Global Policy Forum: The Rich Get Richer, the Poor Go Hungry
Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newton - Global Policy Forum
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April 19, 2013

Feed the Future: Turning the Tide on Global Hunger (statevideo)

What is the most common cause of hunger in the world? Is it drought? Flood? Locusts? Crop diseases? Nope. Most hunger in the world has absolutely nothing to do with food shortages. Most people who go to bed hungry, both in rich and in poor countries, do so in places where markets are filled with food that they cannot have.

Despite this fact, much of the discourse about reforming our food system has focused on the necessity of raising yields. Though it is true that we might need more food in coming years, it is also true that the world produces more food calories than are needed to sustain its entire population. The problem is unequal access to food, land, and wealth, and any discussion must begin not from fantasies of massive yield increases, but from the truth that the hunger of the poor is in part a choice of the rich.

Inequity and politics, not food shortages, were at the root of almost all famines in the 20th century. Brazil, for example, exported $20 billion worth of food in 2002, while millions of its people went hungry. During Ethiopian famines in the 1980s, the country also exported food. Many of even the poorest nations can feed themselves-or could in a society with fairer allocation of resources.

It can be hard to grasp the degree to which the Western lifestyle is implicated. We don't realize that when we buy imported shrimp or coffee we are often literally taking food from poor people. We don't realize that our economic system is doing harm; in fact, the system conspires to make it nearly impossible to figure out whether what we're doing is destructive or regenerative.

We have been assured that "a rising tide lifts all boats," that it is necessary for us to make rich people richer, because that will, in turn, enrich the poor. The consequences have been disastrous-for the planet and for the people whose food systems have been disrupted, who never had a chance to be lifted by any tide.

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