October Hunger Notes: the conflict between corporate agriculture and campesinos, Syrian families and war, and more

October 31, 2016

By Lane Vanderslice

Agroecology “Lite:” Cooptation and Resistance in the Global North by Eric Holt-Giménez and Miguel Altieri describes how agriculture as practiced in developed countries harms poor farmers in developing countries, who are better served by improving systems that the farmers themselves had developed over centuries.  An excellent statement of this critical issue.

The beating pulse of food security in Africa concerns Elizabeth Mpofu, who grows maize, legumes and different beans on her ten-hectare farm in Zimbabwe.  In spite of a severe drought in Zimbabwe, and the failure of the maize crop, she managed to harvest 150 kg. of dried beans, which enabled her to have food to sustain her and her family through the drought.  Dried beans and peas are drought resistant, rich in protein, and an example of crops that local farmers have planted for generations, and selected seeds that adapted the  plants to local circumstances, unlike the one-size-fits-all of commercial crops.

Michael Pollin thinks the U.S. food system is broken.  In  Why did the Obamas fail to take on corporate agriculture? he first summarizes why:

A food system organized around subsidized monocultures of corn and soy, I explained, guzzled tremendous amounts of fossil fuel (for everything from the chemical fertilizer and pesticide those fields depended on to the fuel needed to ship food around the world) and in the process emitted tremendous amounts of greenhouse gas — as much as a third of all emissions, by some estimates. At the same time, the types of food that can be made from all that subsidized corn and soy — feedlot meat and processed foods of all kinds — bear a large measure of responsibility for the steep rise in health care costs: A substantial portion of what we spend on health care in this country goes to treat chronic diseases linked to diet.

He then describes the difficulties President Obama and Michelle Obama, with her concern for nutritious food, faced in advancing the cause of healthier food.

There are about 11 million displaced Syrians.  Two stories this month help us understand their plight.  We live in Aleppo. Here’s how we survive by Omair Shaaban and What does it mean to help one family? by Jodi Kantor and Catrin Einhorn.

The U.S. foreign-aid budget, visualized by Max Bearak and Lazaro Gamio gives a good overview of U.S foreign aid, an overview that is usually difficult to get, as it must be pulled together from various U.S. government accounts.   Definitely worth seeing are the maps — one for humanitarian aid, the other for military — that show countries sized proportionally to the amount of U.S. funding they receive.  Which country receives the most foreign aid?  An interesting question, which this article answers.  If you don’t already know the answer, the answer will surprise you.

Finally, Gang violence drives internal displacement in El Salvador by Edgardo Alaya  illustrates how even people in small towns in El Salvador are subject to gang violence and the dislocation they suffer when they flee their hometown.

Letter: Is there a food shortage in the world? And other questions.

September 19, 2016

Dear Hunger Notes,

My name is A. C.. I am a 7th grader at Pella Middle school. We are doing a service project and I choose to do World Hunger. I want to do the best job I can. I still have a few questions.
1. Is there a food shortage in the world?
2. How is famine defined?
3. Who are the hungry?
4. What are the effects of malnutrition?
5. Are the numbers going down?
Thanks for all the possible information you could provide.
Sincerely, A. C.

Dear A.C.

Is there a food shortage in the world? 

This question needs to be answered in two parts.

First, there is enough food to feed everyone. “For the world as a whole, per capita food availability has risen from about 2220 kcal/person/day in the early 1960s to 2790 kcal/person/day in 2006-08, while developing countries even recorded a leap from 1850 kcal/person/day to over 2640 kcal/person/day” (FAO, p. 174). This is enough to feed everyone.

Secondly, nonetheless, there are people who are still hungry. The major cause of hunger throughout the world is poverty: people simply do not have enough money to purchase the food they need (or land to grow that food.)  A second major cause is  severe disruptions of peoples’ lives such as conflict, drought, or flooding.  Thus there are still many people who are hungry.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2014-2016.

How is famine defined?

Famine is an extreme and general scarcity of food in a particular geographic area leading to a high number of deaths.   It is most often due to a major agricultural failure or to conflict.  However an important additional factor is government response which can and usually does avert a famine.  The British government did not respond effectively to the great Irish famine of 1845-52,  initially caused by potato crop failure brought about by a blight,  leading to many deaths.   Certainly two areas today where famine is a concern are Syria and northern Nigeria, both the result of conflict and, at this writing, inadequate response to the hunger caused.  See for example Nigeria on the brink of famine in The Guardian.

Who are the hungry?

People who are very poor, and people who face severe disruptions in their lives such as drought, floods or conflict.   People who are very poor live in all parts of developing countries, rural areas, towns and cities.  Their hunger gets less attention because they live among people who are doing at least somewhat better.  There is more attention focused on people who face severe disruptions as they are usually part of a large group. See our Africa and Asia pages for stories on examples of large groups that face hunger, with Malnutrition rates in Nigeria “horrifying”  being one example.

What are the effects of malnutrition?

There is a range of malnutrition from severe malnutrition where children look emaciated and often with swollen bellies to less severe, where children look normal but are shorter and do have other issues.  A good short summary can be read here .  I would also watch the very informative Hunger in India short video which we use as the basis for one of our hunger quizzes.

Are the numbers going down?

Yes.  See the section called Progress in Reducing the Number of Hungry People in our World Hunger Factsheet.

Thank you for your interesting questions and for your interest in understanding hunger in the world.

Editor, Hunger Notes

Health coverage, income, and poverty all improved decisively in 2015

For the first time since 1999, all three key indicators of well-being in the annual Census data moved decisively in the right direction in 2015.  The poverty rate dropped from 14.8 percent to 13.5 percent, tying the largest improvement since 1968.  The typical household’s income rose by 5.2 percent, or $2,798, after adjusting for inflation, the largest increase on record with data back to 1967.