The world is producing more food than ever before. However, after decades of declining numbers of hungry in the world, the number of people who go hungry is increasing. Between 1997 and2001, the number of hungry people globally increased by 18 million to a total of 798 million, most of them landless. The World Food Program provides food to about 90 million people every year, but the remainder simply are beyond the reach of the international community. In part, infrastructure is the problem, as many of the hungry simply live in remote and isolated places where they neither have access to sufficient food nor the possibility to grow subsistence crops. In many cases, it is not clear that food availability would actually result in more people being able to afford it. The issue is income rather than access.
To put this in context, in India, despite overflowing granaries, about 20% of the country’s population are still hungry. This situation is more and more common—as total food production goes up and price comes down, a significant proportion of the world’s population cannot afford food, at least at current prices. Some of the poorest people on the planet spend upwards of 75percent of their income on food but still go hungry. Producing more food is not the answer, and even producing food that is less expensive is not likely to address the issue either. Similarly, handing out food to increasing numbers who need it is nothing more than a band aid, even though it can prevent thousands of deaths a day.
The final point is clear: food production strategies and poverty alleviation strategies, while not unrelated, need to be de-linked. Producing more food will not necessarily feed more people. The focus now needs to be on creating more jobs, income and equity. Some have referred to the problem as one of a “famine of jobs and livelihoods” rather than a lack of food. Over the past 35years, the production of food has increased faster than population growth. Today, everyone on the planet could have a daily diet of 2,800 calories and still have food reserves.
The majority of those who cannot afford access to the food that they and their families need live in rural areas. However, for the most part they are not landowners, so rural development programs intended to boost the livelihoods of small farmers must trickle down if they are to reach these people.
This, then, is the context in which commodities and sustainable development need to be analysed.