Global food institutions and effectiveness: Institutional structure, economics, and politics

Plan Author

  • Casey Friedman, 2012

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Course: History of Famine
  • Tutorial: Advanced Research Seminar in International Relations
  • Tutorial: U.N. Food Agencies: Programs and Policies
  • Tutorial: Advanced Chinese II
  • Tutorial: Intergovernmental Food Organizations and Hunger

Plan Description

A study of the United Nations food agencies, their institutional structure and their efforts to reduce global hunger.

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

  • Lynn Salinger, Agriculture Policy Expert, Nathan Associates, Inc.


Food insecurity is one of the most pressing problems humanity faces. In addition to the immediate human suffering of undernourishment, famines also have far-reaching economic and political ramifications for the states in which they occur. Despite concerted efforts by international organizations over the past century, undernourishment still causes more deaths annually than armed conflict, AIDS, and malaria combined. This Plan looks at the structures of various UN food aid organizations – including the World Food Program (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) –and examines how they work with their member states to fight global hunger.

Unlike NGOs and national food security programs, which largely have a unified agenda and goal, UN food programs require the cooperation of independent member states to effectively provide food aid to those in need. While their multinational resource base gives UN food aid organizations greater potential impact than smaller groups, the economic and political interests of individual member states can limit their effectiveness. Through the lens of these unique capabilities and challenges, the author examines the potential for and potential effectiveness of an international buffer stock for food commodities.


“The implications for the UN food agencies of Niskanen’s model require some reflection. While his results are sweeping—the elaborations he presents on the basic model tend to reinforce the view that bureaucracies are an imperfect means of providing public (or merit) goods—so are his assumptions, and these have been challenged.”

“The role of food storage can be illustrated in part by analogy to transportation: just as goods are shipped from geographic locations where they are produced in abundance to those where they are scarce, food storage allows the “transportation” of goods from periods of abundance to those of scarcity; this function is referred to in the literature as ‘intertemporal arbitrage.’”


“I spent my senior year living in an on-campus Cottage with three other Plan students. We all spent Spring Break there, working on Plan. Every day we would wake up; work for most of the day; eat, chat, and go for walks in the woods in the evening; then go to sleep, and do it again the next day. The good life.”