Facing challenges of feeding the needy

A food drive donation bin at the Alameda County warehouse in Oakland, Calif.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Steve Chiotakis: The rush is on to feed needy Americans today. But a study this holiday season says there are some big challenges facing food assistance around the world -- namely supply, funding and price.

Researchers at the Milken Institute say there are some innovative ways to address those concerns. Betsy Zeidman is a fellow there and authored the report. She's with us now. Good morning.

Betsy Zeidman: Good morning, Steve.

Chiotakis: Ethiopia has requested $6 million in food aid, and Kenyans nearby have also been struggling with the big drought over there that's causing famine. I mean, this is an era of so many technological advances -- why are we having trouble feeding people?

Zeidman: It's a really good question. And there's lots of reasons for it. There's the logistical challenges, there's the challenge of agricultural development in the countries. Legislative and regulatory challenges. In the U.S., we provide food in kind as a -- we don't provide money. So you have to actually physically get that food shipped to the countries. But there's also some solution.

Chiotakis: Yeah, tell us about those.

Zeidman: Well, I think one of the most obvious ones is to really help the developing countries build up their own agricultural infrastructure and grow their own food. But that will take awhile, and there will always be a need for emergency food aid. And there are actually a number of financial tools, things that are used in the private sector, that can help serve this process.

Chiotakis: And you talk about these food assistance bonds, right, I mean how's that gonna work? I mean would there be a danger of aid organizations paying too much in interest and not enough aid getting to the people who really need it?

Zeidman: Well, there will be, they will pay interest, I mean there's no question about that. However, this is based on a model that was done in the vaccine world, and donors pledged certain amounts of money to pay for these. But that money comes in over a long period of time. So the countries have pledged it, you can get out there, they issue bonds backed by this. And when the money comes in, that's used to repay the interest.

Chiotakis: And in this economic downturn -- I mean, for the past year, year and a half -- I mean do you see this really growing, or do you see it, I mean, taking off in the next year? How's that gonna work?

Zeidman: I see in an economic downturn people need to be creative of thinking about how to get money, how to deploy money, how to use money efficiently, how to enable food to get to places more efficiently. And these are one of the tools in the tool basket that can help in an economic downturn. They are not the only solution by any means, but they are something that should be thought about to help, because the economic downturn affects both the money coming in to cover the food as well as what's going on in the countries where people, more people are starving.

Chiotakis: Well Betsy Zeidman, a research fellow for the Milken Institute, Happy Thanksgiving, thanks for being with us today.

Zeidman: Happy Thanksgiving to you!

About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.

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