Think Globally – Buy Locally

4 comments Written on October 30th, 2009     
Filed under: General
Because of the internet and other modern media, we are inundated with images and stories of extreme poverty throughout the world. I grew up seeing starving children on TV with flies swirling around their heads. I have traveled throughout Asia in the past ten years and have been confronted with a level of poverty that I never imagine existed. On my recent trip to Kenya and Sudan, I heard about and saw the devastating effects of a five-year drought in East Africa. As we are confronted with these realities, how can we respond in ways that will be most effective?

In Ethiopia alone, thirteen million people rely on foreign food aid. I am encouraged to know that the U.S. is the largest contributor of food aid worldwide and contributes over half of all global food aid supplies. However, by law U.S. food aid must be purchased and processed in the U.S. and transported on U.S. flagged ships. In Ethiopia 70% of their food aid is shipped from the US, which sounds great, but there are many downsides.
•    It takes a long time to transport the food to places that are in desperate need.
•    It is an expensive way to provide aid – it costs two dollars to process and ship one dollar of food.
•    With all of the free food aid being distributed, the local markets and the local economy suffer.
•    While food aid offers immediate relief to hungry people, it doesn’t address the underlying causes. As a result countries and communities become dependent on food aid and become trapped in a cycle of dependence on the West.

There are an increasing number of voices promoting the purchasing of food aid locally. There are several benefits of approaching food aid in this way.
•    The food can get to those in need much more quickly.
•    The same amount of money can buy significantly more food for those in desperate need.
•     Because the food does not need to be transported, processed or packaged to be shipped long distances, energy consumption is minimized and greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.
•    Buying locally bolsters the local economy, particularly helping the farmers and the merchants.
•    As the community’s infrastructure and the economy improve, the vulnerability to human-made and natural disasters is reduced. It is said that disaster vulnerability reduction costs as little as two percent of post-disaster relief.

As we see the levels of human suffering and need in the world, we feel the urge to send relief supplies like food, water, blankets, medicine, and clothing. We genuinely want to help reduce human suffering.  We want to pack a gift box to bring a smile to the face of a poor child or a family. We want a hands-on experience of serving. However we will be far more effective if we seek to address the root causes of the suffering and provide relief in a way that will make a long-lasting and transformative impact on the local community and the local economy.

One way that we are seeking to address underlying causes of suffering and to bring about genuine transformation is through the 2009 Children’s Service Project. This year’s project is to provide mosquito nets for children in the Congo. This will reduce the risk of malaria, which is the largest cause of death for children under five years old in Congo. Instead of buying nets in North America, the funds raised will be used to purchase the nets from local vendors in the Congo.  By buying locally, we will not only promote the health of the children of Congo, we will also help to stimulate the local economy.

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4 comments “Think Globally – Buy Locally”

The US is actually thinking of buying more food aid locally. You can read more at

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Local purchase of food aid is a new emphasis of the World Food Program, the United Nation’s first-line effort against hunger–and the world’s largest aid organization. Under a program called “Purchase for Progress” they have set aside 10% of their budget to purchase food aid in local and regional areas of the world. Our company, our Covenant ministry which we call “Mekong Valley Foods Co.”hopes to son be producing food for school age children and selling to the United Nations under this program, something we also did while working in Laos for the last 8 years. This kind of approach multiplies the benefits to people. Thanks for helping us to be aware of this!

Peter Dutton
Chiang Rai, Thailand

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