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World Hunger and Philanthrocapitalism

One of the main obstacles to the implementation of any solution to world hunger is money. The world food and agricultural system is largely a maize-moneycommercial system. Farmers grow fuel instead of food because it is profitable. But I am not suggesting that farmers donate 37.5 million ha times one 4-month crop, each year, in order to alleviate hunger. (The value of 37.5 million hectares is one estimate of the amount of land needed to end world hunger.) Most growers could not do so without financial collapse. Instead, I suggest the approach called philanthrocapitalism. We must construct a system in which farmers are paid for the food that they provide to the hungry.

Giving away free food to the hungry is necessary in cases of famine, when people do not have enough food to survive. However, in the case of chronic undernourishment, free food would only perpetuate the poverty and helplessness that is at the root of hunger. On a short-term emergency basis, the pure philanthropy of free food is good and useful. But as a long-term solution, other measures are needed.

The approach that is used to convince farmers to grow maize or sugarcane for fuel ethanol has been very effective. The U.S. Congress devised a system of tariffs and import quotas on ethanol, mandatory addition of ethanol in gasoline formulas, and a ridiculously generous crop insurance program. The result is that growing maize for ethanol in the U.S. is a reliable source of profit for the farmer.

A similar approach could be used to grow dietary fat. The U.S. government could offer a similar crop insurance program for the various oilseeds that are most suitable for addressing hunger. A system of tax breaks and expedited rules/procedures for export of vegetable oil to the hungriest nations would also help. The resultant increase in the availability of cooking oil in developing nations would lower the market price, making more dietary fat available to the hungry.

Another course of action would be to encourage farmers, via tax breaks and crop insurance, to grow chufa as an oilseed. If the U.S. government, or a group of aid agencies, were to contract to buy chufa oil, farmers would produce and sell the crop. Bringing chufa oil into the marketplace as a major oilseed would cause cooking oil prices to fall over time, because chufa is much more productive than any other source of dietary fat. As cooking oil becomes less expensive on the world commodity market, prices would fall, even in the open-air markets of the least developed nations. (This process would be the reverse of what happened in the 2006-2008 food crisis, in which rising commodity prices caused higher food prices in the hungriest nations.)

However, the reach of these approaches would be limited. Although, in theory, the land used to grow ethanol is sufficient to provide all the dietary fat needed by the hungry, distribution is a difficult problem. It would be easier to grow the food needed, especially dietary fat, closer to the consumer of that food. That is why other solutions, discussed in my book, address needed changes within developing nations. If we could reach 10% of the hungry with this particular solution, food instead of fuel, then other solutions could be applied to the remaining hungry.

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