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Feeding the Masses

December 20, 2012

C. Peter Timmer in The Wilson Quarterly:

one billion

We all want to end hunger. Gordon Conway’s book One Billion Hungry provides the road map. “Think global, eat local,” the mantra of the sustainable agriculture movement, will not cut it. We need serious new policies in well over a hundred countries to meet this goal. Conway, a professor of international development at Imperial College, London (and, before that, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation and of the Royal Geographical Society), is perhaps the most knowledgeable and distinguished agroecologist of his generation, and in One Billion Hungry he does not mince words. The fact that for more than a century the international community has not acted decisively to end hunger is the most galling failure of the modern era. There is more than enough food in the world; what’s the problem?

The problem is economics. The problem is politics. The problem is markets. Food is produced to make a profit. Food is marketed and sold to make a profit. Households without the means to participate in that for-profit system go hungry. In India more than a quarter of the population, about 300 million people, require access to the public food distribution system. Even in the United States, 46 million people rely on food stamps. As Nobel Prize–winning economist Amartya Sen has reminded us, it is not the amount of food in these societies that determines whether people are hungry, but the nature of their “entitlement” to that food. Worldwide, a billion people fall into the trap between availability and access.

And trap it is. Mothers without enough nutritious food deliver weak and stunted babies, whose own malnutrition condemns them to an early death or, if they are lucky, a hungry survival that allows them to pass their poverty and low productivity on to another similarly deprived generation. People too weak and hungry to pull themselves up by their bootstraps need help.   [More]

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