Soil and water

The real reason for so much hunger in the world is probably not what you think

Almost one in three people in the world did not have access to enough food in 2020. This represents an increase of almost 320 million people in one year and the situation is expected to worsen with rising food prices food and war trapping wheat, barley and corn in Ukraine. and Russia.

Floods, fires and extreme weather events linked to climate change, combined with armed conflicts and a global pandemic, have amplified this crisis by affecting the right to food.

Many assume that world hunger is caused by “too many people, not enough food”. This trope has persisted since the 18th century when economist Thomas Malthus postulated that the human population would eventually exceed the carrying capacity of the planet. This belief takes us away from addressing the root causes of hunger and malnutrition.

In fact, inequality and armed conflict play a bigger role. The world’s hungry are disproportionately found in Africa and Asia, in areas plagued by conflict.

As a researcher who has worked on food systems since 1991, I believe that tackling the root causes is the only way to fight hunger and malnutrition. For this, we need a more equitable distribution of land, water and income, as well as investments in sustainable diets and peacebuilding.

But how are we going to feed the world?

The world produces enough food to provide every man, woman and child with over 2,300 kilocalories a day, which is more than enough. However, poverty and inequality – structured by class, gender, race and the impact of colonialism – have resulted in unequal access to the Earth’s riches.

Despite adequate food production globally, poverty and inequality limit many people’s access to healthy food. (FAO, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020, CC-BY)Y

Half of the world’s crop production is made up of sugar cane, corn, wheat and rice – much of which is used for sweeteners and other high-calorie, low-nutrient products, as food for meat produced industrially, biofuels and vegetable oil.

The global food system is controlled by a handful of transnational corporations that produce highly processed foods that contain sugar, salt, fat, and artificial colors or preservatives. Overconsumption of these foods kills people around the world and adds to health care costs.

Nutrition experts say we should limit sugars, saturated and trans fats, oils and simple carbs and eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables with only a quarter of our plates made up of protein and dairy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also recommends a shift towards healthy and sustainable diets.

A recent study has shown that overconsumption of highly processed foods – soft drinks, snacks, breakfast cereals, soups and packaged confections – can lead to negative environmental and health effects, such as type 2 diabetes. and cardiovascular disorders.

Moving the world away from highly processed foods will also reduce their negative impacts on land, water and reduce energy consumption.

We live in a world of plenty

Since the 1960s, global agricultural production has exceeded population growth. Yet Malthusian theory continues to focus on the risk of population growth exceeding Earth’s carrying capacity, even if the world’s population peaks.

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s study of the Great Bengal Famine of 1943 challenged Malthus by showing that millions starved to death because they did not have the money to buy food, and not because of food shortages.

In 1970, the Danish economist Ester Boserup also questioned Malthus’ assumptions. She argued that rising incomes, women’s equality and urbanization would eventually stem the tide of population growth, with the birth rate, even in poor countries, falling to or below replacement levels.

Food – like water – is a right, and public policy should flow from it. Unfortunately, land and income remain very unequally distributed, leading to food insecurity even in rich countries. Although land redistribution is notoriously difficult, some land reform initiatives – such as that in Madagascar – have been successful.

The role of war in hunger

Hunger is aggravated by armed conflict. Countries with the highest food insecurity rates have been ravaged by war, such as Somalia. More than half of undernourished people and nearly 80% of stunted children live in countries experiencing some form of conflict, violence or fragility.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that the war in Ukraine puts 45 African and least-developed countries at risk of a “hurricane of hunger” as they import at least a third of their wheat from Ukraine or Russia. According to New York Timesthe World Food Program has been forced to cut rations for nearly four million people due to rising food prices.

What ultimately works are adequate social protection floors (basic social security guarantees) and rights-based “food sovereignty” approaches that empower communities to control their own local food systems. For example, the Deccan Development Society in India helps rural women by giving them access to nutritious food and other community supports.

To fight food insecurity, we must invest in diplomacy by coordinating humanitarian, development and peacekeeping activities to avoid and reduce armed conflict. Poverty reduction is part of peacebuilding, because endemic inequalities serve as a powder keg for aggression.

Protect our ability to produce food

Climate change and environmental mismanagement have put collective food production assets, including soil, water and pollinators, at risk.

Several studies over the past 30 years have warned that contamination of soil and water with high concentrations of toxins such as pesticides, reduced biodiversity and loss of pollinators could further affect the quality and quantity of food production.

Animal husbandry, crop production, agricultural expansion and food processing account for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, a third of all food produced is lost or wasted, so tackling this travesty is paramount.

Reducing food loss and waste will help reduce the environmental impacts of the food system, as will the transition to healthier, sustainably produced diets.

Food, health and environmental sustainability

Food is a right and should be seen as such, not as a problem of population growth or inadequate food production. Poverty and systemic inequalities are the root causes of food insecurity, as are armed conflicts. Keeping this idea at the center of the world’s food discussions is essential.

We need policies that support healthy, sustainably produced and balanced diets to tackle diet-related chronic diseases, environmental issues and climate change.

We need more initiatives that enable an equitable distribution of land, water and income around the world.

We need policies that address food insecurity through initiatives such as rights-based food sovereignty systems.

In areas affected by conflict and war, we need policies that invest in diplomacy by coordinating humanitarian, development and peacekeeping activities.

These are the key pathways to recognizing that “food is the most powerful lever for optimizing human health and environmental sustainability on Earth”. The conversation

Gisèle Yasmeen, Senior Fellow, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.