Wednesday, August 03, 2011

A Needless Food Crisis

Historians often point to the fact that most famines are not caused by a lack of food but bad governance. SOYMB accuses the capitalist system, the moving force behind it all. A recent report from Oxfam posed a simple question: Is the answer to our future food needs to produce more food, or is it to try and fix our broken food system? SOYMB answers that it is capitalism in its entirety that requires replaced, and not patched up with band-aid palliatives.

In 1996 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that the world was producing enough food to provide everyone with 2,700 calories a day, 500 more than is needed by the average human. Over the past 40 years the global population has grown by 80 percent, but food production has more than kept pace, leaving every man, woman and child, on average, with more food than they ever had before, according to the FAO. As populations rise and farmland becomes increasingly scarce, more rural poor are moving to cities to find food and jobs. In cities, where there are no shortages, the big problem confronting the poor is that food is too expensive.

Mohammed Mohasin lives in a slum on the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Finding it almost impossible to make ends meet in the countryside, Mohasin moved to the sprawling city of 7 million in search of a better life. Compared to many Bangladeshis, this father of two has done relatively well, as he has a stable job. But in spite of this, his ability to feed himself and his family is out of his control. Standing in the small gap between his tin-roofed home and an encroaching open sewer, he explains why he is skipping his lunch. "When food prices go up I first have to reduce our expenditure, try to search for cheaper foods and reduce our eating from three to two meals a day."

Whereas the rural poor have opportunities to collect food from other sources such as open ground, forests and rivers, those that live in cities are dependent on global market fluctuations. Like many of the urban poor across Asia, Mohasin spends almost 90 percent of his income on food and rent, leaving him little flexibility if food prices soar as they did in 2008. The World Bank estimated that an extra 100 million people went hungry around the world in that year due to food price increases.

Out of the world's estimated 7 billion people, 1 billion are clinically obese while 1 billion remain malnourished.

Professor Paul Teng from the Center for Non-Traditional Security at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore has been studying losses in the food production, distribution and consumption systems and estimates that 50 percent is lost before it reaches our mouths. "In other words, if we could just recover the losses we would have more than enough food," he said.

Professor Cai Jianming from the Chinese Academy of Sciences is a world leader in developing urban farmland, ensuring that Chinese cities have the means to meet all of their vegetable needs within their municipal boundaries. "In southern China we can use rooftop spaces, but in the north it is easier to create spaces around built-up areas where the distance food has to travel to markets is relatively short. Vertical gardens, using domestic balconies to grow edible food, are also gaining popularity in Beijing," Cai said.

At the University of Philippines Los Banos, Professor of Crop Science Ted Mendoza demonstrated how combining drip feed irrigation, water harvesting, intercropping and organic manures can have impressive improvement results without the need to spray insecticides or genetically modify the seeds.

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