Harvest of hunger

David Guerra • CSC

More than 840 million people in the world suffer from malnourishment. Despite the planet’s capacity to produce sufficient resources, 14 percent of humanity goes hungry. These are data from the report on the state of nourishment and world agriculture by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

In the past four years, the number of malnourished people has increased by 18 million to figures that represent twice the population of all European Union countries. The international campaigns and the biannual commitments of the FAO have not managed to halt the continuous rise in malnutrition cases. A rise in world population, along with a pronounced decline in food aid from abroad, have provoked this terrible increase in hunger.

Thirty-three percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa are malnourished. This figure is reflected in weak production, a loss of competitiveness and a consequent perpetuation of poverty. The FAO insists on the need to give high priority to the agricultural development of the region, to augment the area’s productivity and to try to overcome the effects of the decrease in food aid.

The production of grains, which account for 50 percent of the world’s calorie consumption, also has stagnated. The demand exceeds production, which means that by 2004 nations will have to resort to their reserves for the fourth consecutive year. These are reserves that many countries lack. And these are countries that barely benefit from the shipments of grains and asphyxiate in the world’s agricultural economy.

During the past decade, the prices of basic agricultural products have continued to drop. This drop has brought short-term benefits to the developing countries that import their food, but it has also provoked a drop in incentive in domestic production, which will have grave consequences in the next several years. The developing countries that export agricultural products have trouble deriving profits from their sales. In most cases, their precarious economies depend on the exportation of a specific product, which makes them vulnerable to market fluctuations.

In turn, agricultural trade has decreased to the level of 7 percent of the total trade in goods. Developing countries produce less than they import and are beginning to multiply their expenses four-fold and to increase their foreign debt. Farmers receive little aid from their bankrupt governments and the prices of their products fall. Their very existence is in danger.

A paradox is evident, when you see that the war on hunger also is a business. If we could break the vicious circle of poverty and hunger, greater benefits could be obtained. People freed from malnutrition would live longer, healthier lives and profits would reach $120 billion as a result of the expansion of life and productivity. What’s needed is the political will to battle hunger in a more resolute manner and a mobilization of the available resources as needed.

In future decades, millions of people will continue to suffer the scourge of this 21st Century epidemic that is fatally linked to poverty. Agricultural development is needed urgently to reduce the effects of malnutrition. Whether in the rural zones of the deepest sub-Saharan Africa or in the urban chaos of Eastern Asia, a precise political will is needed so that the next harvest will give people the right to an adequate nourishment they have not enjoyed since birth. Because the only legitimate war is the war on hunger.