The Washington D.C-based World Resource Institute point out2 that "[f]ood production has more than kept pace with global population growth. On average, food supplies are 24 percent higher per person than in 1961, and real prices are 40 percent lower. Over the same period, the global population has doubled from 3 to 6 billion people. Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished, almost two-thirds of whom reside in Asia and the Pacific." (The World Resource Institute quote the report "World Resources 2000-2001-- People and ecosystems: The fraying web of life" that was prepared by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Bank, and the World Resources Institute.)
However, they continue to then importantly also point out that this "may mask negative trends in the underlying biophysical capacity of agroecosystems, e.g., nutrient mining, soil erosion, and overextraction of groundwater resources." Basically, while population numbers do have an impact on land, by making additional demands, current (industrial) agricultural methods are damaging to the land and the environment, which affects us all.
As Peter Rosset points out, the methods of requiring more pesticide use etc from larger industrial farms is harmful to the environment, and smaller farms3 may be more efficient and at the same time friendlier to biodiversity and the ecosystems. Vandana Shiva, in her book Stolen Harvest (South End Press, 2000) for example, also points out how industrial farming methods, using monocultures (single crops) result in a tremendous loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, excessive water usage and so forth.
Another impact of land ownership, and the concentration or control of it (especially the latter in the global sense) has led to those who are powerful to be able to influence international economic and trade agreements in their favor. This also impacts food production, its distribution and its consumption, which in turn affects the food security of many nations.
In many cases where food is grown, it is often for exports.
In some cases, while local people may be going hungry, they are growing food to export for the hard cash that would be earned.
However, this increasingly export-oriented led policy for the poor is being promoted and heavily pushed to the poorer countries by the wealthier North, IMF and World Bank, as detailed in the Structural Adjustment4 section on this site.
The result of this is that the wealthier nations would benefit in cheaper products and food being exported to them, while poorer countries would lose out. Their land goes to growing food, but not for themselves.
Additionally, because so many poor countries are doing this, there is a lot of food being grown, more than needed normally by the rich nations and a lot of it going to waste through either discard, or through wasteful consumption. Valuable land is therefore misused, as described in the poverty section's page on hunger5.
As well as misused, land may be well used, but not to meet people's needs -- for example, as also detailed by that previous link, much land is used up to grow cattle (for beef etc in fast food restaurants), lots of sugar, tobacco, tea, coffee and other "luxuries turned into necessities". Not that we need to do away with all of these things (maybe tobacco!) but that these are grown disproportionately to real needs/demands. They are grown for over-consumption based demands of wealthier countries. This hints at the enormous waste in land use. Already this therefore questions the simple observation of hunger and large populations being related issues. (We will see a lot more detail on consumption issue versus population numbers to explain major causes of environmental degradation in the next part6 on this issue of populations.)
Further, hunger itself is not addressed -- in some cases it will continue, and in others it can get worse.
There are of course, chances that improved economies will result, allowing better affordability of food. However, as also detailed in the structural adjustment section of this web site, most have not fared will from these SAPs. Besides, if the rich are being fed by the poor, who will feed the poor?
These free trade agreements that reduce subsidies on local farms etc, has a worse impact on developing countries with few resources. We hear of these subsidies being "barriers" for foreign investment. Yet, the nature of the foreign investment isn't to help promote self-sufficiency etc. It is to follow on from what the SAPs opened up -- that is, SAPs opened up these economies, companies etc can go in and now help "export" base foods and commodities. Yet, the wealthier nations realize the importance of food security and heavily subsidize their own farming infrastructures:
The poor are hit the worst, as a result:
The above quote also indicated a cause of food scarcity -- political economics. I have only touched here how politics and economics impacts hunger. This is important, as there is often the claim that hunger is because of overpopulation and growth rates outpacing our ability to provide enough food etc. However, as the next section details, it is a "myth" that we have too many mouths to feed and the causes of hunger are not in "over" population, but in issues to do with economics and politics. This therefore hints where priorities should be placed by those concerned about world hunger related issues.