It’s interesting to get a closer look at just how a country works to help its least fortunate citizens. Recently I got to learn about the administrative supply chain of the Peruvian government that delivers aid to the poor. There are five large social welfare programs all subservient to The Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion (MIDIS). To address the impoverished families as a whole, MIDIS made them a deal that said ‘you send your kids to school everyday and we’ll feed them. You send them to the clinics and we’ll give you $35 a month.’
Although this only continues through the elementary years, it provides an incentive structure to help keep the children healthy and the parents financially stable. To maintain a sense of efficiency in a timely manner the socialized bureaucracy then breaks down into a crew of private delivery companies that compete for government bids. Getting all these organizations to function properly together requires social-worker watchdogs that are constantly on the prowl, doing oversight and checkups.
That job falls to a man named Marco who, at the prospect of some free research labor, was happy to have me along. He revealed to me the logistical issues of feeding those on two dollars a day, and the economical facets of aiding each community. Simply working out the kinks of the private company delivery operations is a chore; one of the schools we visited in Huarocondo had 67 students but only received food enough to feed 40. Other schools have up to 360 kids to feed, all of whom would otherwise only receive three meals of basic potatoes at home.
However out of date records can’t compare to the enormous amount of effort it takes to coordinate one meeting of all the families to pay them their monthly dues. After sending their kids out on the long walk into town, the parents will take their livestock out to graze (commonly known as the chakra) and can disappear for hours into the maze of mountain valleys beyond the road. The supply quantity is there but the demand seems to move around inconsistently, and makes a hard target to hit.
Micromanaging the distributions is all about the details –9 litres of vegetable oil… 100 thousand grams of evaporated milk…stored dry and off the ground etc. – of which Marco and I went inspecting as we stalked classrooms and offices before reconvening to approve or disapprove of what we saw. The more I listened to the conversations with the teachers the more I saw the gaps in the way it worked. The government requires MIDIS to buy food in bulk from Peru itself, which may be supporting national businesses, but presents the problem of quality nonetheless.
Things like quinoa and lentils are in such high demand abroad that the only thing left for MIDIS to give to the schools are ten pound bags of mixed grains which cook at different rates, presenting a problem to the mother’s who volunteer in shifts to come in and prepare breakfast and lunch. Furthermore, because the entire country’s production of breads, potatoes, and meats is so dependent on artisanal family vendors specific to every neighborhood, the government has no industry to buy from. Kids get bags of mediocre crackers from a commercial company for twice the price of two hearty pieces of local bread.
This web of food economics goes deeper than basic supply and demand. I could ramble on about the free riders, institutions, and targeted moneys that all came out of the woodwork once I got up close and personal with government aid programs. Its enough to make one’s eyes glaze over, yet this fascinating tree of giving seems deeply rooted in the world of the poor and those living on two dollars a day. Investigating a new system of poverty alleviation allows me to learn and observe the effects of these efforts, and to see what it really means to these people when someone gives their kid a bowl of beans.