Tonight, the mouth-watering smell of homemade Thanksgiving dinner fills the air. The table is set, the turkey is cooked, and most, including me, are ready to dig into the food. Sadly, this is not the case for everyone. Most cannot enjoy such a feast. Many do not even have access to the most basic foods for survival.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nearly 870 million people of the 7.1 billion people in the world were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012. That is 1 in 8 people.
Almost all the hungry, 852 million, live in the developing world; however, many of these nations have made significant strides in decreasing the number of undernourished people. In Asia, for example, the number decreased nearly 40%. Latin America and the Caribbean also made progress, decreasing the number of undernourished by 6%.
Africa is the continent that is not experiencing such positive movements. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 239 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were hungry/undernourished in 2010 (nearly 20 million have been added to this in the last few years). This means 1 in 4 is going hungry.
Africa is not the only part of the world experiencing an increase in the number of undernourished people. The developed regions also saw the number of hungry rise from 13 million in 2004-2006 to 16 million in 2010-2012.
Even though progress has been made, world hunger is a problem in every country. Tackling this issue is not only beneficial to the hungry, but it is also a phenomenal economic opportunity for farmers, who will be producing the food people need, and earn money through that process.
Now comes the big question: How will we do this?
Ways To Tackle World Hunger:
Genetic modification in the agricultural field has long been a controversial idea; however, it might be our answer to world hunger. Gene manipulation, for example, is helping scientists alter many staple food crops which the developing world depend on, such as cassava, rice, maize, and potatoes. They are making them more resistant to disease, more nutritional, and more productive. Furthermore, crop losses to disease and insects can be minimized by “vaccinating crops”. This will allow for more successful harvests. The Next Generation Cassava Breeding (associated with Cornell University) is an organization that has been using biotechnology very effectively in the developing world. It has, for instance, cut the time to breed more nutritious, disease-resistant varieties of the Cassava root in half. Yes, there are risks with biotechnology, but there is simply too much at stake not to try and use it to our advantage.
2. Peasant Farming vs. Industrial Farming
There are two types of food systems, one of industrial and one of small landholders (peasants). According to the ETC Group, a research and advocacy organization, the industrial food chain uses 70% of agricultural resources to provide 30% of the world’s food. Compare this to peasant farming, which produces the remaining 70% using only 30% of the resources. It is true that a major commercial monoculture crop will produce more per acre than peasant-bred varieties. However, diversifying crops, mixing plants and animals, and planting trees can make small landholders produce more food with fewer resources and lower transportation costs. This not only provides greater food security but also maintains greater biodiversity and withstands the effects of climate change. The best part is that these techniques can be used in large-scale farming.
“The playing field has been tilted against peasants for centuries, and they’ve still managed to feed more people than industrial agriculture. With the right kinds of agroecological training and the freedom to shape the food system on fair terms, it’s a safe bet that they’ll be able to feed themselves, and others as well.” — Raj Patel, a fellow at the Institute for Food and Development Policy
3. Small Farmers
Many small-scale farmers are currently not aware of the techniques for productive farming. If, however, we give them proper training (better rice planting and irrigation techniques; introduction of better seeds and fertilizer), this can be the solution to food security. The Indian nonprofit Digital Green is successfully spreading good information about farming with YouTube videos. This simple way of teaching is easy, cheap, and is proving to be quite effective. This will increase the amount of available food while boosting the economy.
“History has shown us what’s possible when people can grow enough food. If we want to transform the lives of people in Africa, we need to focus our efforts on raising agricultural productivity, creating markets and making agriculture a business not a development activity.” — Akin Adesina, Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.
4. Urban Farming
Almost one-quarter of undernourished people live in an urban environment. In order for food to reach these individuals, farming needs to be integrated into their lifestyles. Rooftop terraces and community farms/gardens are the way to achieve this.
It is possible to fight world hunger. We have the motivation. We have the resources. We can do it. But we need to try these solutions and do something. This sounds idealistic and it probably is right now; however, we can make this ideal a reality.