Editor’s Note: We’ve gone on a search-and-rescue mission to find amazing stories and essays published in earlier print editions of Rootstock. Today’s throwback, “In Quest of a World Food Plan” was written by Jerome McGeorge and Theresa Marquez for the Spring 2010 edition of Rootstock.
“The chief characteristic of civilization is the sacrifice of the future for the present.”
– William James, Harvard Professor (1980)
“Everyone Eats” is but a partial truth among almost 7 billion humans today, particularly as world hunger and associated starvation deaths continue their alarming increase. Over 100,000 starving people die each day. A billion people are hungry as we write this essay. Many of us are becoming aware that our neighbors just south of us in Haiti frequently eat mud patties. Starving parents are watching their malnourished children starve to death. As much as this feels like dramatization, it is clear that we are not even close to understanding the misery of a hungry world.
Feeding the world (meaning everyone eats at least once per day), has never happened in the past 5,000 years of civilization. History shows a permanent underclass experiencing the varieties of hunger’s severity and other deprivations. Hunger at times was extensive and famines brutal. “Let them eat cake,” is known to us all. Starvation is not news; it is so common and chronic as to be unworthy of much historic commentary in general.
In our more recent history, world hunger took a turn for the worse in 1990. There was an interlude of decreased levels from 1950 into the 1980s (the un “Green” Revolution) but then true tragedy – a population explosion, which meant that food demands rapidly surpassed the supply of human food produced. In 1990, the estimated peak of population growth, we produced 93 million new people on the planet, (births exceeding deaths). In 2009, we expect that we added another 70 to 75 million souls – a lower, yet still alarming rate.
Often we hear posturing about “who can feed the world” like there is only one way, for example biotechnology. Let us not fall prey to the GMO false mantra that only biotechnology can feed the world. Current USDA data shows that the GMO promise of less water use, less poison use is simply not true as pesticide usage associated with GMO agriculture has increased and abundant water is still required. Food and agriculture aggregate is the most environmentally destructive of all human activities, including industry, mining, transportation, retail or household. Water crises (aquifers plunging, rivers running dry, lakes disappearing, glaciers melting, ocean dead zones), climate change, air pollution, soils eroding, fertility loss, deforestation, desertification, paving over cropland, energy source depletion, all are contributing to diminishing food production while simultaneously food demand races ahead.
The big question is not who but how can we feed the world. And if we have an honest dialogue, there will be more than one answer. As we consider this discussion, the William James quote at the start of this article becomes especially poignant. It is essential that any plan to feed the world must consider the conservation of resources for future generations and preservation of diversity. As we look toward the future, it is not just about feeding people. It is, as we know – people feeding themselves. We will need both short and long term solutions, and they will have different goals, and they are likely to contradict each other. All forms of food production must have a role—even the tiny alternative agriculture sectors such as organic (1% of total agriculture) if we are honestly considering the long-term impacts of our food production.
Food economists say it is lack of reliable markets or poor distribution. They suggest we could simply correct these “market failures” and invest in “modern” agriculture and we will solve the world’s hunger problems. Unfortunately, this model also means farmers will not own their land or their seeds and resources will continue to be depleted at alarming rates. From our point of view, we are chasing an unsustainable model. It also means that one or two countries (the USA for example) will dominate food production and leave the rest of the world dependent on a few. The “market driven” model has its limitations, driving the culture out of agriculture.
There are models for how to feed a starving population. These models are being demonstrated in China, and they are not market driven initiatives. The Cubans are feeding themselves and pioneering urban gardens. The Russians are a nation of gardeners and beat back hunger after the cold war with their government assigned gardens.
The answer to what is the world food plan that actually can feed all the people on the planet at this moment is – there is no world food plan (and we have never had one before). It would seem politically impossible to accomplish for a world addicted to marketplace wisdom, where all food fits among commodity categories, and where starvation is a rational outcome for those who cannot pay the price in a world of rising food costs. Therefore, can we talk about feeding the world without approaching the topic of social and economic justice?
Economics must equal ecologics. So basic a premise so long denied spurred on by progress defined by profits – our market driven model. If addressing world hunger is a social and economic agenda, then the ecological agenda to understand and transform world agriculture is of great significance. Since World War II, the triumph of chemical agriculture dominates production for markets worldwide. This system condemns us all to the harsher eco-crisis worsening while the food corporations feed us propaganda and lots of GMO HFCS (high fructose corn syrup). “Stuffed and Starved” by Raj Patel says it well. Yet, the current dominant form of agriculture must have the major role in feeding the world today.
Hunger can be healthy for any of us animals…what we eat being the foundation of our vitality. Hunger may even be transcendent for those on intentional fasts or spiritual retreats. Consider what a luxury to intentionally be hungry! Contrarily, chronic hunger becomes life-consuming, then life defeating. If each and every one of us increases our concern, if we stop politicizing hunger like we are witnessing in our healthcare debate, stop using the topic of hunger to disparage alternative agricultural methods, perhaps we can develop the first world food plan. It is possible to end hunger in our life time. We have the resources to do so. We all have to care enough, we have to let go of “my way is the only way” and do what we humans are most challenged doing – working together cooperatively for something bigger than our individual selves.
Do you have ideas on how to feed the world and what a world food plan would look like? We know we are not the experts, but we believe a public dialogue is healthy and needed! Here are some of our thoughts:
1. Halt desertification. Increased attention on soil conservation.
2. More land in pasture. (Great for carbon sequestration.)
3. More gardens everywhere—in cities, in the country, and in schools.
4. A study of models of success around the world.
5. More learning from the past.
6. A world wide plan and focus on water conservation.
7. A strong role for sustainable and organic agriculture.
8. An understanding of where GMOs have a role and where they do not.
9. A reduction of poisons used in agriculture.
10. Food crops over fuel crops except where it makes sense to do both.
11. First world change in diet. Less protein!
12. Less corporate domination.
13. Global population plan.
14. Increase respect for individual cultures.
15. A worldwide look at and acknowledgement of corruption’s role in hunger.
16. Move feeding the hungry beyond market driven models.
17. Slow global climate change.
18. Increase the value of ecological solutions.
19. Put more people back on the land farming.
20. Better markets and better distribution systems.
21. More empowerment of women in agriculture.
22. Get educated on the topic. Let every person find a way to help.
Share your thoughts and ideas with us at http://www.organicvalley.coop/community/organicsense. We think it is imperative that we join in the dialogue; there is simply too much needless suffering. What do you do personally in your life? What groups out there are doing a great job feeding the world? Which groups do you support and why?