Politics, not growing population, main cause of starvation

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hear that the world population will grow from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, and visions of Indian slums and African children with swollen bellies come to mind, along with the need to control population growth.

The reality is, however, there is already enough extra food to feed the additional 2 billion people -- but it's going to waste.

"We've got lots of food in the world, Per Pinstrup-Andersen of Cornelll University said during his Heuermann Lecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "The problem is inappropriate policies, not food supply."

Market forces -- Pinstrup-Andersen cited governmental policy, speculation reduced grain stocks and use of grain in biofuels -- have caused food prices to fluctuate wildly since 2007.

India, expecting prices to climb, ended up with 80 million tons of grain in storage last year, half of it rotting on the ground. Zambian farmers were able to double their corn production from 2005 to 2011.

He estimates about 2.9 quadrillion pounds of food are lost every year throughout the distribution system, which would easily feed those extra 2 billion people.

Pinstrup-Anderson also said attention should be paid to the growing middle class in Asia, which will begin adopting the Western diet -- fewer grains, fruits and vegetables, and more vegetable oil, meat, eggs and fish.

He called for more investment in rural infrastructures in developing countries, orderly trade policies, rules governing land acquisition and antitrust legislation.

Not everyone will agree with everything he said, of course, such as the degree with which ethanol production affects food prices, or how much climate change will affect the supply.

But we do agree with one of his main points -- politics, not food supply or population, is the main cause of hunger.

The Heuermann Lectures are archived at http://heuermannlectures.unl.edu and are broadcast following the lectures.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: