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Three Myths about Hunger

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Three Myths about Hunger Can the world feed six billion people? Growing Hunger  By the time you finish reading this paragraph, two people will have died from hunger-related causes, 24,000 will die today.  About 24,000 people die every day from hunger or hunger-related causes. This is down from 35,000 ten years ago, and 41,000 twenty years ago.  However, for the first time in nine years, the estimated number of people going hungry around the world has increased,  This reverses a promising trend and it raises new questions about global inequities.  Despite an overall increase in the world's wealth, the United Nation reported that the number of chronically hungry people rose to nearly 852 million in its latest survey, an increase of 18 million since 2000.  More than 800 million people in the world go to bed hungry every day.  According to Orville Freeman, former US secretary of Agriculture, “over 75% [of the world’s population] can barely feed themselves, almost 500 million are severely malnourished.”  At least five million children are now dying from hunger every year.   That’s about 13,700 a DAY, or 570 an hour. Three-fourths of the deaths are children under the age of five.  Over 1/3 of children in the periphery suffer from protein-energy malnutrition caused by the interaction of poor diet and frequent illness.  Iodine deficiency causes brain damage for 26 million kids of year, even though this could be cured with iodized salt at a cost of 5 cents per person per year.  In the United States, 12 million children live in households where people have to skip meals or eat less to make ends meet.  One in ten households in the U.S. are living with hunger or are at risk of hunger. What causes hunger?  Too many people?  Rapid population growth?  Not enough food?  Something else? Myth #1: Hunger results from overpopulation  First, the term “overpopulation” is a loaded term. To use it when talking about hunger, we must prove that large populations are a cause hunger.  Second, we need to know how to understand what constitutes a “large population” and how it may or may not cause hunger. Population  To begin, one cannot separate the question of “how many” from the question of in what “area or space.” That is, we need to understand population density.  Population density refers to the ratio of people to an area. It can be measured on at least three different scales:    the planet as a whole in a country per square mile in a region Put simply  If high population density causes hunger, then we should expect that at some level (planet, country, region) population density should correlate with hunger.  We know that the planet isn’t evenly populated. So the question is either   A. Is there enough food to feed everyone on the planet? B. Do we find that areas with high population density (country, region) have a hunger problem? Population Density and Arable Land  High population density might be “high” in relation to the area available to grow food. This concerns the ratio of people to arable land.  In this argument, one of the following two claims are being made:   1. The population in the given area has a cropland shortage: there isn’t enough land to grow enough food for the population. 2. Or there is enough land, but not enough is being used to grow food.  But, we don’t find such correlations. Ratio of Arable Land to Population size by Country  China vs India    Nearly same population size China less cropland per person, India more Yet, India has far more hungry people  Trinadad and Tobago vs. Guatamala   T&T have half of Guatamala’s cropland T&T have the lowest percentage of stunted children, Guatamala the highest Cont.  Costa Rica vs. Honduras  CR has half of H’s cropped acres per person  CR’s life expectancy is 11 years longer than in Honduras  S. Korea has half the farmland per person as Bangladesh  S. Korea has one of the highest standards of living in Asia  Some countries with little arable land, like Saudi Arabia, import much food.  So, population size as a ratio to arable land has no correlation to hunger. How about population density in urban areas?  Do dense urban populations cause hunger (presumably because people can’t obtain enough food from other areas)?  Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan are among the most densely population countries on the planet   They have no appreciable hunger problems, indeed, they have among the highest standards of living in East Asia Japan is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and has a larger population than the others by tens of millions. Myth #1 cont. Population Growth Rates  Another measure of population is by growth rate. The myth here is that high population growth rates cause hunger.  The fact is that the population growth rates around the planet are slowing, not growing.  This is referred to as the Demographic Transition.  The UN projects that the world population will stabilize at 11.5 billion before the end of the century.  These facts only increase the mystery: if the world’s population is growing less quickly, why is there more hunger? Myth #2 There’s not enough food to feed the global population  Food production has been growing faster than the world population growth rate. World’s Population 1950 2.5 billion 2000 6.2 Increase 2.48 times Year  Grain (million metric tons) 631 1,846 2.9 times In fact, over the past 35 years food production has outstripped the world’s population growth by about 16%. Myth #2 Cont.  Second, the current situation globally is characterized by food abundance, not scarcity.  There’s enough food for everyone on the planet to become overweight; to consume between 2500-3000 cal.  Food prices have dropped as a result.  Mountains of unsold grain on world markets have pushed prices strongly downward for 35 years.  Cheaper food only intensifies the puzzle (a) of why there are so many hungry people on the planet and (b) why the number of hungry is growing. Puzzling examples: hunger-ravaged countries exporting food  India  200 million go hungry  Near the top of food-exporting peripheral countries: exported $265 million worth of wheat and flour and $1.3 billion worth of rice in 1995  Bangladesh  Official rice output could provide 2000 calories a day  But poorest 1/3 get only only 1500 calories a day, dangerously below a healthy diet  Brazil  Exported $13 billion worth of food in 1994 (second among semiperipheral countries)  70 million Brazilians cannot afford enough to eat Myth #3 Free Trade is the Answer  “Third World countries should decrease protectionist policies for domestic capitalists and should relax trade restrictions, allow more competition with foreign imports while increasing exports to earn money to buy imports, including food.  As noted in earlier lectures, most peripheral countries are stuck in the least profitable activities of the worldeconomy, and that includes agriculture.  Therefore, increasing exports has in fact meant increasing exports of food, as just seen.  Clearly, this hasn’t reduced hunger. Myth #3 Cont.  In fact, hunger has been growing along side the growth of world trade and exports from peripheral countries.  Increasing exports and implementing neoliberal trade polices appear to be a major cause of the increase of hunger.  How do we explain that? Myth #3 cont.  In part, it’s a question of who is profiting from the growing quantities of exports.     Large landlords in the periphery Big Agribusinesses from the core that buy the foodstuff, sell the fertilizers and seeds, process the foodstuff Exporters, shippers NOT the poor. Myth #3 Cont.  Increased production and exports by landlords and agricultural extraction companies have displaced small farmers from their land, wiping out their cultural heritage at the same time.  The growth of world exports has caused prices to decline, remaining small farmers can’t earn enough cash income to buy sufficient food to eat.  If free trade and growing corporate dominance explains the recent increase, what causes hunger in general to begin with?  How can there be so much hunger if there is so much food to go around  It is question of distribution.  How is food distributed?  By income  Ergo, hunger is caused because   people don’t have the incomes to buy the food their governments don’t have the incomes to redistribute so that the poor have money to buy food.  Why don’t the people or the governments have the incomes?  I.e., Above all, it’s the division of labor and mulit-state society, the political consequences 1. Many peripheral countries doing same low-income activities as when they were colonies  There are 35 countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia that still gain 40% or more of export earnings from one or two agricultural or mineral products.  2. Precisely because they’re stuck in those activities…  The urban residents and rural farmers don’t earn enough  the income tax base isn’t large enough for their governments to fund a welfare state like that in the core countries which could end hunger and malnutrition.
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