This past summer, while hosting the ELCA World Hunger Table at the Dane County Farmer’s Market, I met many people who questioned our mission of eradicating hunger. It wasn’t the extent of the hunger epidemic they doubted – more than 1 billion people are food-insufficient – rather they were skeptical of our ability to achieve our mission. The question I commonly confronted was “How can ELCA World Hunger successfully reduce hunger when the demand for food far outweighs the supply?” This question is based on two faulty suppositions about the causes of hunger – overpopulation and an inadequate food supply.
There are many widely believed myths about hunger, yet the reality is that hunger is caused by poverty. People are food insufficient when they lack the resources necessary to purchase or grow food for themselves or their families. While overpopulation and climate change may exacerbate global hunger, they are not primary causes. People with financial means have access to food, regardless of their family size or the severity of weather in their local community. Reducing poverty is fundamental to the fight against hunger. Therefore, ELCA World Hunger’s anti-poverty ministries, such as increased access to education, job training, and micro-loan programs, are core components of our anti-hunger initiatives.
Holly Poole-Kavana of the Institute for Food and Development Policy debunks the top three hunger myths, demonstrating poverty to be the predominate cause of the global hunger epidemic.
Myth1: Not Enough Food to Go Around
Reality: Abundance, not scarcity, best describes the world’s food supply. Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human being with 3,200 calories a day. That doesn’t even count many other commonly eaten foods – vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish. The problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food. Even most “hungry countries” have enough food for all their people right now. Many are net exporters of food and other agricultural products.
Myth2: Nature is to Blame for Famine
Reality: While human-made forces are making people increasingly vulnerable to nature’s vagaries, food is always available for those who can afford it. Starvation during hard times hits only the poorest. Natural events rarely explain deaths; they are simply the final push over the brink. Human institutions and policies determine who eats and who starves during hard times. Likewise, in America many homeless die from the cold every winter, yet ultimate responsibility doesn’t lie with the weather. The real culprits are an economy that fails to offer everyone opportunities, and a society that places economic efficiency over compassion.
Myth 3: Too Many People
Reality: Birth rates are falling rapidly worldwide as remaining regions of the Third World begin the demographic transition – when birth rates drop in response to an earlier decline in death rates. Although rapid population growth remains a serious concern in many countries, nowhere does population density explain hunger. For every Bangladesh, a densely populated and hungry country, we find a Nigeria, Brazil or Bolivia, where abundant food resources coexist with hunger. Or we find a country like the Netherlands, where very little land per person has not prevented it from eliminating hunger and becoming a net exporter of food. Rapid population growth is not the root cause of hunger. Like hunger itself, it results from underlying inequities that deprive people, especially poor women, of economic opportunity and security. (www.foodfirst.org/node/1480; April 9, 2006)
Christa, besides being a student at Wartburg, is currently employed as the ELCA World Hunger Intern for the ELCA South Central Synod of Wisconsin and this article was written as part of her work for the synod.
To learn more about the myths and root causes of hunger checkout World Hunger: Twelve Myths, 2nd Edition by Francis Moore Lappe, Joseph Collins, and Peter Rosset (New York: Grove Press, 1998).
More information on ELCA World Hunger’s anti-poverty ministries can be found at http://www.elca.org/Our-Faith-In-Action/Responding-to-the-World/ELCA-World-Hunger/Stories.aspx