World Hunger : 12 Myths

Published 19 Aug 2017

In one of the most incisive looks enveloping the highly charged topic of World Hunger and various views established and invoked around the world, Francis Moore Lappe, Joseph Collins, Peter Rosset with Luis Esparza, argue that world Hunger eradication efforts have been going askew primarily because of the misconceptions which they term as Myths. In their book, the authors successfully enumerate various popular opinions that are held as either the cause or a remedy to the issue of World Hunger. In doing so, they also suggest ways, supported by robust theory and logic, the correction in the approach to this issue and means to deal with this global menace.

The traditional approaches have been overly simplistic in outlook and thus the policies and procedures adopted to deal with hunger in any geographic location or any nation always met at best with partial success. In busting the popular myths, the authors have given a framework within which concerted efforts can be focused to deal with Hunger and its offshoots like malnutrition, low life expectancy and quality.

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In popular parlance, the causes that have led to World hunger have been excuses given by rulers and policy makers or tunnel-view researches which have aided in interpreting available global data to the convenience of the proponent of the theory. The two most pertinent myths tackled in the book are

There’s simply not enough Food

Free Trade is the answer

These two reasons are important because the former deals with the root cause of World Hunger and takes a helpless attitude, which is more often than not found as an excuse offered by ruling class, while the latter deals with the over ambitious economic directions which have ended up not alleviating Hunger.

To quote, one of the most widely circulated myth is “With food producing resources in so much of the world stretched to the limit, there’s simply not enough food to go around. Unfortunately, some people will just have to go hungry” (Francis Lappe et al.,p. 8). But as the authors point out, in a series of well documented examples, the export pattern of the countries facing acute Hunger problem for their populace, is ironic if not tragic. There are many ways by which countries, which need not host Hunger deaths are becoming world symbols for Hunger. As an example, Bangladesh, which falls roughly 6% short of its food requirement, has the potential in land fertility and water resource availability, to very effortlessly scale up its production to 300% which would make it a genuine Net exporter. Similarly, in the developing countries, Brazil, reported with 70 million cases of under or mal-nutrition, was a big exporter of Food grain. It would be astounding to know that African and Saharan countries are net exporters in Agricultural products in spite of being the poster countries for malnutrition, Hunger and related deaths also.

Therefore it can be safely deduced that the countries which have acute Hunger indices are also the same that earn their major chunk of foreign exchange reserves are proceeds from Grain exports. This is a classic case of inappropriate distribution and skewed priorities. Besides, continuous pressurizing factors like the international debts have forced the successive regimes to look at Agriculture as an economic tool and not a measure of Hunger alleviation.

“The Sahelian countries of West Africa, known for recurrent famines, have been net exporters of food even during the most severe droughts”( Francis Lappe et al., p. 10) site the authors which goes to prove there were 1) Inappropriate distribution of Food produce and 2) Food production was more of an economic activity than a social obligation.

Now let us also look at a popular misconception offered as a remedy for the world Hunger. The second Myth busted by this knowledgeable book is the age old optimistic dream that a free market global economy is the panacea for all the ills that plague the world including World Hunger. This myth has often been sold as the last refuge to eradicate world hunger which idealistically claims that each country should produce what it can at the cheapest possible price so that it can export it, and in turn import what it requires in greater measure. This should linearly translate to increased public wealth with increased exports. In the connected myth that we had discussed earlier increased or sustained exports have done nothing to eradicate hunger, let alone increase prosperity.

This has been because the proponents of Free trade and practitioners of Exports are not the poor who can benefit from the increased wealth and buying capacity. The producers, land owners, large growers, processors, exporters, shippers, and others are those that directly benefit out of increased free trade and no logic in the governance guarantees that the benefits will percolate to the needy and the hungry.

It is important to bust these two myths form popular parlance and conscience because the former attaches inevitability to the malady while the latter provides a partial remedy which, at the risk of sounding socialist, does not guarantee equitable and equal protection form Hunger.

There is either sufficient produce or potential to produce to cater to the ever growing population as demonstrated by the export statistics of the hunger fraught nations. No trade regime can satisfactorily guarantee hunger alleviation unless, the root causes and the fallacious policies adopted to tackle it are not looked into on a priority basis.

Besides, free trade is another form of victimization and it removes the safe guards that under developed third countries have and need till they can reach a minimum competence threshold to enter Global trade on their own merit. Integration of trade should be aimed at evening out of the disparities present in the trading system so that a producer of low quality grain is not left holding on to unsold stock and no revenue earned for a whole season of planned toil.

Though in many places, the myth busting logics seem as simplistic as the myths that surround the reasons and the ways and means of handling them, still the book is an instant eye opener in the sense that it encourages all concerned to take a long hard look at eh accepted realities and evaluate them in the context of now available evidence.

It is indeed sad that a book published in the penultimate year of the last millennium is still required as reference frame work for Hunger management efforts well into the first decade of the new millennium, but it is befitting to the authors’ insight that it should start several movements of world policy making bodies like in India, Chile, Cambodia, Venezuela, which have started yielding results as reflected in the latest reports of the world Hunger Organization.

Works cited

  • Lappe, Francis Moore, et al. World Hunger: 12 Myths. New York : Grove Press, 1998
  • Hunger Notes. World Hunger Education Service. Updated Sept, 2006.
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