4 World Hunger Myths, Debunked
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
– Chinese Proverb
According to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), there are currently 795 million hungry people in the world, the vast majority of whom live in developing countries. By contrast, one third of food in developed nations is wasted. So why is there still world hunger despite consistent global efforts to end it? Why are people still hungry in an age of plenty?
This article highlights several of the widely held myths about world hunger, the realities and potential ways to eradicate it once and for all.
Myth #1: Too many people, too little food
The misconception that world hunger arises because there is simply not enough food to go around in the face of climate change and rapid population growth is commonly used as an excuse by governments in support of industrial farming and corporations selling chemical pesticides, fertilizers and other ‘Green Revolution’ technologies. But abundance, not scarcity, best describes the world’s current food supply. Not only is there enough grain alone to provide everyone on the planet with 3500 calories a day, but if all foods are considered together, enough is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person per day (enough to make most people fat!)
The real causes of widespread hunger are poverty, inequality, lack of access and waste. In fact, many times in history, governments chose to export stockpiled food or let them rot in storage instead of distributing it to the hungry. For example, while India’s 350 million hungry were succumbing to starvation in 2002, the Indian government was reluctant to release the stockpiled surpluses out of a desire to satisfy the terms of international lending agencies who demanded low export prices.
Myth #2: Resolving hunger means ensuring people obtain enough calories
While the world has more food than ever before, the continued focus by governments and corporations to provide enough calories to go around has resulted in the declining quality and nutritious value of food in many parts of the world. But solving world hunger does not merely involve providing enough calories to meet minimum daily requirements - it also means providing the right combination of vitamins and minerals needed for healthy development, especially important among children and pregnant mothers. The USDA recommends a balanced diet of unprocessed, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes and healthy fats.
Myth #3: International food aid is a solution to hunger
While it is true that the unequal distribution of food is one of the main causes of hunger, international food aid is not a long-term solution. This is because consistently sending surplus food from a developed country such as the United States to developing countries like Ethiopia at super low prices simply drives local farmers out of business and perpetuates dependence rather than self-sustenance. In some extreme cases, it can even be said that food aid often benefits donors more than recipients since it creates a market for which agribusinesses can ‘dump’ their surplus and keep prices high.
Thus, although food aid is beneficial during emergencies and natural disasters, it should not be regarded as a long-term solution to hunger. Instead, cash aid – i.e. donating cash to recipients to buy food locally – could be a much better alternative, as it not only speeds up the journey of food to the hungry but also promotes a robust agricultural sector and enduring food security.
Myth #4: Industrial - not ecological - agriculture is the answer
The so-called “Green Revolution,” introduced to the world after World War II, is commonly seen as a ‘miracle’ solution that lifted more than a billion out of famine. However, because industrial agriculture relies on patented seeds, monoculture of crops, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, large machinery and heavy irrigation, it is not sustainable for the environment or for producers in the long run. Not only do problems such as eutrophication and soil degradation arise, but risk of cancer, birth defects and stillborn babies increase sharply among farming communities. In addition, this industrial model puts our land and other resources into the hands of a few, large agribusinesses like Monsanto, thus driving small-scale, subsistence farmers out of business and into poverty.
By contrast, not only has organic or ecological farming proven to produce just as much yield per acre as its conventional counterparts, but it also helps to address the powerlessness that is the root of hunger. Building on traditional knowledge accrued over centuries by peasants and indigenous people in developing nations with modern science and technology, it frees farmers from dependency on corporate suppliers such as Monsanto, as well as on imported food, taking them on a journey to self-sufficiency instead.
Thus, taking these four myths together, it seems clear that in order to make mass starvation a thing of the past, we must limit food aid to emergency situations only, minimize food waste, switch from so-called 'green' technologies to organic farming that work in harmony with local ecosystems and communities, and perhaps most importantly, spread the word by educating each other about the realities of world hunger.