Feeding the world - facts versus fiction

Most hungry people live in countries that have food surpluses rather than deficits. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), we are already producing one and a half times the amount of food needed to provide everyone in the world with an adequate and nutritious diet, yet one in seven people is suffering from hunger.

Bolivians with their home grown potatoes.

Rather than growing food to meet the needs of local communities for a healthy, diverse diet, industrial agriculture produces crops to sell on world markets. While world crop production has trebled since the 1950s, more people go hungry now than 20 years ago. Small family farmers are driven off their land and local people cannot afford to buy what is grown. Too often, the result is a downward spiral of environmental destruction, poverty and hunger.

Food security will not be achieved by technical fixes, like genetic engineering (GE). People who need to eat need access to land on which to grow food or money with which to buy food. Technological 'solutions' like GE mask the real social, political, economic and environmental problems responsible for hunger.

The case of Argentina, the number two producer of GE crops in the world and the only developing country growing GE food crops on a large commercial scale, shows that GE does not lead to an increase in food security. Millions of tons of GE soya are exported every year from Argentina for cattle feed, while millions of Argentineans go hungry.

The real causes of hunger

Poverty and lack of access to resources

Hunger and malnutrition are a direct result of a lack of access to, or exclusion from, productive resources, such as land, the forests, the seas, water, seeds, technology and credit. Seventy-five percent of the world's hungry are politically marginalised people who live in rural areas. An example of the grossly unequal distribution of land that directly contributes to hunger: in Latin America, 80 percent of agricultural land is in the hands of 20 percent of the farmers; the other 20 percent of the land is in the hands of the remaining 80 percent.

Unfair trade regimes

The current agricultural trade system puts the South in an impossible situation. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) annual state subsidies of their national agricultural sectors exceed Sub-Saharan Africa's entire Gross Domestic Product. Subsidised exports, artificially low prices and WTO legalised dumping by the rich countries characterise the current unfair model of agricultural trade faced by poor countries.

Orientation of research towards industrial agriculture rather than towards the needs of marginal farmers

Research often neglects the development of agricultural techniques that reduce the inputs needed and that are easy to control. Agricultural research at international and national levels is highly orientated towards industrial agriculture.