The major world food issue, previously posed as one of scarcity, has emerged in recent years as a major development issue, with widespread poverty as the real cause and not just a physical shortage of food. The problem is twofold. There is first the recurrent threat of famine and food shortages that arise from periodical fluctuations in production, leading to sudden changes in food prices and supplies. Secondly, and this is in a sense the real food problem, there is the chronic hunger and malnutrition of large segments of the world population. Even when the world as a whole has plenty of food, and grain prices are stable, at least 500 million are perpetually hungry and malnourished. Large numbers of countries that were once net exporters of foodgrain are becoming increasingly dependent on food imports. This imbalance in the world food economy has serious ramifications for both the food-deficit developing countries and the food-surplus countries alike. How these surpluses will be used or sold in the food-deficit countries is at the heart of the world hunger/food surplus paradox.
Many countries of the developing world are trying desperately to meet their food needs, while other countries of Europe, North America, Oceania and South America are producing bumper harvests of cereal grains and other food crops. Developing countries, with almost 75% of the world population, have only 55% of its cultivable land. The poorest 45 countries, with one-third of world population and the bulk of malnourished people, have only one-fourth of the cultivable land.
The world is producing more food that was ever before believed possible. Between 1971 and 1982 world agricultural output rose 25%, the output in the less-developed countries was up 33% and in developed countries it was up 18%. Per capita food production went up 16% in South America and 10% in Asia during that time. The rate of productivity growth continues to rise.