Food aid consists of organized help in the form of in-kind donations of food products (direct transfers). The foodstuff is provided to areas, countries, and/or groups facing food shortage and food insecurity, in order to reduce hunger and malnutrition. Food aid programmes often develop their distribution system both with a long-term perspective and for particular emergency situations. These initiatives can sometimes target specific vulnerable groups like children, pregnant women, older people; operating via particular food distribution channels, such as schools, NGOs, state agencies. Alternatively, they can also be implemented in regular school meals, food parcels, etc. Food aid may be supplemented with non-food support for food security purposes.
Food aid is one of the food-based interventions aiming to improve food security. Other examples include market interventions, food assistance in the form of financial support, etc. Cereal grains, maize, and rice are the most common items present in food aid packages. The main donors include countries (mostly USA responsible for half of total cereal food aid, then EU countries, Japan, Canada, Australia, among others), international organizations (United Nations World Food Programme and other UN organisations), NGOs and private enterprises. Although food aid recipients change over time, continuous help goes to Sub Saharan Africa and Asian countries, as well as Eastern Europe, North Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and other regions.
There are three main forms of food aid, each of which uses a different kind of distribution system: food aid programmes, food aid projects, and emergency food aid (FAO 2005). Food aid programmes distribute food donated or sold (as in the case of cereal aid from the US) to recipient country governments at a concessional price. Food aid projects are usually reserved for particular social-economic strategies, targeting specific groups and channels. These are operated by NGOs and mostly provide food for free. Less often, food aid projects sell the products in order to generate financial resources for developmental programmes. Lastly, emergency food aid is provided directly and urgently to regions in crisis, mostly due to war and famines. Recent decades show the increasing prevalence of the third model as opposed to the first two.