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Letter on targeting food aid, by Anna Taylor

Dear Editor

The targeting of food aid is widely assumed to be the most effective and efficient way of ensuring that the limited food aid resources available in emergencies reach those who need them most.

Targeting is conducted at multiple levels - from the selection of countries, down to the selection of individuals who will receive it and those that won't. Food aid targeting is a central aspect of the food aid system, which is itself driven by multiple objectives: shifting surpluses, keeping world prices high, humanitarian, political contract between countries, etc. This means that the quantity and quality of food aid at any given emergency is unlikely to be commensurate with the need experienced by those affected by the emergency. Within this context, humanitarian agencies are often required to target food aid to the households or individuals that need it most.

In most emergency situations, it is not possible to target food aid more specifically than to geographical areas1. The contexts where within-community targeting of households is possible are very few, unless costly administrative systems are put in place (which out-weigh the cost savings of targeting). Wide implementation of feeding programmes, often in the absence of a general household ration, can ensure that certain individuals receive food (there are few guarantees that these individuals will consume the food). These programmes rarely contribute to the longer term viability of the household and targeted individuals are likely to experience very low recovery rates because, in fact, the targeting has failed and food is shared or replaces the normal diet. Food for work is rarely practical in an emergency, because of the administrative burden it carries. Targeting according to socio-economic criteria can only feasibly be done using community managed approaches and only then, in stable communities, where needs vary considerably between households and food is sufficient to address households' food deficit.

In practice, however, these approaches are applied in many emergency situations. Monitoring and evaluation is very poor and rarely documented. Inclusion and exclusion errors are undoubtedly huge in many contexts but generally ignored. Therefore, the myth of the appropriateness of targeting in emergencies continues.

Isn't it time we challenged the perceived wisdom, made a clear statement of when it may be appropriate to target food aid in emergencies and when it is likely to fail, and began to explore other ways of targeting resources at individuals and households who need them most, e.g. cash, market intervention, etc?

Anna Taylor

Nutrition Advisor, SC UK

Show footnotes

1See ENN Special Supplement on Targeting Food Aid in Emergencies, Taylor and Seaman, 2004

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Reference this page

Anna Taylor (2004). Letter on targeting food aid, by Anna Taylor. Field Exchange 22, July 2004. p18. www.ennonline.net/fex/22/lettersanna