructure — such as highways and bridges — and training in specific disciplines, including farming, crafts and trades. This would increase the long-term standard of living for people in impoverished areas, without leaving them cripplingly dependent on help from the United States.
The U.S. has chosen to send bags of rice abroad instead of investing because of self-serving reasons. Buying the food to send abroad helps the U.S. supplement American farmers, but doing so undercuts farmers abroad. Sending this food with the USAID logo may also be intended to rally patriotism by giving the impression that the U.S. is “saving” starving foreigners. However, foreign aid should be about helping those in need and not about the Unites States’ agenda.
Providing aid with a savior complex, as the U.S. does, is not a good approach, especially in places like Afghanistan where the U.S. is partially responsible for creating poverty by contributing to decades of war. The proper way to help impoverished countries is to invest in local infrastructure and equip the people with the tools needed to improve their own conditions.