Does food drop from the sky?

Well intentioned aid can sometimes go awry in unintended ways. One story that really stopped me in my boots was told to me by my friend Moses Kariuki - a Kenyan who volunteered for several months in a remote village in Southern Sudan.

According to Moses, if you ask any child or young adult in the Sudanese village he stayed in where food comes from, they will not tell you that it comes from the ground, and that people have to work to grow it. Nor will they tell you that it comes from the supermarket. In their reality - and there is nothing you can say to make it untrue, for they have lived and experienced this all of their lives - food falls from the sky.

So the way to get food if you are hungry, is simply to wait for it to fall from the sky... pooped out by large white buzzing birds with funny markings on their sides.

Our western led institutions with the stated intention to help have created this false truth, and taught most Southern Sudanese to believe it through our own behavior. In fact, we have not taught much else in South Sudan for more than 20 years.

Moses also told me about how the Southern Sudanese have figured out that food drops are calculated per house in a village counted from the air, and the food that's dropped each time is meant to last for a couple of months. The more enterprising families build houses in many villages and migrate with the monthly food-drop schedule, then sell their surplus on the region's sparse local marketplaces. Until very recent years, there were no other goods in Southern Sudan than this manna from heaven.

The long term implications of this disturb me a lot. What would happen if children in your country stopped believing that work and planning was required to get food?

So now we've got a whole huge population in one of Africa's largest countries with no money, no jobs, no goods, and very little agricultural knowledge.

I did hear that once hostilities in the region calmed down a bit, the UN tried to drop hoes and seeds for a while. Few people in southern Sudan actually knew what to do with them, so famine continued and food drops started again.

Where does it end? How do you start convincing Southern Sudanese villagers that food actually doesn't drop from the sky but must be worked for? How many generations will it take to re-develop knowledge about how to grow things? Or does our responsibility end because the war there has ended?

I don't know the answers. I'm just saying... there's got to be a smarter way.