CARE, one of the world’s biggest charities, used to participate in a U.S. government food aid program inelegantly known as “monetization.” Every year the group received about 400,000 pounds of free, American-grown commodities and in turn sold them at markets in 22 developing countries. It used the proceeds to finance its own antipoverty programs—some related to food, others having little to do with it.
CARE collected about $45 million a year peddling U.S. crops paid for by American taxpayers. But the program required significant red tape and staff. Plus, the imports created competition with local farmers, depressing prices and discouraging development of local agriculture. “You could be pumping food into these markets and contradict your goal to get the market to work on its own,” says Blake Selzer, senior policy advocate at CARE. The charity decided to bow out of monetization in 2007. Selzer says U.S. food aid “is an outdated program that’s needed reform for a long time.”