Sunday, December 04, 2016

What Food crisis?

Wherever we live in the world, we all need enough food - and the right food - not just to survive, but thrive. There is enough food in the world today for everyone. Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human being with 3,200 calories a day. That doesn't even count many other commonly eaten foods - ­vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish. Enough food is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day worldwide: two and half pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of fruits and vegetables, and nearly another pound of meat, milk and eggs - ­enough to make most people fat! The problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food. Even most "hungry countries" have enough food for all their people right now. Many are net exporters of food and other agricultural products.

People can go hungry even when there's plenty of food around. Often it's a question of access - they can’t afford food. It's too easy to blame nature. Human-made forces are making people increasingly vulnerable to nature's vagaries. Communities that build irrigation systems and storage facilities can survive even during times of drought or flood. In Africa, 10 to 20% of sub-Saharan grain is lost to mold, insects or rodents due to a lack of storage facilities and transportation, which is the difference between 48 million people eating, or not. India loses 35 to 40% of fruits and vegetables every year because of bad roads, poor packaging, and lack of refrigeration. 

Large landowners who control most of the best land often leave much of it idle. Unjust farming systems leave farmland in the hands of the most inefficient producers. Land is used for "cash crops" such as cotton or coffee instead of food. To the owners, land becomes an "investment" not a source of food for the people who live on it. 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. Without secure tenure, the many millions of tenant farmers have little incentive to invest in land improvements, to rotate crops, or to leave land fallow for the sake of long-term soil fertility. Farming methods have been "modernized", ambitious irrigation plans carried out, "miracle" seeds, new pesticides, fertilizers and machinery have become available. But who has come out better off? Farmers who already have land, money and the ability to buy on credit - not the desperately poor and hungry. In Pakistan, for example, a farmer must have at least 12.5 acres of land to get a loan from the Bank: but this excludes over 80 percent of Pakistan's farmers! Who else benefits? Moneylenders, landlords, bureaucrats, military officers, city-based speculators and foreign corporation - as the value or the land goes up only the rich can afford to buy the farming land. Small farmers go bankrupt or are bought out. Human energy and imagination can be organized to turn a desert into a grain field. This can be done - we have the know-how. When land is in the hands of the people who live and work on it, they are more likely to be motivated to make the land more productive and distribution of food more equitable thus benefiting all peoples. Eliminating beef production would not be wise. Native grazing lands contribute to sustainable food production and support many pastoral societies, and improvements in integrated crop/livestock systems by small farmers hold promise for poverty and hunger reduction. But holding down the growth of global beef consumption would help maintain these valuable contributions to the food supply while also reducing deforestation.

Overpopulation is not the cause of hunger. It's usually the other way around  - hunger is one of the real causes of overpopulation. The more children a poor family has the more likely some will survive to work in the fields or in the city to add to the family's small income and, later, to care for the parents in their old age. All this points to the disease that is at the root of both hunger and overpopulation: The powerlessness of people who must rely on food that is grown and distributed by wealthy people who have never felt hunger pangs, yet who determine how the land will be used, if at all and who will benefit from its fruits. High birth rates are symptoms of the failures of a social system - inadequate family income, inadequate nutrition and health care and old-age security. Birth rates are falling rapidly worldwide as remaining regions of the Third World begin the demographic transition - ­when birth rates drop in response to an earlier decline in death rates. 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. Like hunger itself, it results from underlying inequities that deprive people, especially poor women, of economic opportunity and security. Rapid population growth and hunger are endemic to societies where land ownership, jobs, education, health care, and old age security are beyond the reach of most people. In general, fertility rates fall even in poor countries once a high percentage of girls attend lower secondary school, child mortality rates decline, and women have access to reproductive health services. Improving these education and health measures, which are exceptionally low in sub-Saharan Africa, would have large parallel benefits for food security, social and economic development, and environmental stewardship. Most countries in sub-Saharan Africa have endorsed the goal of reducing fertility rates. Achieving replacement level fertility in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050 would reduce the global food gap by 9 percent, and would reduce the food gap for the region—the world’s hungriest—by 25 percent.

If all of the world’s regions achieved replacement level fertility by 2050, the projected growth in food demand would decline modestly in global terms.  “Replacement level fertility” is the total fertility rate—the average number of children born per woman—at which a population replaces itself from one generation to the next, without migration. This rate is roughly 2.1 children per woman for most countries, although it may modestly vary with mortality rates. While most of the world’s regions have already achieved or are close to achieving replacement level fertility, sub- Saharan Africa is the exception, with a regional rate of 5.4 children per woman. Even with the region’s growing urbanization, present estimates are that the region’s fertility rate will only decline to 3.2 by 2050. As a result, the region’s population is projected to nearly triple from its 2006 level to more than 2 billion people by 2050. To adequately feed that higher population by mid-century, production of crop calories will have to increase to a level 3.6 times higher than production in 2006, even with continued heavy reliance on imports.

Dr. Ton Dietz, the director of the Afrika Studie Centrum, based in Leiden, Netherlands, one of Europe's leading think tanks on Africa said that in 1961 every nation in Africa produced domestically more than 100 percent of its domestic food supply. Now most African countries produce less than its domestic supply and therefore are becoming more dependent on food imports, even though they grow enough food to feed themselves. Only five percent of all cereals imported by African countries come from other African countries while huge tracts of fertile land, around 400 million hectares, remain uncultivated and yields remain a fraction of those obtained by farmers elsewhere in the world. In Niger, farmers have rebuilt soil fertility and boosted yields on 5 million hectares of land by husbanding the natural regeneration of nitrogen-fixing trees and other native vegetation. Over sub-Saharan Africa’s 300 million hectares of dry cropland, this type of agroforestry has even greater potential to boost yields when combined with water harvesting and micro-dosing of individual plants with small quantities of fertilizer. Conservative estimates suggest that scaling up these practices could potentially provide the present dryland population an additional 615 kcal per person per day.


Food shortage is not just a Third World problem. One in six Americans do not know where their next meal will come from. In America, in the most prosperous, industrialised, country in the world, this problem exists.


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