Monday, July 09, 2007
Myths About Hunger
Myth 1: Not Enough Food to Go Around
Abundance, not scarcity, best describes the world's food supply. Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human being with 3,500 calories a day. That doesn't even count vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish. Enough food is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of daily food per person 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 do not have access to the resources to produce or purchase food. Foodgrains Bank member churches seek to address this problem by working with people to gain access to more food.
Myth 2: Too Many People
Globally, population growth is slowing. Although rapid population growth remains a serious concern in some countries, population density does not 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. Rapid population growth is not the root cause of hunger. Like hunger itself, it results from underlying inequities that deprive people, especially women who are poor, of economic opportunity and security. Foodgrains Bank members work at issues of land ownership, jobs and education in communities where there is hunger.
Myth 3: Nature's to Blame for Famine
Food is always available for those who can afford it. Starvation during hard times hits only the poorest millions who live on the brink of disaster because they are deprived of land, trapped in the grip of debt, or poorly paid. Natural events rarely explain deaths; they are simply the final push over the brink. Human institutions and policies determine who eats and who starves during hard times. The real culprits are economies that fail to offer everyone opportunities, and societies that accept hunger as inevitable. The Foodgrains Bank members work to bring about lasting change in disaster-prone countries like Bangladesh and Ethiopia through helping communities build a more equitable economic base.
Myth 4: The Environment vs. More Food?
Efforts to feed people who are hungry need not cause an environmental crisis. The world is capable of producing enough food for everyone in a sustainable way, but as people without access to resources struggle to survive, they are often forced to farm marginal lands that are susceptible to erosion, flooding or drought. Over-cropping and lack of crop inputs may mean further soil loss. Foodgrains Bank members work with partners in developing countries who promote good farming practices and local production for local consumption.
Myth 5: New Technology is the Answer
The production advances of the past 20 years are no myth. Thanks to the new seeds, millions of tonnes more grain a year are being harvested. But focusing narrowly on increasing production cannot alleviate hunger because it fails to alter the tightly concentrated distribution of economic power that determines who can access the additional food. That's why in several countries - India, Mexico, and the Philippines for example - grain production has increased while hunger has persisted. Foodgrains Bank members promote appropriate agricultural technologies and access to those technologies by those most vulnerable.
Myth 6: We Need Large Farms in the Developing World
Large landowners who control most of the best land often leave much of it idle. By contrast, small farmers often achieve four to five times greater output per acre, in part because they use more "hands-on" farming practices. However, without secure tenure, millions of tenant farmers in the developing world have little incentive to invest in land improvements, rotate crops, or improve soil fertility. A World Bank study of northeast Brazil estimates that moving farmland into smaller holdings would raise output an astonishing 80 percent. The Foodgrains Bank members support small-scale farmers in developing countries.
Myth 7: The Free Market Can End Hunger
Unfortunately, market efficiencies only work to eliminate hunger when purchasing power is widely dispersed. Those who believe in the usefulness of the market and the necessity of ending hunger must concentrate on promoting not only the market, but also the ability of people to participate in the market in ways that reduce poverty. Foodgrains Bank members work to inform policy makers in Canada about the effects Canadian trade policies have on developing countries.
Myth 8: Too Hungry to Help Themselves
People will feed themselves, if given a chance. Bombarded with images of people who are poor and hungry, we lose sight of the obvious: for those with few resources, mere survival requires tremendous effort. If people who are poor were truly passive, few of them could even survive. Our responsibility is to remove the obstacles in their paths. Foodgrains Bank members take the responsibility to work with people in developing countries to increase their self-sufficiency.
Myth 9: There is little we can do about hunger
World hunger can be ended - significant progress has been made. The percentage of people who are hungry has declined substantially in the 20th century. Bread for the World Institute has outlined (2000 report) a politically feasible and economically affordable plan to overcome hunger worldwide. The outcome of the war on hunger is determined not by forces beyond human control, but by decisions and actions well within the capability of nations and people.
You can make a difference by raising awareness in your own community - talk with your neighbours or encourage discussion about hunger issues in your schools and churches.
Through prayer, mobilizing resources, becoming aware of the effect of our investments and lifestyles on international economic systems, and writing to politicians to encourage better trade and hunger policies, together we can bring an end to hunger.
Based on "World Hunger: Twelve Myths, 2nd Edition," by Frances Moore Lappé, Joseph Collins and Peter Rosset (Grove Press/Earthscan, 1998), a book from Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy