The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) this week released its annual report that paints a grim picture of the state of food aid delivery to areas of need.

The report, which is named ?The State of Food and Agriculture,? makes a number of recommendations geared towards ending ?tying food aid? ? a practice by which donors tie their relief to specific requirements. This often makes it difficult for the food to be distributed to the people that most need it.

FAO senior economist and editor of the report, Terri Raney, says ?donors should de-link food aid from their national interests.?  She adds that it is of critical importance to streamline efforts to enable efficient delivery and distribution of food to people who most need it.

The report also criticizes donor countries that require that their own domestic suppliers produce, purchase and process food relief.  As a result, much of the financial aid goes toward the cost of transporting food. The FAO says the savings could be used to purchase more food. The FAO recommends that food should be purchased in local markets, which will be of ?great benefit to agricultural development in many low-income developing countries.?

Raney says that that donor countries get caught in a ?relief trap? because of a lack of understanding the root causes of the hunger crises ? such as the inability of poor countries to grow their own food.  They often neglect ?longer term development strategies.?  ?All of the resources,? she says, ?are used to meet the emergency needs, which leaves no time or resources to deal with the underlying problems of poverty and hunger.?

She says in the world today, there are almost 40 countries that face a constant threat of hunger on which donor countries concentrate most of their efforts. 

There is therefore a need to improve on the analytical methods and information systems that prevent hunger, improve agricultural systems, and makes local economies self-sustaining.

The report calls upon donor countries to consider the delivery of food aid in the form of cash or food coupons where possible, and to use food only when there is an inability to grow or supply food locally.  This the report continues, will help build rural infrastructure.

The report concludes that food aid should be seen as one of many options ?within a broader range of social protection measures? that guarantees that needy people receive short-term relief but in the long run learn to become food self-sufficient.