International food aid currently provides about 10 million tonnes of commodities a year to some 200 million needy people, with an estimated total cost of US$2 billion.
While recognising that food aid is often essential, the FAO's (the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation's) The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 2006 report asks whether this huge effort may sometimes do more harm than good.
For example, the report said that such aid could disrupt local markets and undermine the resilience of local food systems, especially when it arrives at the wrong time or reaches the wrong people.
Another problem is that it can displace commercial exports one of the most contentious issues in the currently stalled Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations.
The FAO report comes as global leaders meet at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Switzerland. One of the aims of the meeting is to encourage the resumption of the Doha round of trade talks and to address issues on the global agenda such as poverty.
To this end, FAO has recommended an end to the widespread practice of 'tying' food aid - resulting in roughly a third of the global food aid budget, or some US$600 million, being spent in donor countries and never reaching beneficiaries.
In addition, the report suggested that, wherever possible, aid should be provided in the form of cash or food coupons rather than food aid shipments, which can affect producers and markets in recipient countries and distort international trade.
"Cash-based transfers or food vouchers can stimulate local production, strengthen local food systems and empower recipients in ways that traditional food aid cannot," said the report.
Other objectives include the elimination of government-to-government food aid and to stop the 'monetisation' of aid, whereby one out of every four tonnes of food aid is sold in local markets of recipient countries to generate funds for development.
"Essentially, food aid should be seen as one of many options within a broader range of social protection measures to assure the access of needy people to food and to help households manage risks," the report concluded.
World hunger remains a sad fact in a world where overproduction is often the topic of debate. The FAO has classified around 40 countries as facing emergency food shortages.
That classification represents about 800 million people worldwide who live with constant hunger, and 25,000 people who die each day, mostly from severe malnutrition.