It is a myth that world hunger is due to scarcity of food
(Based on an article by Danielle Knight, Washington, Oct 16 1998 (IPS))

Increased food production is not the solution

World hunger is extensive in spite of sufficient global food resources. Therefore increased food production is no solution. "The problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food". Therefore measures solving the poverty problem is what is required to solve the world hunger probem according to this book.


Summary

The food resources of the world are abundant rather than scarce according to Peter Rosset, director of Institute for Food and Development Policy in California. Even in countries with excess food production millions are starving. This is explained in detail in the recent book by Lappe, Frances Moore, Joseph Collins, and Peter Rosset; "World hunger: Twelve Myths", New York: Grove Press. Second Edition 1998.

- The belief that world hunger can be solved by increasing food production is an unsubstantiated myth. It has lead to policies by international organs that have supported farming policies that in practice have boosted production of expensive export foods on the expense of production of basic foods for the population.

The real problem is poverty. As the market responds to money and not to actual need, it can only work to eliminate hunger when purchasing power is widely dispersed according to Rosset. As the rural poor are increasingly pushed from land, they are less and less able to demand for food on the market. Promoting free trade to alleviate hunger has proven to be a failure. In most developing countries exports have boomed while hunger has continued unabated or actually worsened according to the book.

Link to Conclusion


Introduction

It is a myth that world hunger is the unavoidable result of food scartity due to the population explosion aggravated by weather changes. It prevents deciscionmakers from taking appropriate actions.

"The way people think about hunger is the greatest obstacle to ending it," says Peter Rosset, director of Institute for Food and Development Policy, California, USA, in a book released on World Food Day october 15, 1998.

"As millions of people starve, powerful myths block our understanding of the true causes of hunger and prevent us from taking effective action to end it." Rosset says.

According to his book "World Hunger: Twelve Myths", these myths prevent a correct understanding about the reasons why millions of people are starving.

"The true source of world hunger is not scarcity but policy; not inevitability but politics"...."The real culprits are economies that fail to offer everyone opportunities, and societies that place economic efficiency over compassion."


World food supply is abundant

The world's food supply is abundant, not scarce. The world production of grain and many other foods is sufficient to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day, according to the book. Even in countries that have excess food, large numbers are starving. According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 78 percent of all malnourished children aged under five live in countries with food surpluses (in 1997).

"The problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food" ...''Even though 'hungry countries' have enough food for all their people right now, many are net exporters of food and other agricultural products."

Because they believe that lack of food is the problem, the World Bank and many governments - put their efforts on increasing food production.

"But focusing narrowly on increasing production cannot alleviate hunger because it fails to alter the tightly concentrated distribution of economic power that determines who can buy the additional food". For example, the "Green revolution" sponsored by international support organs increased grain production significantly. Still the book notes that "in several of the biggest Green Revolution successes -India, Mexico, and the Philippines for example - grain production and in some cases exports, have climbed while hunger has persisted."


Natural catastrophes not a cause

Another popular hunger myth is that natural catastrophes are to be blamed. "It's too easy to blame nature; food is always available for those who can afford it while starvation during hard times hits only the poorest." "Millions live on the brink of disaster in south Asia, Africa and elsewhere, because they are deprived of land by a powerful few, trapped in the unremitting grip of debt, or miserably paid." Natural events rarely explain deaths, they are simply the final push over this brink.


Overpopulation not a cause

Population growth is another mythical cause of hunger, says the book. "Although rapid population growth remains a serious concern in many countries, nowhere does population density explain hunger."....''For every Bangladesh - a densely populated and hungry country - we find a Nigeria, Brazil or Bolivia where abundant food resources coexist with hunger." In Costa Rica, that only has half of Honduras' cropped acres per person, the life expectancy is 11 years longer than in Honduras which put it to that of developed countries, according to the book.


Large farms no solution

Several of the myths revealed by the book are unsubstantiated assumptions used to argue for the current food, land and agriculture policy. These myths include, according to the book, the belief that large farms, the free-market, free trade and more aid from industrialised countries will solve the hunger problem.

Large landowners commonly control most of the best land but leave much of it idle, according to the book. - "By contrast, small farmers typically achieve at least four to five times greater output per acre, in part because they work their land more intensively and use integrated, and often more sustainable, production systems".

Redistribution of land would give millions of small farmers in developing countries the incentive to invest in land improvements, to rotate crops and leave land fallow for the sake of long-term soil fertility, according to the book.

Comprehensive land reforms have markedly increased food production in for example Japan, Zimbabwe, and Taiwan. According to a World Bank study of northeast Brazil it is estimated that redistributing farmland into smaller units would increase the output by 80 percent.


Free-markets and lifting tariffs on trade are no solutions

"Such a 'market is good, government is bad' formula can never help address the causes of hunger," ...''Such thinking misleads us into believing that a society can opt for one or the other, when in fact every economy on earth combines market and government in allocating resources and distributing wealth.''

As the market responds to money and not to actual need, it can only work to eliminate hunger when purchasing power is widely dispersed, says the book. As the rural poor are increasingly pushed from land, they are less and less able to demand for food on the market. Promoting free trade to alleviate hunger has proven to be a failure. In most developing countries exports have boomed while hunger has continued unabated or actually worsened according to the book.

"While soybean exports boomed in Brazil to feed Japanese and European livestock - hunger spread from one-third to two-thirds of the population"...."Where the majority of people have been made too poor to buy the food grown on their own country's soil, those who control productive resources will, not surprisingly, orient their production to more lucrative markets abroad."

Pro-trade policies like that of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) promotes export crop production and suppresses basic food production. Foreign aid from industrialised countrieshas supported such free trade and free market policies.


Foreign aid counterproductive

"Foreign aid works directly against the hungry." U.S. aid in particular is used to promote exports and food production -not to increase the poor's ability to buy food. ''Even emergency, or humanitarian aid, which makes up five percent of the total, often ends up enriching U.S. grain companies while failing to reach the hungry."


World hunger can be eliminated

"Hunger is caused by decisions made by human beings, and can be ended by making different decisions".

Rosset concludes: "The scientific evidence shows it is possible to eliminate hunger..... As societies we have to decide that it is a priority."

Conclusion

The world could feed itself if food policies were based on facts an not on myths as presently. The fact is that there is no scarcity of food. The real reason for the world hunger problem is poverty. This requires political and not agrotechnical solutions.


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