The poor, you always have with you... [Mrk14:7]

World Hunger and Poverty
by Anup Shah
Global Issues

We often hear about people’s desire to solve world hunger, or to be able to feed the world and help alleviate the suffering associated with it.

However, meaningful long-term alleviation to hunger is rooted in the alleviation of poverty, as poverty leads to hunger. World hunger is a terrible symptom of world poverty. If efforts are only directed at providing food, or improving food production or distribution, then the structural root causes that create hunger, poverty and dependency would still remain. And so while continuous effort, resources and energies are deployed to relieve hunger through these technical measures, the political causes require political solutions as well.

Solving World Hunger Means Solving World Poverty

A common, often altruistic, theme amongst many is to be able to solve world hunger via some method that may produce more food. However, often missed is the relationship between poverty and hunger. Hunger is an effect of poverty and poverty is largely a political issue. (While manifesting itself as an economic issue, conditions causing poverty are political and end up being economic.)

As shown in the Genetically Engineered Food and Human Population sections on this web site, people are hungry not due to lack of availability of food, but because people do not have the ability to purchase food and because distribution of food is not equitable. In addition, there is also a lot of politics influencing how food is produced, who it is produced by (and who benefits), and for what purposes the food is produced (such as exporting rather than for the hungry, feedstuff, etc.)

"Access to food and other resources is not a matter of availability, but rather of ability to pay. Put bluntly, those with the most money command the most resources, whilst those with little or no money go hungry. This inevitably leads to a situation whereby some sections of humanity arguably have too much and other sections little or nothing. Indeed, globally the richest 20 per cent of humanity controls around 85 per cent of all wealth, whilst the poorest 20 per cent control only 1.5 per cent." -- Ross Copeland, The Politics of Hunger, September 2000

Peter Rosset, co-director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy, quoted at the top of this page, highlights some of the wider issues around hunger. He argues that it is not just a challenge of producing more and more food, but there are many political and economic issues underscoring the problems:

"Research carried out by our Institute reveals that since 1996, governments have presided over a set of policies that have conspired to undercut peasant, small and family farmers, and farm cooperatives in nations both North and South. These policies have included runaway trade liberalization, pitting family farmers in the Third World against the subsidized corporate farms in the North (witness the recent U.S. Farm Bill), forcing Third World countries to eliminate price supports and subsidies for food producers, the privatization of credit, the excessive promotion of exports to the detriment of food crops, the patenting of crop genetic resources by corporations who charge farmers for their use, and a bias in agricultural research toward expensive and questionable technologies like genetic engineering while virtually ignoring pro-poor alternatives like organic farming and agroecology." -- Peter Rosset, The World Food Summit: What Went Wrong?, June 4, 2002

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And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, neither shall you gather the fallen fruits of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:9-10)

There are those who scatter, and yet increase even more. There are those who withhold more than is appropriate, but gain poverty. The liberal soul shall be made fat. He who waters shall be watered also himself. People curse those who withhold grain, but blessing will be on the head of them who release it. (Proverbs 11:24-26)