The unequal distribution of food between and within countries causes hunger for many millions of the world's people. Those in developed as well as developing countries who go to bed hungry do so not necessarily because food is unavailable but because they can neither afford to buy it nor own the land necessary to produce it. A less noticeable food distribution problem exists within the family itself. Pregnant women, nursing mothers and children have the greatest food needs but are at the end of the distribution chain, with men assuming first claim to the available food.
Maldistribution of food is a technical and a political problem. Technically it is difficult to transfer food from an area of surplus to an area of need. The physical problems of moving the food from place to place include the lack of transportation infrastructure where the need for food is the greatest. The institutional problems of moving food from cities and towns to the rural poor include the lack of administrators to manage food transfers. On the political side it is unclear to what extent developed countries are committed to meeting the food and resource needs of poor countries. Not infrequently countries in need are not interested in their citizens most requiring food to receive it.
According to a 1984 FAO report, the total food production of the world, minus all the major losses (both inedible and avoidable wastages), when divided by the world's population, yields the equivalent of 2,743 kilocalories available to each person. However, breakdown by geographical areas shows wide disparities. The following figures include average daily energy requirements per person per region based on the age and sex structure of the population, the average body weight, the climate, and other relevant factors. The USA and Canada produce the equivalent of 5,501 kilocalories per person per day, while 2,650 is the average daily requirement; western Europe produces 2,893 per person, the average daily requirement being 2,574; Australia and New Zealand, 7,705 and 2,650, respectively; Africa 1,771 and 2,332; Latin America, 3,464 and 2,416; the Near East, 2,153 and 2,426; the Far East, 2,334 and 2,230; Asian centrally planned economies (China, Kampuchea, North Korea, Mongolia, and Vietnam), 2,336 and 2,230; USSR and eastern Europe, 3,230 and 2,574. A low nutritional requirement, set at 1.2 times the so-called Basal Metabolic Rate or of the order of 1,500 calories per person per day on average, suggests that in 1990 there were at least 477 million people who only got enough food to support minimal adult survival and some child growth. More than 1,000 million people, according to World Bank estimates updated by the World Hunger Program, get only 90% of their nutritional requirement, not enough to support normal activity and work.
The world needs a more equitable food distribution and crop production more than it needs more output. Per capita world grain output per person is approximately 325 kgs. In some countries annual grain availability per person averages only 150 kgs, requiring that it all be consumed directly; while other countries exceed 700 kgs, which is largely converted into meat, milk, and eggs. A more equitable distribution of this bounty could greatly improve the nutritional status of millions of people and thereby greatly improve political tensions between both countries and regions.
That different regions have large populations as well as naturally limited resources is a fact of life. Food distribution on a world-wide basis is totally unrealistic. Cereal stocks have to be paid for and most developing countries are unable to afford it. The provision of free food aid (which, in times of economic recession in developed countries or in pursuit of particular foreign policies, may be rendered impractical) is merely a temporary expedient, making less developed countries dependent upon others and also distorting their own agricultural markets.