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Food Aid Effectiveness: "It'S The Targeting, Stupid!"


  • Barrett, Christopher B.


In the 1992 United States presidential campaign, Bill Clinton and his staff regularly invoked the forceful reminder "It's the economy, stupid!" in order to maintain a tight focus on the core issue that would ultimately decide their electoral success or failure. This initially seemed reductionist to many observers, because a presidential campaign is a complex affair, with myriad issues and pressures confronting the candidate every day. But Clinton and his staff were ultimately proved correct. Most of the important issues that could ignite or derail their campaign did boil down to the economy, and their famous, ruthless focus proved highly successful. This paper advances the argument that similar focus on issues of targeting are essential if food aid is to succeed in its core mission to contribute to human development by providing temporary relief of food insecurity among poor peoples in the world. The issue of "targeting" concerns the who, the when, the what and the how questions surrounding transfers: is aid reaching people who need it (and not flowing to people who do not need it), when they need it, in appropriate form, and through effective modalities? There has been considerable research in recent years on targeting transfers generally, much of it motivated by the search for effective targeting mechanisms that do not require costly administrative screening. Targeting is of special importance in food aid for two basic reasons. First, food is a critical resource. People who go without enough and appropriate food for even a relatively short period of time can suffer irreversible health effects of undernutrition and related diseases and injuries. Therefore, reaching beneficiaries who would otherwise suffer undernutrition, in a timely manner, and in an appropriate form is especially important for the effectiveness of food transfers. And if done right, food transfers can be fundamental to effective development strategy, by safeguarding the most valuable asset of the poor: the human capital embodied in their health and education. Second, the key alleged problems surrounding food aid - displaced international trade, depressed producer prices in recipient countries, labor supply disincentives, delivery delays, misuse by intermediaries, diversion to resale or feeding livestock or alcohol brewing, dependency, inattention to beneficiaries' micronutrient needs, etc. - all revolve ultimately around questions of targeting. If the donor community could improve the targeting of food aid, it could improve the effectiveness of food aid in accomplishing its primary humanitarian and development aim - the maintenance of valuable human capital - and reduce many of the errors that sometimes make food aid controversial, ineffective, or both. A limited amount of descriptive research has explored ex post whether food aid has reached intended beneficiaries, and has found considerable targeting errors of inclusion (providing aid to the non-needy) and exclusion (failure to reach the needy) at both macro and micro levels. There have also been considerable efforts at improving ex ante food aid targeting through the development and refinement of early warning systems, vulnerability mapping, and similar tools, so that aid might reach needy people in a more reliable and timely fashion. This paper offers a brief interpretive review of this evidence. Section I summarizes the empirical evidence on food aid targeting at both macro- and micro- levels, emphasizing the inherent tradeoff between errors of exclusion (missing intended beneficiaries) and errors of inclusion (providing transfers to the non-needy). Section II then discusses the consequences of targeting errors, again looking at both errors of exclusion and inclusion and at micro- as well as macro- levels. Section III reviews some of the options available for improving targeting. Section IV concludes.

Suggested Citation

  • Barrett, Christopher B., 2002. "Food Aid Effectiveness: "It'S The Targeting, Stupid!"," Working Papers 14754, Cornell University, Department of Applied Economics and Management.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:cudawp:14754
    DOI: 10.22004/ag.econ.14754

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    1. Amha, Wolday & Stepanek, Julie & Jayne, Thomas S. & Negassa, Asfaw, 1997. "Meeting Food Aid and Price Stabilization Objectives through Local Grain Purchase: A Review of the 1996 Experience," Food Security Collaborative Working Papers 55596, Michigan State University, Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics.
    2. Erwin H Tiongson & Benedict J. Clements & Sanjeev Gupta, 2003. "Foreign Aid and Consumption Smoothing; Evidence From Global Food Aid," IMF Working Papers 03/40, International Monetary Fund.
    3. Barrett, Christopher B., 2002. "Food security and food assistance programs," Handbook of Agricultural Economics, in: B. L. Gardner & G. C. Rausser (ed.), Handbook of Agricultural Economics, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 40, pages 2103-2190, Elsevier.
    4. Barrett, Christopher B., 2002. "Food Aid And Commercial International Food Trade," Working Papers 14742, Cornell University, Department of Applied Economics and Management.
    5. Christopher B. Barrett, 1998. "Food Aid: Is It Development Assistance, Trade Promotion, Both, or Neither?," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 80(3), pages 566-571.
    6. Deaton, Angus & Laroque, Guy, 1996. "Competitive Storage and Commodity Price Dynamics," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(5), pages 896-923, October.
    7. Barrett, Christopher B. & Brown, Douglas R., 2002. "Agriculture And Rural Development: Lessons For Christian Groups Combating Persistent Poverty," Working Papers 14738, Cornell University, Department of Applied Economics and Management.
    8. Barrett, Christopher B & Mohapatra, Sandeep & Snyder, Donald L, 1999. "The Dynamic Effects of U.S. Food Aid," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 37(4), pages 647-656, October.
    9. Jayne, Thomas S. & Strauss, John & Yamano, Takashi & Molla, Daniel, 2002. "Targeting of food aid in rural Ethiopia: chronic need or inertia?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(2), pages 247-288, August.
    10. Barrett, Christopher B. & Carter, Michael R., 2002. "Can't Get Ahead for Falling Behind: Development Policy, Poverty, and Relief Traps," Choices: The Magazine of Food, Farm, and Resource Issues, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 17(4), pages 1-4.
    11. Clay, Edward J., 1986. "Rural public works and food-for-work: A survey," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 14(10-11), pages 1237-1252.
    12. Jonathan Morduch, 1995. "Income Smoothing and Consumption Smoothing," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(3), pages 103-114, Summer.
    13. Gabre-Madhin, Eleni Z. & Barrett, Christopher B. & Dorosh, Paul A., 2003. "Technological change and price effects in agriculture," MTID discussion papers 62, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    14. Kanbur, Ravi & Keen, Michael & Tuomala, Matti, 1994. "Labor Supply and Targeting in Poverty Alleviation Programs," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 8(2), pages 191-211, May.
    15. Colding, Bjorg & Pinstrup-Andersen, Per, 1999. "Denmark's contribution to the world food programme: a success story," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 24(1), pages 93-108, February.
    16. Barrett, Christopher B, 2001. "Does Food Aid Stabilize Food Availability?," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 49(2), pages 335-349, January.
    17. Alderman, H. & Paxson, C.H., 1992. "Do the Poor Insure? A Synthesis of the Literature on Risk and Consumption in Developing Countries," Papers 164, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Development Studies.
    18. Huysentruyt, Marieke & Barrett, Christopher B. & McPeak, John G., 2002. "Social Identity And Manipulative Interhousehold Transfers Among East African Pastoralists," Working Papers 14746, Cornell University, Department of Applied Economics and Management.
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    1. repec:dau:papers:123456789/4713 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Asha Gunawardena & Kanchana Wickramasinghe, 2011. "Targeting and Distribution of Post-Tsunami Aid in Sri Lanka : A Critical Appraisal," Working Papers id:3939, eSocialSciences.
    3. Rosario G. Manasan & Janet S. Cuenca, 2007. "Who Benefits from the Food-for-School Program : Lessons in Targeting," Development Economics Working Papers 21929, East Asian Bureau of Economic Research.
    4. Mather, David & Donovan, Cynthia & Jayne, Thomas S. & Weber, Michael T. & Chapoto, Antony & Mazhangara, Edward & Bailey, Linda & Yoo, Kyeongwon & Yamano, Takashi & Mghenyi, Elliot W., 2004. "A Cross-Country Analysis of Household Responses to Adult Mortality in Rural Sub-Saharan Africa: Implications For HIV/AIDS Mitigation And Rural Development Policies," Food Security International Development Working Papers 54571, Michigan State University, Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics.
    5. Abdulai, Awudu & Barrett, Christopher B. & Hazell, Peter, 2004. "Food aid for market development in Sub-Saharan Africa," DSGD discussion papers 5, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    6. Lentz, Erin C. & Barrett, Christopher B., 2004. "Food Aid Targeting, Shocks And Private Transfers Among East African Pastoralists," 2004 Annual meeting, August 1-4, Denver, CO 20247, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
    7. repec:eee:wdevel:v:116:y:2019:i:c:p:54-65 is not listed on IDEAS

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