Millions Ask: “What Are We to Eat?”
A VILLAGE farmer left a drought-ravaged field in India to bring his only bullock to market for sale. What did he get in exchange for the animal? Twelve bananas! This man, like millions of others in India, is hungry!
Not just in India, but throughout the rest of Asia, much of Africa and other parts of the world, large portions of the population are asking: “What are we to eat?”
So critical is the situation that some experts predict international famine conditions within months.
The Famine That Was ‘Not Supposed to Happen’
It is true that certain places, like India, are known for their periodic famines. But the current food shortage is distinctive. A fifty-year-old Indian government clerk says: “This is the worst I have ever seen in my lifetime.” Aggravating this famine is the fact that it was ‘not supposed to happen.’ But were there not warnings several years ago of such coming famine?
Yes, there were. In fact, the book Famine—1975 (published in 1967) quoted Dr. R. Ewell as predicting: “The world is on the threshold of the biggest famine in history. If present trends continue, it seems likely that famine will reach serious proportions in India, Pakistan and China early in the 1970’s. . . . Such a famine will be of massive proportions affecting hundreds of millions.”
This and similar warnings were quite well known among food experts. But something happened to silence temporarily such dire predictions.
In the mid-sixties the so-called “green revolution” was started with great fanfare. Special high-yielding types of wheat and rice were developed, and these bolstered hopes that hunger was about to be “conquered.” The voices predicting famine were muffled.
However, now the hope of the “green revolution” appears hollow. Says the New York Times: “Asia’s Green Revolution, which promised a new era in food production and an end to famine forever, suffered a severe setback in 1972.” It also noted editorially: “The great promise of the green revolution, which was never as green as it was sometimes pictured, appears to be fading.”
Food Supplies Shrivel in Asia and Africa
Yes, a few months back the “green revolution” seemed a glowing success, a triumph for technology. After the 1971 season, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi felt confident enough to declare that India would not be importing more grain.
But in less than a year that country has gone from a record surplus to a national food crisis. In one state 50 percent of last year’s corn plantings died; only 30 percent of the rice could even be planted. The entire national grain harvest fell about 60 percent below normal. Men are compelled to work long stretches without food. And matters are predicted to worsen—but not only in India.
Recent famine conditions in Afghanistan have been “only partially reported to the outside world,” says the South China Morning Post. People in Afghanistan have been forced to leave their villages and have been reduced to eating grass and roots. Some have sold their work animals, land and even the roof timbers from their houses to buy whatever food is available. It has been reported that tens of thousands have died.
Reports of food shortage also come from the Asian countries of Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cambodia, Laos and Turkey. Drops in crop production occurred in South Korea and Thailand.
Russia and China also have suffered recent grain setbacks. “The Soviet Union had its worst harvest in a century,” said Canada’s Spectator regarding the 1972 season. Russia was compelled to buy almost $2,000,000,000 worth of “urgently needed” foreign grain, mostly from the United States. There was also a decline in potato and vegetable production. The huge Russian shortages brought problems for the whole economy and led to the replacement of their agriculture minister.
China’s grain production was down in 1972, as were yields of cotton, sesame and peanuts. It is one of the few times that they have officially acknowledged grain production losses since the Communists came to power in 1949.
Africa has also been affected by severe food shortage. The Rhodesian farmers’ union refers to the 50-percent drop in crop production as a “national tragedy.” The situation in Mauritania is called “extremely serious.” Estimates there say that perhaps 80 percent of the cattle have died; grain production is only one fifth its normal level.
Crop losses to farmers in South Africa were over $320 million by early 1973. Mali, Chad, and Upper Volta, the countries just below the Sahara Desert, are the hardest hit. But Zambia, Botswana, Swaziland, Central African Republic, Senegal, Dahomey, Cameroon and Nigeria are also feeling the effects of limited food. Reports of food shortages are also coming from islands of the sea and South and Central America.
Yes, ‘the world is on the threshold of famine,’ warns Dr. Boerma, director general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (F.A.O.). In February 1973 he advised that any country needing help should ‘make arrangements now’ with other countries.
But can other countries continue indefinitely to help? What are the conditions in the nations that are known for their high agricultural productivity?
How Much Food in Other Places
What of the United States? Although not hit by major crop failure, it now has within its borders over twenty-five million persons who do not enjoy what is officially called a “decent standard of living”—in other words, they are poor and often hungry.
At the same time U.S. food prices continue to rise! In 1972, retail food prices were up 4.8 percent in the U.S. over the previous year; they are predicted to rise 6 percent in 1973. Meanwhile food prices soared 8.6 percent in neighboring Canada during 1972.
These price hikes are directly affected by the amount of food available. The greater the demand for existing supplies the higher the prices. Thus in the United States during 1972 the price of “number two hard wheat” rose over 61 percent per bushel, largely due to Soviet demands on the existing supply. Now, as the accompanying chart shows, U.S. reserves have vanished.
Last year’s Australian wheat crop was less than one half of the expected yield as that continent suffered severe drought. Argentina’s 1971 wheat harvest was described as “disappointing.” The surpluses of Burma (sometimes called ‘the rice bowl of southeast Asia’) are now very limited.
Understandably, more and more experts are reaching the conclusion that the few agriculturally rich nations cannot indefinitely feed the rest of the world. Back in 1969 Harvard University’s R. O. Greep noted:
“A factor of critical importance to the world situation is that the food reserves in countries with heavy agricultural production, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and Argentina, are rapidly being depleted . . . To those who are in a position to sense the future situation, there is mounting apprehension. . . . The problem will be particularly acute in the United States, since we are looked upon as the principal supplier of grain . . . When famine strikes and the food source no longer suffices, then we shall have to face the awful question of who shall survive.”
In 1973 when a Canadian wheat official was asked about continuing to supply the world, he answered: “You cannot sell or give what you do not have.”
The food crisis that the whole human race faces is real. Can it be solved? To answer that question we must first determine why famine now stalks mankind.
[Chart on page 4]
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25¢ a pound 55¢ a pound
79¢ a pound 99¢ a pound
45¢ a dozen 72¢ a dozen
[Graph on page 5]
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The U.S. Grain Reserves HAVE VANISHED
1963 1969 1973
2,299 MILLION BUSHELS 569 MILLION BUSHELS SUPPLIES EXHAUSTED