United Nations World Food Programme Is Established Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The U.N. World Food Programme, first envisioned as a three-year experiment, formed as a multilateral aid program to distribute surplus foodstuffs to the world’s hungriest people. The program continues into the twenty-first century.

Summary of Event

One of the earliest goals of the United Nations was the eradication of world hunger. To this end the U.N. founded the Food and Agriculture Organization Food and Agriculture Organization, U.N. (FAO) in 1945. During the 1940’s and into the 1950’s wealthier nations had begun to discuss the possibility of donating surplus foodstuffs to nations extremely short of food. Already in 1946, John Boyd Orr, the director-general of the FAO, proposed the creation of a world food board to improve nutrition throughout the world, to create reserves of food as a defense against crop failure, to distribute surplus food to the most needy, and to stabilize agricultural prices. This proposed program proved to be too ambitious for the time, and thus failed to garner adequate support. World Food Programme, U.N. Hunger;United Nations United Nations;hunger relief [kw]United Nations World Food Programme Is Established (Feb., 1962) [kw]World Food Programme Is Established, United Nations (Feb., 1962) [kw]Food Programme Is Established, United Nations World (Feb., 1962) World Food Programme, U.N. Hunger;United Nations United Nations;hunger relief [g]Europe;Feb., 1962: United Nations World Food Programme Is Established[07200] [g]Italy;Feb., 1962: United Nations World Food Programme Is Established[07200] [c]United Nations;Feb., 1962: United Nations World Food Programme Is Established[07200] [c]Humanitarianism and philanthropy;Feb., 1962: United Nations World Food Programme Is Established[07200] [c]Human rights;Feb., 1962: United Nations World Food Programme Is Established[07200] [c]Organizations and institutions;Feb., 1962: United Nations World Food Programme Is Established[07200] Sen, Binay Ranjan Kennedy, John F. [p]Kennedy, John F.;and developing nations[developing nations] Eisenhower, Dwight D. [p]Eisenhower, Dwight D.;international relations McGovern, George Boerma, Addeke Hendrik Orr, John Boyd

Interest in international hunger relief continued. The FAO studied global hunger in the 1950’s. Meanwhile, the United States confronted the problem of the costly and wasteful storage of surplus agricultural products. In 1954, U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act (1954) Agricultural policy;United States , which aimed to alleviate hunger using surplus food for people in the United States and abroad. This act was modified in 1960 to enable food-aid grants in addition to sales and to foster development projects. In an address to the U.N. General Assembly on September 22, 1960, Eisenhower proposed a special multilateral program for the distribution of surplus food. In October, the General Assembly passed a resolution to establish an international program for food aid. Binay Ranjan Sen, director-general of the FAO, organized a panel of experts to devise strategies for food collection and distribution on a worldwide scale.

U.S. president John F. Kennedy also supported the establishment of a world food program. In fulfillment of campaign promises, he signed two executive orders, one on January 21 and another on January 24, 1961—immediately after his inauguration—to increase food aid to unemployed Americans and to expand the international goals of the assistance act of 1954, which he renamed the Food for Peace program Food for Peace program Foreign aid, U.S.;Food for Peace program Hunger;Food for Peace program, U.S. . The program’s first director, U.S. senator George McGovern, proposed to the FAO in April that a three-year experimental international food-relief program be established. Kennedy fully supported the proposal. On September 25, Kennedy addressed the General Assembly with an initiative to name the 1960’s the “United Nations decade of development.” While the United Nations focused on food relief for development, McGovern envisioned the program as one of relief alone.

On November 24, soon after Kennedy’s address, the United Nations established the World Food Programme (WFP). Its governing body met for the first time the following February and designated its goals: food security and the distribution of surplus food, not only for emergency relief but also, more important, for social and economic development. The WFP became fully functional in June when Addeke Hendrik Boerma assumed the position of executive director. The first requests for aid came from Iran, which experienced an earthquake that killed twelve thousand people in September; from Thailand, hit by a typhoon in October; and from Algeria, whose battle for independence had created five million refugees.

The WFP was established as a nonpolitical entity, and it distributes aid according to need only. Donor countries make their surplus food available for all, or they provide funds to pay for the food’s distribution. Unlike other food-relief efforts, the WFP takes a project approach. This approach involves the allocation of resources through international agencies to particular projects, such as food for work or nutritional supplementation for vulnerable groups, especially mothers and young children, and not to governments for distribution and sale. In the early years the program devoted about two-thirds of its food aid to development. A reforestation program in Algeria, for example, used workers paid in food by the program. Proponents of this approach argue that the aid reaches the poor more efficiently, though the costs may be greater using this approach.

One of the earliest goals of the WFP was to reduce the number of bilateral arrangements for food aid, which tended to be more costly and less efficient. As a centralized agency, the program gained expertise and efficiency in the distribution of food, especially during emergencies. In the early years of the program, the FAO created several support initiatives for the program, including the Freedom from Hunger Campaign.

The WFP’s provisional period was very successful, and so the United Nations approved its continuation in December, 1965, for as long as the program was necessary and effective. By this time, more than one hundred countries had provided aid, and contributions had fallen just $6 million short of the goal of $100 million. The program had responded to more than thirty major emergencies in twenty-five countries and aided more than one hundred social and economic development projects. Some problems still existed, however. The United States contributed more than half of all the resources during the provisional period, though officials hoped that other nations would share more of the burden. Relying on a single donor could jeopardize the program.


According to advocates of the World Food Programme, its “project approach” holds advantages over the “program approach” used by other relief initiatives. Because the program approach entails the sale of food aid from one government to another, aid is less likely to reach the desperately hungry. Moreover, unlike Food for Peace, in which food aid was a foreign policy instrument, the WFP distributes food without political considerations.

Some difficulties with the program did emerge, however. Over the decades, it became apparent that the WFP enjoyed much more success as a responder to emergencies, which increasingly resulted from human causes. The results of development programs were mixed, with school lunch programs being most successful. Over the years the goals and initiatives of the WFP have undergone assessment and revision. To take one example, the program recognized the importance of women’s empowerment.

Finally, a consideration of the moral dimension to food aid is necessary. Food aid traditionally has been a moral imperative, but it also has been recognized that food aid should not lead to disincentive—to the inability or unwillingness of nations to support themselves in times of crisis. Some critics of food aid actually argue that such aid is immoral because it leads to increased population and mass starvation. Demographic studies have not borne out this argument, and so the World Food Programme continues to aid the world’s hungry and starving. World Food Programme, U.N. Hunger;United Nations United Nations;hunger relief

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Faaland, Just, Diana McLean, and Ole David Koht Norbye. “The World Food Programme (WFP) and International Food Aid.” In Food Aid and Human Security, edited by Edward Clay and Olav Stokke. Portland, Oreg.: Frank Cass, 2000. Explains how the World Food Programme operates and how its focus has changed from its original equal emphasis on emergency relief and development to emergency response.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gonzalez-Pelaez, Ana. Human Rights and World Trade: Hunger in International Society. New York: Routledge, 2005. A critical study of world hunger in the context of international trade policies, and how international trade can address this major human rights concern.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kutzner, Patricia L. Contemporary World Issues. World Hunger. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio,1991. An analysis of world hunger from the perspectives of economics, politics, and sociology. Provides a detailed chronology of the efforts to help alleviate world hunger.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Medrano, Pedro Alfonso. “The WFP and the Right to Food.” In For an Effective Right to Adequate Food, edited by Marco Borghi and Letizia Postiglione Blommestein. Fribourg, Switzerland: University of Fribourg Press, 2002. Interprets the goals of the World Food Programme in terms of moral rights.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miller, Berna, and James D. Torr, eds. Developing Nations. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Greenhaven Press, Thomson/Gale, 2003. Examines the social, economic, moral, and ethical implications of a world in poverty.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schulthes, Jens H. “Is There a Future for the WFP as a Development Agency or Does Food Aid Still Have a Comparative Advantage?” In Food Aid and Human Security, edited by Edward Clay and Olav Stokke. Portland, Oreg.: Frank Cass, 2000. Examines various ideas concerning the purpose and nature of international food aid.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shaw, D. John. The U.N. World Food Programme and the Development of Food Aid. New York: Palgrave, 2001. A history of the World Food Programme that includes analyses and critiques of the organization’s goals.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Staples, A. L. S. The Birth of Development: How the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Health Organization Changed the World, 1945-1965. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2006. Focuses on the development of international organizations in the postwar period that pioneered issues such as worldwide food aid as well as economic development and their necessary roles in enhancing quality of life.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Webb, Patrick. Food as Aid: Trends, Needs, and Challenges in the Twenty-First Century. Rome: World Food Programme, 2003. A report on global food aid in the twenty-first century. Available at http://www .wfp.org.

Oxford Committee for Famine Relief Is Founded

Famine Decimates Bengal

United Nations Holds Its First Conference on Food and Agriculture

World Health Organization Proclaims Health a Basic Human Right

UNICEF Is Established

Eisenhower Begins the Food for Peace Program

Famine Decimates China

European Economic Community Adopts the Common Agricultural Policy

Hardin Argues for Population Control

Categories: History