Not really. Several different hunger organizations claim the answer is ‘Yes’. They say that our world of 7 billion persons produces enough food for 10 billion persons. This answer is partially true, but inaccurate.
According to the analysis in my book Hunger Math, the world produces enough CALORIES for 10 billion persons, enough CARBS for 13 billion persons, and enough PROTEIN for 8.7 billion persons. That seems like plenty of food, right?
But the world agricultural system only produces enough DIETARY FAT for 6 billion persons. And that shortage of dietary fat, more than anything else, is the cause of world hunger. Dietary fat is an essential nutrient. No matter how much carbohydrate and protein you have, you will still be in a state of hunger and malnutrition if your diet does not have enough fat. An equitable distribution of food, based on calories or carbs would not end world hunger. For there is not enough dietary fat to go around.
Where do all those carbs go? Well, many nations, especially the U.S. and Brazil, devote vast agricultural resources to grow crops for bioethanol. In the U.S., about 34 million acres of land, for one crop cycle, is used yearly to grow corn for ethanol (in gasoline formulations). In Brazil, they grow sugarcane on millions of acres for use as fuel in cars; their vehicles run mainly on ethanol, rather than gasoline with ethanol as an additive.
Another black hole which devours the extra carbs grown in the world agricultural system is livestock feed. Instead of grazing cattle on land unfit for crops, we grow high quality corn and soy, and then use it to make livestock feed. And while the protein from the soy is recovered, to some extent, in the form of protein from animal source foods, the carbs are not recovered. Most animal source foods have little or no carbs.
A third problem with carb production is the agricultural resources devoted to produce refined sugar. Medical studies have proven beyond doubt that excess consumption of sugars, such as those found in commercial processed foods (desserts, snacks), harm health and increase risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and other disorders. And yet we use a large amount of land and resources to grow sugarcane, sugar beets, and corn for high fructose corn syrup.
So we produce enough carbs for 13 billion persons. And then we waste those carbs on fuel, livestock feed, and refined sugars. If we didn’t waste those carbs, the price of high-carbohydrate foods, like grains and tubers, which are the staple foods of the hungry, would be much less expensive for them.
The world agricultural system produces enough protein for 8.7 billion persons, if it were equitably distributed. However, the Western pattern diet contains excess protein. That diet, by the way, is found in every region of the world, with persons who have enough money to buy whatever foods they like. It is not exclusive to the West. Excess consumption of protein by those who can afford it is one major reason that the hungry of the world do not have enough protein.
A second reason is that, of the protein fed to livestock from corn and soy, only a percentage is recovered as animal protein. If livestock were instead grazed on land not suitable for crops, we would have a net gain in protein, rather than a net loss.
A third reason is that most hungry persons survive on one main staple crop — a grain, such as rice or corn, or a tuber such as yams or cassava. And the typical staple crop is high in carbs, low in protein, and nearly devoid of fat. Thus, the hungry need dietary fat, first, and some additional protein, second.
Staple crops (grains, tubers) used by hungry persons in the world are very low in fat. Crops high in fat are more difficult to produce. Most oil seeds need modern manufacturing processes to refine into vegetable oil. So the vegetable oil that we take for granted is harder to obtain in hungry regions.
Simply adding 4 or 5 tablespoons of cooking oil (500 to 600 kcal) to the daily diet of the hungry will lift a large percentage of them, perhaps more than half, out of hunger. Half the world hunger problem can be solved with several tablespoons of vegetable oil per person per day! Those additional calories are enough to raise their daily caloric intake to a healthy level. And they already have plenty of carbs and some protein from one or another staple crop. (Additional protein would be the next priority for lifting even more persons out of hunger.)
The retail cost of vegetable oil, on the high side, is about $0.10 per ounce, or $0.05 per tablespoon. So 5 tablespoons of oil only costs $0.25. On the low side of retail pricing, the cost is about half that figure. The wholesale price is lower. The commodity price is lower still.
We could change the way that subsistence farmers grow food, convince them to grow new crops, provide them with microcredits to buy fertilizer, and thereby improve the food supply gradually and gracefully. That’s a nice plan. By the way, there are 400 to 500 million small farms of about 2 hectares (5 acres) or less in the world. We just have to reach those hundreds of millions of farmers, and convince them to radically change the way they grow food. And that would take many generations.
Here’s my suggestion for a relatively quick end to world hunger. It is a distasteful, ugly, nasty plan. It is figurative brute force, in order to end world hunger as soon as possible:
Large well-funded agricultural corporations go into the developing world. They buy or lease vast tracts of land. They import top-notch agricultural machinery for planting, harvesting, and processing crops. They import fertilizer, and later establish a fertilizer production plant in-country. They mainly grow oil seeds, such as canola, camelina, and safflower. They process the oilseeds in the developing world, and export half, to make a profit. The other half would be sold in-country at cost. The lower prices for labor and land should off-set the costs of going overseas and shipping back to developed nations — just as it does when manufacturers move production to China.
After oilseed crops, the secondary crop type should be high protein crops: soybean, peanut, hulless pumpkin seeds, peas, beans. The in-country sales of the legumes can be fresh, dried, or, in the case of soybeans and peanuts, roasted. These crops produce a high amount of protein per acre, and are easy to incorporate into various meals. They ship well and keep well. And again, half the harvest would be exported, to make a profit. The rest would be sold in-country at cost.
Hunger is worst in Africa, Haiti, India, and a few other regions of the world. These should be the main locations for this project.
To provide the vast amount of seed needed for the project, some of each crop grown under this plan must be saved for use as seed in the next crop cycle. And that means no GMO crops.
Companies which undertake this plan should receive generous tax breaks from governments, as well as some government money to subsidize the start-up costs.
Eventually, the in-country agricultural resources would spin-off as separate companies. Ownership of these spin-offs would, over time, be sold to in-country individuals and groups. Then the same process would continue in other regions.