World hunger today is a paradox of scarcity amidst plenty. The reason so many millions in both the developing and the developed countries go to bed hungry is not due to a lack of supply but to a convoluted web of a myriad problems which stem from the common core of poverty. The world today produces enough food for each man, woman, and child to have a daily 3000 kilo-calories. 1983's world grain harvest totalled nearly 1.5 billion tonnes, and the European Community has stockpiled mountains of butter, beef and wheat. But it is the political and economic infrastructures which keep these foods from the hungry. Food aid is given and withheld according to political rather than physical needs.
Land is concentrated in the hands of the few. Four percent of the world's land owners control half of the world's cropland, while 58% of the world's landowners make do with 8% of the world's cropland. A far higher proportion of land owned by large land holders is underused than by small farmers. A vast number of rural populations have no land at all. The green revolution reinforced inequalities in food distribution by shifting food production from labour intensive agriculture to capital intensive agriculture requiring expensive inputs, such as, fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation, beyond the reach of the small farmer. It also tended to deplete non-renewable resources further endangering the long range viability of agriculture.
Since 1950, the growth rate of food production has been between 2.8 and 3.1% per year, both in developed and developing countries. However, there has been a steady decline in the growth rate in population in the developed countries and the populations of developing countries has grown almost at the rate as their food production.
The demand for edible calories in the form of animal proteins has increased further decreasing the availability of food among the low income cross-sections of populations in developing countries. Animal proteins require from twice (for poultry) to seven times (for red beef) cereal feed inputs as compared with the caloric yields of food cereals.
In both developed and developing countries, poverty is the greatest obstacle to good nutrition, and this can only be overcome by a broad process of equitable economic development. But this development process may take generations to complete, and the world's hungry cannot wait. Not only does hunger mean personal suffering and shortened, stunted lives for those personally afflicted by it, but it also means an enfeebled work force. It may be that the myopia of developed nations does not permit them to fully comprehend the impact of the toll of such a loss; but in developing nations, that toll is constantly visible. For many developing nations, hunger is an obstacle to the economic development that alone can free them from both hunger and poverty; and the non-realization of such economic freedom and stability creates danger. Throughout history, food shortages and rising food prices have been a major cause of political instability, triggering riots and strikes, providing a unifying focus for opposition to established political systems, and ultimately causing governments to fall. It has also been a frequent source of international conflict, inciting wars of territorial expansion and compelling desperate people to migrate en masse across national borders.
Worldwide, 20 million people die each year from hunger or related diseases; at least 450 million go hungry every day. In the USA, 15% of American live below the poverty level; doctors in Boston (MA) report one out of every 10 poor children is physically stunted by malnutrition.
GEO-1 included an account of a 'business-as-usual' scenario in which the world population nearly doubled between 1990 and 2050, and GDP per capita, expressed in constant prices, grew 2.4 times. Simultaneously, food requirements doubled, energy consumption rose by a factor of 2.6 and water consumption by a factor of nearly 1.5. The world economy continued its rapid growth with a projected rise in GDP of 4.5 times. Under this scenario, sufficient food would be available globally to feed all the growing population but inequalities of access would mean that hunger would remain.
Given the millions of dollars spent annually on reports and commissions to 'study the hunger problem', and the trillions of dollars spent on armaments and technology, it seems that the obvious solution to the world's precarious situation of peace lies not in those reports or technological breakthroughs, but very simply in feeding empty stomachs.