Farming surplus to help feed the poor

The Czech Republic is set to take part in a European Union project under which surplus food from the EU is used to help feed the poor, after the outgoing Czech government approved the plan on Wednesday. However not everyone is in favour of the idea - both economists and Czech farmers have questioned the wisdom of this approach.

Every year part of the EU farming surplus - mainly grains, milk and sugar - is bought up by the Union's intervention fund, and some of this excess produce is used to help the poorest inhabitants of 14 member states. The Czech Republic is now making a bid to join the aid-project. Once it has received official EU approval, the Czech government will gain access to EU structural funds which should help pay for the processing and distribution of the excess farming products.

The government expects this aid project to help feed an estimated 35,000 people who are living under the poverty line - in shelters or even out in the streets. Hugo Roldan of the Agriculture Ministry explains:

"This aid will go to people in unfavourable social circumstances such as homeless people or people who for some serious reason live in a shelter. The food items distributed will be things like flour, pasta, butter, milk and sugar - a limited amount per person and they will be distributed mainly in the winter months when these people's circumstances are exceptionally difficult."

The Czech Catholic Charity, one of the organizations which will distribute the food among the needy, has said that any assistance in helping to feed the poor will be very welcome. But not everyone is pleased with the idea. Economists say that this is just another way of helping farmers deal with their excess produce, and the EU should restructure its agrarian policy to ensure there is no surplus. Czech farmers for their part would much prefer the government to help them sell the surplus to the developing world. Hugo Roldan says there's no question of that at present - for a very simple reason:

"It is less expensive to distribute these surpluses among the poor than to provide very high subsidies in order to export them to non EU member states."