Preventing hunger: Change economic policy

Wednesday 13 February 2013 by LRAN

Simply giving people food is not enough to prevent famine, says Peter Rosset. Instead, we need to overhaul the policies that have upended the food supply.

The global food system is broken. The number of hungry and undernourished people in the world hovers at around 1 billion1 and the past few years have seen both worldwide food riots as well as epidemics of obesity and diabetes.

Fifty years ago, the United Nations World Food Programme was formed to
help reduce hunger. But its original mandate of handing out food was a band-aid at best — and can actually make people more vulnerable to hunger. We now have a food system that has been destroyed by decades of misguided policies that emphasized exports over feeding domestic populations and by runaway financial speculation. We now need to reverse those policies and fix what’s broken.

According to the economic law of comparative advantage, agribusinesses
should export the food, agrofuels and other products that are grown in a country, while cheaper foods are imported to feed the people. Any gaps in such a ‘productionist’ and ‘free trade’ system should then be covered by
food aid, in which organizations such as the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Food Programme purchase surpluses from some countries to donate to the poor in others.

But in reality, such a system exacerbates rather than alleviates hunger. When agribusinesses use land in poor countries for exports, local food producers are driven off and poor consumers become dependent on
imports to feed themselves.

At a global scale, hunger is not the result of insufficient food. Although per capita food production has climbed steadily for decades, food prices have become very volatile (see ‘Roots of hunger’). And when food prices go
up, so does the number of hungry people.

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