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Do We Need to Grow More Food or Just Grow It Smarter?

Do We Need to Grow More Food or Just Grow It Smarter?

Not having enough to eat is one of the most awful feelings in the world — and we’re not talking about the skimpy portions at grandma’s house. Whether people have periodic or chronic food insecurity, where their pantries aren’t full and they experience ongoing feelings of hunger, they’re suffering, and it’s a global issue.

Worldwide, hunger is a pressing concern in many low-income communities, especially in the Global South. Nations trying to address the issue have long taken the tack that we need to grow more food, but is that actually the right answer?

According to the World Food Program, 842 million people worldwide struggle with hunger. Most live in the Global South, where hunger and malnutrition cause or exacerbate a number of illnesses, with hunger being an important contributing factor in early childhood morbidity and mortality. Gender inequality is another key component in the global hunger crisis, with the WFP estimating that if women farmers had access to the same benefits and treatment as men, 150 million people could be lifted out of hunger. Hunger is a global tragedy, and the West has long felt a social, ethical and political obligation to do something about it.

The seemingly obvious solution is to grow more food. If people are hungry, surely the best way to ensure that they stop being hungry is to produce more crops, thus providing more access to food. That’s one reason why Western nations aggressively promote farming programs across the developing world, and introduced Western agricultural methods to many developing nations. Tragically, sometimes this backfired, as for example with the spread of breeds like the Holstein to Africa.

As traditional African cattle breeds were pushed out, farmers realized too late that Holsteins were more fragile and demanding, and not well-suited to the environment. Cattle loss increased, creating a net decline in the food supply. Likewise, farmers have raised concerns about GM seeds and how companies like Monsanto are ruining farmers, creating an artificial dependence on seeds, fertilizers and related products they can’t afford.

Directing communities to simply grow more food, in other words, is more complicated than it looks — especially when Western nations approach it from a top-down, colonial perspective. Instead of looking at indigenous farming practices, many organizations concerned with hunger have focused on traditional Western agricultural trends and the belief that the higher the yield, the better, whether it’s culturally appropriate, sustainable and useful to farmers, or…not. The issue has been compounded by the rise of luxury and trend crops like coffee, cacao and quinoa, which have pushed farmers to plow their fields under to produce for the Western market instead of their own communities, due to the higher profit margin.

Some are beginning to criticize this approach, asking if perhaps the solution to the global hunger crisis doesn’t actually lie in growing more, but rather in growing smarter. There’s evidence to suggest that the world already has enough food to meet the needs of its residents, it’s just not getting where it needs to go. So the question may be less one of supply, and more one of supply chain: How do we get food from one place to another, with the smallest possible ecological footprint, and how do we restore the net food exporter status many countries in the Global South used to have?

The issue with hunger may be less one of practicality over how much food exists in the world, and more one of who can access it, and how. Poverty, for example, is a huge determining in factor in food security, unsurprisingly: If you have no money, you can’t pay for the food you need, and you will go hungry. Better distribution of food to effectively reach rural communities, improve access to trade and create opportunities for farmers and low-income residents is also important — and while it may be a good idea to make farming more efficient, that’s not the beginning or end of the solution to global hunger.

The best way to get food into the mouths of hungry people is to make it not just abundant, but also affordable and accessible and that requires more than aggressive farming practices that strip soil, suck up water and leave farmers even poorer than they were before.

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Photo credit: David Stanley.

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83 comments

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2:52PM PDT on Apr 18, 2015

We need to stop putting more people on earth. I cring when I hear people say - I want a large family. Why? I have too many reasons to list. We are building everywhere we can, animals are being kicked out of their habitat and then we call them a nuisance. Humans are basically killing the planet.

9:34AM PDT on Sep 1, 2014

How about if we get rid of all the cruel people and evil corporations and then see how it goes from there!

6:49PM PDT on Aug 31, 2014

If we'd get off our high horse, greed and lust for "more", extending aid to our very own neighbors in need, and extending beyong that into communities at local and state levels, we could do a great deal here at home.

If governments, now so layered in corruption and self-preservation, wwere were similarly motivated to share this one planet that belongs to us all, the world could be a much different place. Will it, probably not ... but it could be.

4:36AM PDT on Aug 31, 2014

Regarding the headline. you forgot a third one, namely "eat less" :-) Too much is thrown away AND we must learn that we really don`t need a full portion every singel time. If you drink water first and then eat slower than usual, you will get "full" without "bursting out" or feeling "too much" when you are done. Remember your stomic feels bigger and bigger AFTER you are done, so stop in time :-) Eat to live and not live to eat :-)

8:08PM PDT on Aug 30, 2014

Grow smarter by educating communities on how it's done sustainably. Should be a Grass Roots project...."from a seed a mighty oak grows."

11:31PM PDT on Aug 29, 2014

Grow it smarter of course

12:31AM PDT on Aug 28, 2014

Interesting article, thank you!

11:28AM PDT on Aug 27, 2014

we need fewer people destroying this planet..........

1:35AM PDT on Aug 27, 2014

We should not be judging who should live or die or how much food we need to grow, we only need to do is play our part in not creating waste with our resources or food as there is enough for everyone.
Unfortunately the greed of many who think they should have more than others or control what others get so they can become rich at the expence of others. Until we fix ourselves in these matters we wil always have problems and its those who promote this doom and gloom who are responsible for creating it. When we live our lives with unconditional love of ourselves and others, we see no problems because we are not creating them for ourselves. Remember what we see in others is a reflection of ourselves

12:55AM PDT on Aug 27, 2014

Some things that need to be done right now to help the situation is:
1. We need fewer people
2. We need to stop raising so much livestock, which wastes so much grain that could be fed to humans around the globe several times over
3. We need to stop genetic modifications of all plant foods and let nature take its course as it had done for millenia before humans started interfering.

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