Thursday, June 17, 2010

Can we Feed the World?

It doesn't seem like a simple question. Can we feed everyone on the planet? All 6 billion people?

There may be a more difficult question. Can we feed the 9 billion who will be on the planet? The population of the globe is still increasing but it looks like the growth is slowing. We'll hit a peak and then the population will actually drop. The number for the predicted population peak keeps changing depending on who's doing the math. Let's stick with 9 billion in the middle of this century.

Can we feed them all?

One thought is that we may be able to. Especially if we want to do it in a sustained and fossil fuel limited manner. Can We Feed the World? More Importantly Will We Choose To? is an excerpt from the book A Nation of Farmers.

Another thought is that we aren't feeding people now and we may not be able to feed the upcoming 9 billion. Jules Pretty's article in the National Review Can Ecological Agriculture Feed Nine Billion People? strongly tends towards us not being able to feed everybody without massive changes to food production.

Yet another thought is that we already can feed people. Not just the current population but also the 9 billion of the future. Josh Viertel's article in The Atlantic Why Big Ag Won't Feed the World tells us we already produce enough to feed 11 billion.

If the world is truly producing enough food then the problem is that it isn't getting distributed well. To quote Josh Viertel "it's a global justice problem". In which case the profit motive isn't going to help much. Profits and other corporate concerns tend not to align with problems of justice or fairness.

If it is a global justice problem that leads me to another thought. In more and more countries it is been decided that health care is a right of the citizen. Even the U.S.A. is slowly moving towards providing basic healthcare to all Americans. Most of the rest of the world has decided that being healthy is a right of citizenship and that healthcare shouldn't be dependent on earnings or net worth.

What if we slowly move towards the idea of every citizen having the right to enough food to live? I'm not advocating this. Yet. I'll admit that it's an intriguing idea. How can one have life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness if one is starving?

Think that's a deluded dream of a utopia that can't be reached? It may not be as farfetched as you think. In fact it is already happening. The City That Ended Hunger by Frances Moore Lappe tells of the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte where food is a right of citizenship. It's not just about providing food for those who don't have any. It's also about restructuring how food is distributed to give people the ability to buy fresh local produce and help local farmers where possible.

Maybe one way to help end hunger and help put in place sustainable agriculture is to guarantee people the right not to go hungry. Is that idea so crazy it just might work?

1 comment:

Lene Andersen said...

I think we should advocate it. The right not to starve seems a much more fundamental right than e.g., the right to pursue happiness. And clearly, it's possible - with the right will.

The question, sadly, is whether we have that will.