by SevenStrings, Fri Apr 18, 2008 at 08:01:11 AM EDT
PL-480, or Public Law 480 is a law signed by President Eisenhower in 1954. It is also known as "Food for Peace" because it is the funding avenue by which US food can be used for overseas aid. I am willing to bet that most readers of this blog have never heard of it.
I grew up with it.
I was born in 1968 in a small town in a very backward region in India. India, under the British, was always hungry ~ my Grandparents spoke often about a perpetual state of famine. In the 1960s and 1970s, India underwent a "green revolution", whereby the country transitioned from a net importer of food to a net exporter of food. I was born at the tail end of that revolution ~ the country was still somewhat reliant on food imports to feed it's people.
Unfortunately, the country was also dirt poor at the time. It did not have enough money to import all the food it needed to feed it's citizens. Consequently, food shortages were commonplace, and a "rationing" system was introduced by the government. Everyone was allotted about 4 pounds of rice, 1 pound of sugar and wee bits of other foodstuff every month. You were given a "ration card" by a government agency, and you took that card to officially sanctioned (but privately held) "ration shops". Naturally, the process was very corrupt: acquiring the ration cards was a monumental feat, the "ration shops" were seldom open, and they would run out of food very quickly when they did open. Those with plenty of time on their hands (e.g. children) were tasked with waiting outside ration shops in case they opened.
In the end, the ability to procure foodstuff at an affordable rate is governed by the demand-supply equation. The government can try to distribute subsidized food at reasonable rates (such as with the rationing system), but the task becomes harder as the difference between the perceived market rate and the subsidized rate increase. The perceived market rate is a function of perceived shortages, and the ability of price manipulators (and hoarders) to manipulate prices ~ prices tend to skyrocket when their is an expectation of shortage or when their is an expectation as to the ability to create a shortage. The Indian government was doing all that it could possibly have done to mitigate against this ~ food hoarding was a serious crime, for instance; and the airwaves was flooded with public service announcements about staying calm. But, in the end, when supplies get tight, prices tend to skyrocket.
It is here that PL-480 came in handy. I grew up listening to stories told by my parents and grandparents about the "PL-480 ships" carrying rice from the United States. The passage of these ships was headline news on the airwaves ~ because their arrival would coincide with millions of people being able to eat. Magically, when the Pl-480 ships docked, the market prices for rice and wheat would ease, and the "ration shops" would open. PL-480 made the difference between food riots and dinner for everyone.
It is for these reasons that, even today, as a grown man, when I think of "PL-480", I have a hard time controlling my tears. I can never get too angry at the United States for that reason. I strongly suspect that it is largely for this reason that the United States is not a dirty word in India.
Why am I mentioning all this today ? The reason should be obvious. The world is experiencing another food shortage. Even if you are not motivated by any sense of goodwill towards your fellowmen, you should grab this opportunity to help yourself by helping them.
Those that you help today will be greatful to you for several generations.
PS: As an adult, I learnt that 40% of the food aid under the PL-480 program between 1955 (the first year of the program) and 1973 was directed towards India.