A common, often altruistic, theme amongst many is to be able to solve world hunger via some method that may produce more food. However, often missed is the relationship between poverty and hunger. Hunger is an effect of poverty and poverty is largely a political issue. (While manifesting itself as an economic issue, conditions causing poverty are political and end up being economic.)
As shown in the Genetically Engineered Food and Human Population sections on this web site, people are hungry not due to lack of availability of food, but because people do not have the ability to purchase food and because distribution of food is not equitable. In addition, there is also a lot of politics influencing how food is produced, who it is produced by (and who benefits), and for what purposes the food is produced (such as exporting rather than for the hungry, feedstuff, etc.)
Peter Rosset, co-director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy3, quoted at the top of this page, highlights some of the wider issues around hunger. He argues that it is not just a challenge of producing more and more food, but there are many political and economic issues underscoring the problems:
Reporting from the World Food Summit 2002, and highlighting some shocking obstacles to getting a declaration on tackling these issues, Peter Rosset reported on day one:
And at the end of the summit:
The U.S.’s position on opposing the right to food comes at odds with most others in the world. The world’s premier organization on food issues, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), is one example. As reported by Europaworld, an international development organization, Jacques Diouf, the FAO’s Director-General reiterated the link between hunger, poverty and basic rights7, saying, Failure to address the silent under-nourishment of millions of children and adults in peacetime should also be regarded as a violation of the right to food.
Furthermore, because of the immediate urgency to address hunger, the issue of promoting food itself as a human right, and its denial as an abuse of rights, has been seen by many as paramount. This has been the cry for many years by the Institute for Food and Development Policy (or Food First8 for short), for example.
Solving Hunger Effectively Requires Addressing Causes of Poverty
While providing solutions to hunger via more efficient food production seems to be a noble endeavor, problems lie in distribution, land ownership, inefficient use of land, politics and powerplay. Currently, food production rates are higher than population growth (although that is no reason to be complacent). Tackling hunger directly by providing more charitable contributions of food, or even finding ways to increase production, is attacking the symptoms of poverty only, not root causes.
That is not to say that research to increasing food production should not be done, just that it should be recognized that the deeper problem of fighting the roots of poverty that causes hunger would allow better use of resources in the long term. Not fighting root causes of poverty and only fighting hunger will be costly in the long run as people will continue to be hungry and resources will be continually diverted to remedy hunger in a superficial manner without addressing its cause.
Solving world hunger by only increasing food production and not addressing root causes of hunger (i.e. poverty), would not alleviate the conditions that create poverty in the first place. If the poorer nations aren’t given the sufficient policy space and means to produce their own food, if they are not allowed to produce and create industry for themselves, then poverty and dependency will continue.
It is worth repeating here the quote from the end of the previous page, about food as a commodity:
To address the causes of poverty then, is where more effort needs to be. However, that is no easy task.
Giving or donating food as aid or charity in non-emergency situations is also not always the long term answer, either. The section on food dumping, next, reveals additional details on how food aid has been used as a foreign policy tool by some wealthy nations to their advantage and interests. Rather than benefiting recipients, such food aid has amounted to economic dumping, helping destroy local farmers and their production, while supporting and bolstering large agribusiness. Hunger and poverty has increased as an effect.
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