5 Ways the Developed World can Alleviate Hunger

1. Grow Food Instead of Biofuel

The acreage used in the U.S. alone, to grow maize for ethanol, is about 12,392,158 hectares (one crop per year). How many persons can be fed from those 12 million plus hectares? As explained here, there are 225 million hungry persons in the 23 nations most bowl-handsseverely affected by hunger. And since most hungry persons already have some food, especially carbs, the amount of land needed to fulfill their unmet dietary needs is relatively modest: perhaps 8 to 12 million ha (see Hunger Math, the book, for the details). So just the land used in the U.S. to grow one crop of maize for ethanol is sufficient to solve the hunger problem in the 23 worst-afflicted nations. Those 225 million hungry persons represent about 22.5 to 26% of the total hungry in the world (depending on which number you use for the total hungry).

Stop turning food into fuel! Grow food for human persons to eat.

2. Change the Western Diet

The Western pattern diet is high in protein and fat, high in animal-source foods, high in refined sugar and refined grains, and low in fiber. Despite its name, this pattern of dietary choices has been observed in the top quintile (top 20%) of income-earners in every region of the world. The 2012 FAO Hunger Report shows that, as income rises — even where hunger is prevalent (Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa) — dietary intake of animal-source foods increases substantially, and the intake of grains and cereals decreases. [FAO 2012 Hunger Report, p. 18, Figure 10.] So the Western pattern diet is essentially an elevated-income diet.

The increase in the intake of animal-source foods is a problem because more land is used, per kilocalorie, to produce foods from animals. This disparity is especially pronounced when the livestock are fed high quality grain (usually maize) and soy. Eventually, as more nations develop and more persons adopt the Western pattern diet, a food crisis will result. As more persons eat animal-source foods, the available agricultural land is used less efficiently. More of the calories produced by agriculture is lost to animal feed, and so less food for human consumption is produced from the same amount of land. At the same time, the world population also increases. Unless the Western diet is replaced by a healthy eating pattern, eventually hunger will reach the developed nations.

Change your own eating habits! Eat less fat, less protein, and less animal-source foods (meat, poultry, dairy). Healthier eating habits helps your health and helps end world hunger.

3. Stop Feeding Livestock Corn and Soy

As explained in my book, in the ten year period of time from 2003 to 2012 inclusive, the U.S. grew an average of 5.3 billion bushels of corn per year for livestock feed alone. [USDA ERS U.S. Domestic Corn Use] The average corn yield over the same time period was 149.11 bushels/acre (9379 kg/ha). [USDA ERS Corn Data Table] So the average amount of land per year used to grow maize for livestock feed was 35,544,230 acres (one crop), which is 14,384,240 hectares.

How much food could we grow on that land? If we grew chufa (the most productive fat crop) on 14 million ha, and if the yields were low (8 t/ha), rather than high or moderate, the crop would still produce enough dietary fat to fulfill the unmet need for fat (22.4 million metric tonnes) by all the one billion hungry in the world.

Stop giving human food to animals! Livestock should be fed on forage and by grazing open land. Or they should be fed on the leftovers, pre- and post-consumer, from the production of human food.

4. Reduce Food Waste in Developed Nations

Estimates of how much food is wasted varies. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that 40% of the food available in the U.S. is wasted ($165 billion worth of food). [NRDC] About 25% of that wasted food occurs post-consumer (in households and at restaurants). The rest of the waste, 15% is pre-consumer. [Cnn] Another source, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, estimates that 30 to 50% of all food produced worldwide is wasted. [IME]

The level of hunger in the world is about 12.5% of the world population [FAO 2012 Hunger Report, Table 1] If only 30% of the food that feeds the other 87.5% of the population is wasted, that is enough food to feed 26% of the total world population. (Calculation: 30% of 87.5% is 26.25%) So if we only cut our wasted food in half, there would be enough food to feed 15% of 87.5% of the population, which is 13% of the total world population. Half of all wasted food is enough to end world hunger.

Stop wasting food! If the world did not waste food, hunger would be eliminated. Start by making changes to your own life. About one quarter of all wasted food occurs at the consumer level.

5. Use Money from Wealthy Nations

On a practical level, though, the solution to world hunger is likely to require at least one other factor: money. It is sad to say it, but our agricultural and food system is mostly commercial. You need money to obtain food, even when that food is a necessity for your survival. There is certainly enough money spent on useless things in the developed world to more than cover the costs of ending world hunger.

In 2008, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf today appealed to world leaders for US$30 billion a year on programs aimed at eventually ending world hunger. Certainly, it would take many years to accomplish that lofty goal. But his estimate of the money needed was only $30 billion US dollars per year. (He did not get the money.)

The U.S. spends twice that amount on lottery tickets: $60 billion dollars a year. The U.S. war in Iraq is estimated to cost about one hundred times that amount: $3 trillion dollars. Lost cell phones in the U.S. in 2012 are projected to cost $30 billion dollars. Americans spend over $30 billion dollars a year on fast food, solely at McDonald’s, and another $30 plus billion dollars at several other fast food outlets combined.

The NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) handles an estimated 1 to 3 billion trades per day. A ten cent tax per trade (not per share) would raise 30 billion dollars, at a trading rate on the low end of that range: 1 billion trades a day.

The U.S. uses 140 billion gallons per year of gasoline and 44 billion gallons per year of on-road diesel. A 17 cents per gallon tax would raise over 30 billion dollars.

The amount of money needed to end world hunger, $30 billion per year, is not a very large sum of money, even if that amount came only from one nation, the United States. If many nations contributed, the sum would be so small, compared to all other government expenditures, as to be almost a trivial amount of money.


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