Myths about world hunger


The world produces enough grain to provide every human being on the planet with 3500 calories a day, according to a new book by the Institute for Food and Development Policy (also known as Food First). This estimate does not take into account many other commonly eaten foods, such as vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats and fish. When all foods are considered together, there is enough to provide two kilograms of food per person a day.

Hunger persists despite the fact that increases in food production during the past 35 years have outstripped the world's population growth by about 16%. Worldwide, an estimated 786 million people have inadequate access to food. In the US alone, an estimated 30 million people cannot afford a healthy diet.

According to World Hunger: Twelve Myths, powerful misconceptions block our understanding of the true causes of hunger and thus prevent effective action.

"The true source of world hunger is not scarcity but policy; not inevitability but politics", said Dr Peter Rosset, executive director of Food First and co-author of the book. "The real culprits are economies that fail to offer everyone opportunities and societies that place economic efficiency over compassion."

First published in the early 1970s, this updated edition takes into account multiple changes in the world since that time.

The information revolution and explosion of new and advanced technologies have not solved world hunger, in large part because national and global food systems are increasingly controlled by a few powerful corporate interests. These corporations control availability and cost of food.

Many of the countries in which hunger is rampant export more agricultural goods than they import. For example, India ranks near the top among Third World agricultural exporters. In 1995, while at least 200 million Indians went hungry, India exported US$625 million worth of wheat and flour and US$1.3 billion worth of rice.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science found in a 1997 study that 78% of all malnourished children under five in the developing world live in countries with food surpluses.

Although rapid population growth remains a serious concern in many countries, the Food First book states that nowhere does population density explain hunger. Like hunger itself, rapid population growth results from underlying inequities that deprive people, especially poor women, of economic opportunity and security.

World Hunger: Twelve Myths brings together evidence to support the case that with different policies in place, the world could feed itself. For example, large, industrial farms are not necessarily the most efficient and productive way to grow food. A study of 15 countries (primarily in Asia and Africa) found that per-hectare output on small farms can be four to five times higher than on large estates.

"Hunger is caused by decisions made by human beings and can be ended by making different decisions. To be part of the answer to world hunger means letting go of old frameworks and grappling with new ideas and approaches", said Rosset. "This will enable us to stop twisting our values so that economic dogma might remain intact while millions of fellow human beings starve amid ever greater abundance."

World Hunger: Twelve Myths by Frances Moore Lappe, Joseph Collins and Peter Rosset with Luis Esparza is available for US$13 plus $4.50 shipping from Food First, 398 60th Street, Oakland, CA 94618; e-mail

[From Pesticide Action Network North America Updates Service.]

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