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World Hunger is on the Rise

Let’s face it: The U.S. is not feeding the world

Originally published on Heated x Mark Bittman, July 22, 2019

For the third straight year, U.N. agencies have documented rising levels of severe hunger in the world, affecting 820 million people. More than 2 billion suffer “moderate or severe” food insecurity. During the same period, the world is experiencing what Reuters called a “global grain glut,” with surplus agricultural commodities piled up outside grain silos rotting for want of buyers.

Obviously, growing more grain is not reducing global hunger.

Yet every day, some academic, industry, or political leader joins the Malthusian chorus of warnings about looming food shortages due to rising populations and strained natural resources. For example, here’s Richard Linton, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University, sounding the familiar alarm: “We’ve got to find a way to feed the world, double the food supply,” he said. “And we all know if we don’t produce enough food, what the outcome is: it’s war, it’s competition.”

“How will we feed the world?” calls the preacher. “Increase our bounty,” responds the choir.

There is so much wrong with that answer. And even with the question, which is profoundly arrogant.

How will “we” feed “the world?” We know who we mean when we ask that question: rich countries, with high-yield seeds and industrial-scale agriculture. The United States thinks it’s feeding the world now. It is not.

More than 70 percent of the food consumed in developing countries, where hunger is pervasive, is grown in those countries, the majority of it by small-scale farmers. Those farmers are the main people doing the feeding now. And they’re only using 30 percent of agricultural resources to do it. (That means industrial agriculture is using 70 percent of the resources to feed 30 percent of the population.)

There is no “world” out there, passively waiting to be fed. Most of the hungry are small-scale farmers or live in farming communities. They aren’t waiting for food handouts; they are actively — often desperately — trying to feed their families and their communities.

But the world already grows more than enough food to feed 10 billion people, which is nearly 3 billion more than we currently have.

Why do we keep getting it so wrong, acting like growing more commodity crops will end hunger?

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