Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1992

Published In

International Organization


The principles and norms adopted by the regime governing food aid in the 1950s have changed substantially during the subsequent three decades. Explaining the changes necessarily includes analyzing the efforts of an international epistemic community consisting of economic development specialists, agricultural economists, and administrators of food aid. According to the initial regime principles, food aid should be provided from donors' own surplus stocks, should supplement the usual commercial food imports in recipient countries, should be given under short-term commitments sensitive to the political and economic goals of donors, and should directly feed hungry people. As a result of following these principles, the epistemic community and other critics argued, food aid often had the adverse effects of reducing local production of food in recipient countries and exacerbating rather than alleviating hunger. The epistemic community (1) developed and proposed ideas for more efficiently supplying food aid and avoiding "disincentive" effects and (2) pushed for reforms to make food aid serve as the basis for the recipients' economic development and to target it at addressing long-term food security problems. The ideas of the international epistemic community have increasingly received support from international organizations and the governments of donor and recipient nations. Most recently, they have led to revisions of the U.S. food aid program passed by Congress in October 1990 and signed into law two months later. As the analysis of food aid reform demonstrates, changes in the international regime have been incremental, rather than radical. Moreover, the locus for the change has shifted from an American-centered one in the 1950s to a more international one in recent decades.


This work is freely available courtesy of Cambridge University Press.