A few weeks ago, we posted an article showing that while the population of the world was increasing, the number of people in absolute poverty was decreasing. In short, the link between overpopulation and hunger is simply not there. This was building on from an earlier piece arguing that scarcity of resources is a political, not a demographic problem.
Today, I want to hit this theme again, because I think that the myth of overpopulation is still ingrained in many people’s consciousness. Why are people hungry today? Not because there are too many of us, but because of politics. We cannot share what we have adequately. And this is backed up by Jose Graziano da Silva, the head of the UN food and agriculture agency. According to Graziano, the scourge of hunger in Africa could be eradicated by 2025 (12 years away!) “if Africa’s leaders champion it and promote improved crop production and healthy eating”. Graziano put the solution to the problem of world hunger into perspective for all us in an interview with the AP:
“…saying the Food and Agriculture Organization believes that hunger can be eradicated around the globe ‘in a generation, in our lifetime’ if there is a political commitment by world leaders to ensure that all their citizens get access to nutritious food.
‘We are not talking about sending a man to the moon or something that complicated,’ he said. ‘We have the technology. We have the expertise. We have the things that we need to do it.’”
We can send a man to the moon (we could do that over forty years ago) and therefore we can end world hunger. We know how to do it, we just have to put what we know into place. There are three elements to the solution that Graziano highlighted:
1. Political will and leadership.
“If the president doesn’t take the lead, or the prime minister…it doesn’t work” he said. Of course that might mean stopping destructive conflicts with your neighbour that is threatening food supplies. Or it might mean reversing horrendous policy decisions – for example what has happened to Zimbabwe over the last three decades.
2. Improving agricultural performance and access to food.
“‘According to FAO, we have more than enough food produced nowadays to avoid hunger,’ he said. ‘People are hungry today because they don’t have access to food … because they cannot pay for the food or they cannot produce it any more as we did in the past.’
One problem is that one-third to one-half of the food produced today is lost or wasted for a variety of reasons including bad storage, poor transportation and cultural issues, including the move from traditional cuisine to fast food, he said. A lot of food that could be consumed is thrown out, often because of huge portions.”
3. improving the nutritional value of the food people eat.
So what concretely is the Food and Agricultural Organisation doing to eradicate hunger? Well, apparently quite a lot. Remember the recent famine in Somalia?
“…the FAO in early 2012 declared a famine in Somalia, but Graziano said ‘we have been able to pull Somalia out of famine in six months’ with improvements in agriculture and livestock raising and a cash-for-work program aimed primarily at women because they provide food for the family. This program was based on the FAO’s experience in Brazil, Vietnam and other countries, he said.”
Furthermore, the FAO is promoting family farms (2014 will be the “International Year of Family Farming”). Apparently family farms are the most efficient when it comes to using land and water resources and avoids high transportation costs. Finally, did you know that 2013 is the year of quinoa!? No, neither did I. And I ate a lovely quinoa salad made by my talented wife the other night in complete ignorance! Apparently, the FAO is promoting quinoa because it is:
“‘the unique cereal that has all the proteins and amino acids that the human being needs’ and requires 100 percent less water than any other cereal. That makes it perfect for dry areas, and it can be cultivated at any altitude. The FAO achieved its goal of introducing quinoa in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, where countries are testing different varieties, as well as in Yemen, he said.
‘It takes one or two years of testing and choosing the best one,’ Graziano said, ‘but after that … the wind helps a lot because it spreads the seeds all around you don’t need to pay Monsanto for the seeds! So it will be really amazing to see the Sahel and many drought areas of the world cultivated with quinoa in the future, and we are working on that.’”
I hope that the FAO’s goal is reached – imagine that, a world without hunger? And with an expanding population!? Within our lifetime? Overpopulation – can we call it a dead duck yet?