Feeding the World’s Hungry—What Prospects?
IN A 160-acre (65-ha) underground vault in Missouri, U.S.A., there is a wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling stockpile of 2.6 billion pounds (1.2 billion kg) of butter, cheese, and dried milk. It is part of a nationwide storage of surplus food that the government buys off the hands of farmers at a cost of about $3 billion a year. It costs another $58 million a year just to operate the storage facilities. In addition, the government spends billions of dollars each year to subsidize farmers in exchange for their putting aside as much as 20 percent of their land in fallow in order to reduce farm output.
Does this picture of abundance imply that if, somehow, some means of equitable distribution was found, such abundance would spell the end of hunger in the world? Can the world’s food-deficit nations count on this apparently unlimited supply of food indefinitely?
The answer to these questions is vitally important because not only do the starving masses in the Third World look to the few food-surplus nations for aid but even many developed nations are heavily dependent on purchases from these nations for their food supply. In fact, reports show that it is the developed countries such as the Soviet Union, Japan, and some in the European community that are buying up most of the surplus because they can afford to pay for it. As long as the food-surplus nations can produce the surplus and command a good price for it, the supply will continue. However, there are indications that this situation is not going to last forever.
Looking ahead, the majority of the analysts see demand outstripping supply. Many of them point out that world food supply has been leveling off during the last decade, while demand has steadily moved ahead. They see the gap between supply and demand closing. What contributes to this decline?
Bad weather is admittedly a factor. The long, hot summer of 1980 in the United States and the frequent bad weather in the Soviet Union have indeed brought serious crop failures. However, environmentalists claim that such failures are really the result of the drive for higher yields and efficiency in farming. Back when farms were smaller and less efficient, a greater variety of crops was planted, and farmers did not count on good weather so much. With modern commercial farming, thousands or even millions of acres are planted with the same crop.
Intensive farming coaxes every last ounce of productivity from the soil but puts very little back into it. The soil is worked year after year with the same crop, and the nutrients and organic matter in the dark, rich topsoil are not replenished. Along with this, wind-and-water erosion is ruining cropland in the world’s major growing areas at an alarming rate. In Iowa, for example, an average acre loses ten tons, or one tenth of an inch (0.25 cm), of topsoil each year. Soil Conservation Service study shows that erosion of one inch (2.5 cm) of topsoil reduces corn production by about 6 percent. It warns that if the current rate of erosion is not checked, corn production in the United States could decline by as much as one third in the next few decades.
Productivity is declining for another reason. Productive farmland is rapidly disappearing. The inflated value of real estate, the high cost of fuel, chemicals, labor, and equipment, and the low produce prices due to abundant farm output all add up to tremendous pressures for small farmers to sell out. As a result, as many as one million acres (0.4 million ha) of cropland is being converted into housing developments, shopping centers, reservoirs, and highways each year in the United States.
“With the big surplus, world hunger and no profit in farming, it’s perfectly clear the present system is not working,” said a U.S. Agricultural Department economist.
What Are the Prospects?
Having examined both parts of the picture—the situation in both the food-deficit Third World nations and the food-surplus developed nations—what can we conclude about the prospect of feeding the world’s hungry? “Of all the ills afflicting the human race, none seems more solvable—and at the same time more intractable—than hunger.” That was the conclusion made by The New York Times in an extended series of articles on the subject of hunger. Pointing to “income inequality and poverty” as the real cause of world hunger, the article continued: “Until these stubborn social and economic problems are solved, no amount of tinkering with relief programs or population control will eradicate world hunger.”
The obvious question is: Who can solve these “stubborn social and economic problems” and bring about genuine improvement? Is any scientist, economist, farmer, or political leader so wise and powerful that he can break through all the social, economic, and political barriers and remove the greed, selfishness, and ambition in order to come to the aid of the world’s hungry? “The means to produce much more is at hand,” said the above Times article. “But no one is sure about how to get it to those who need it.”
This perplexing situation was foretold by Jesus Christ in these words: “There will be food shortages . . . in one place after another,” and “on the earth anguish of nations, not knowing the way out.” (Matthew 24:7; Luke 21:25) While not describing in detail how and why such food shortages occur, Jesus’ words accurately describe the reality as we see it today.
Of course, it is one thing to foretell these difficulties, but it is quite another to come up with a workable solution. As we have seen, the solution to the problem of hunger is not just to produce more food. What is needed is fair and just administration by a righteous government. Jesus Christ taught his followers to pray for such a government: “Let your kingdom come.”—Matthew 6:10.
Under that righteous Kingdom, the productive powers of the earth will be restored: “For in the wilderness waters will have burst out, and torrents in the desert plain. And the heat-parched ground will have become as a reedy pool, and the thirsty ground as springs of water.” (Isaiah 35:6, 7) The result will be that “the earth itself will certainly give its produce,” and “there will come to be plenty of grain on the earth; on the top of the mountains there will be an overflow.”—Psalm 67:6; 72:16.
And no one will be hungry for lack of purchasing power. Everyone, rich or poor, can share in the bounty of the earth. The invitation will be to all mankind, in the spirit of Isaiah 55:1, which reads: “Hey there, all you thirsty ones! Come to the water. And the ones that have no money! Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk even without money and without price.”
What a blessing it will be to live in God’s New Order of things in which “righteousness is to dwell”!—2 Peter 3:13.
[Pictures on page 10]
“The earth itself will certainly give its produce”