Plenty of food but none reaching the hungry
Food production overall has risen in the past
few decades. But, the rate of increase is levelling off and growing the
extra food that is needed over the next few decades will be a severe
challenge. This is because there is little additional land and water
available, says a report by the Panos Institute. There is increasing
consensus that most hungry people are hungry because of poverty, not
because too little food has been produced
Increasing food production to meet global challenges. File photo
In 1996, around 840 million people - or nearly one in seven of the
world’s population - were estimated to lack access to the food they need
for adequate and regular nourishment. This constituted 18 percent of the
population in the Third World and 34 percent of the population in
That year, at the World Food Summit, 186 governments pledged to
reduce by half the number of undernourished people in the world by 2015.
As things stand today, the promise is far from met.
Governments gather from across the globe for a five-year review of
progress, only to realise that a lot more remains to be done.
The number of hungry people is falling by about eight million a year,
but this is less than half the rate needed - 20 million a year. Experts
say that unless extra efforts are made to accelerate progress, the
target will not be achieved before 2030.
Food production has increased overall. But this has not happened in
many of the places where the majority of hungry and poor people live.
One solution is to increase the food production and income of the poor
themselves. But many representatives of the Third World countries and
the rural poor question whether further global trade liberalisation will
help or hinder countries’ efforts to do this.
Peasant farmers’ organisations from South-East Asia, meeting in
Bangkok in August 2001 to prepare a statement for the World Food Summit,
pronounced: ‘We realise that the common problems that we have are
spawned by neo-liberal globalisation, which further worsens global
hunger. It has devastated the livelihoods of millions of peasants and
women peasants, as a result of policies most particularly of
agricultural trade and financial liberalisation, de-regulation and
A report launched by the Panos Institute examines why there are still
nearly 800 million people in the world suffering from chronic hunger. It
makes the case that existing trade agreements may be undermining the
poorest countries’ efforts to boost rural development and reduce poverty
The report, Food for All: Can Hunger Be Halved? which is available on
the Net at www.panos.org.uk/food_for_all.htm, looks at the barriers to
providing enough food for each person in the world.
Food production overall has risen in the past few decades. But the
rate of increase is levelling off and growing the extra food that is
needed over the next few decades will be a severe challenge. This is
because there is little additional land and water available, says the
There is increasing consensus that most hungry people are hungry
because of poverty, not because too little food has been produced.
The report asks whether trade liberalisation is helping or hindering
the world in feeding its people.
‘Even the most enthusiastic proponents of free trade now acknowledge
that liberalisation often increases poverty for the poor and undermines
the possibility of sustainable development,’ says the author of the
report, John Madeley. Free-trade supporters still hold that
liberalisation stimulates economic growth and raises standards overall.
But they recognise that it is increasing the gap between rich and
poor.The economic case for trade liberalisation is that it leads to
efficient allocation of resources, with food being produced at the
lowest cost. But several studies have shown that consumers gain from
cheap imported food only if they first have the money to buy it.
For local food-producers, cheap imports compete with and undermine
their own production. This drives many of them into poverty. In the
words of a Sri Lankan activist, free trade is like ‘putting the rabbit
and tiger in the same cage’.
Further liberalisation - of trade in general and of trade in
agricultural products in particular - was on the agenda of recent
ministerial meetings of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Many
developing countries fear that further liberalisation will further
disadvantage them in the world economy. They are not encouraged by the
fact that the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture, intended to reduce state
intervention in agricultural trade and prices, has so far not succeeded
in reducing subsidies paid to farmers in most rich countries. Instead,
they argue, it has tipped the balance of world trade further against
Third World countries.
‘Our farmers were never told what the WTO is, and don’t see any
benefit at all,’ says Emma Candawa, representative of the 50,000-strong
Union of Smallholder Farmers of Malawi.
Candawa adds: ‘On the contrary, export subsidies are subsidising
farmers in Europe who are exporting their foodstuffs to Malawi. The food
from Europe is very cheap and puts us in a very bad situation. Our
farmers are worse off, much worse off than before. Either the WTO
changes or it should get out of our area.’ Many developing countries
will not discuss further liberalisation measures until they are
satisfied that real steps are being taken to rectify the imbalances they
feel are built into trade agreements. The eradication of hunger, they
say, has not been given the priority it deserves. The writer is a
freelance journalist based in India.
Courtesy: Third World Network Features