The challenge ahead

With kind permission from Peter Rosset of the Institute for Food and Development Policy1 (or as it is also known), chapter 3 of World Hunger: 12 Myths, 2nd Edition, by Frances Moore Lappé, Joseph Collins and Peter Rosset, with Luis Esparza (fully revised and updated, Grove/Atlantic and Food First Books, Oct. 1998) has been reproduced and posted here. Due to the length of the chapter, it has been split into sub pages on this site.

In this brief chapter, we've outlined what we believe are the critical points too often muddled in discussions of population:

  • Fertility and population-growth rates are declining worldwide.
  • Population density nowhere explains today's widespread hunger.
  • Rapid population growth is not the root cause of hunger but is-like hunger-a consequence of social inequities that deprive the poor majority, especially poor women, of the security and economic opportunity necessary for them to choose fewer children.
  • To bring the human population into balance with economic resources and the environment, societies must address the extreme maldistribution of access to resources-land, jobs, food, education, and health care. That is our real challenge.
  • Family planning cannot by itself reduce population growth, though it can speed a decline. Family planning can best contribute to the transition when it is but one part of comprehensive changes in health care that expand human freedom and opportunity rather than control behavior.

We believe that precisely because population growth is such a critical problem, we cannot waste time with approaches that do not work. We must unflinchingly face the evidence telling us that the fate of the world hinges on the fate of today's poor majorities. Only as their well-being improves can we attack hunger and assure that fertility decline is sustainable.

To attack high birth rates without attacking the causes of poverty and the disproportionate powerlessness of people is fruitless. It is a tragic diversion our small planet can ill afford.

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