The precariousness of food supply


It has been estimated that 35 000 people die of hunger every day and that oneeighth of the world’s population is starving.

More than 40% of the world population also suffers from a lack of micronutrients such as vitamins or trace elements. Some two billion people are affected by iron deficiency. Around 1.6 billion live in areas with an endemic lack of iodine, and about 230 million children across the world suffer from Vitamin A deficiency.

Increased food production, which in the 1980s and 1990s kept pace with population growth, has in many countries fallen behind. But even in regions that produce sufficient food not all people have access to it because of their low income. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 1996 categorised 82 nations as Low Income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDCs). Half of them are in Africa. People who grow up suffering from chronic malnutrition have few chances in life. Their physical and mental development and their efficiency are limited. Damage to health suffered in early childhood is mostly irreversible.

Food as a basic need is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The developed world has a duty to ensure food security measures are achieved:

  • compensating for temporary food deficits due to unusual scarcity and/or a sudden lack of income or subsistence production
  • compensating for chronic or structural food deficits due to factors with longer term impacts, and/or remedying an ongoing lack of access by population groups or households to sufficient food and food related services
  • reducing and helping at/during the range of emergencies that cause food supply problems.

CASE STUDY - Ethiopia starving again! - 1969–1973, 300 000 lives taken by famine in Ethiopia. 1977–1978, 1 million flee war, drought and famine in Ethiopia. 1984 –1985, famine in Ethiopia kills 1 million. 1984, 10 000 die in food crisis.

By 2030 there will be 3bn people who will need to be nourished in sustainable ways.

2000 (April), the Ethiopian government has already appealed for 800 000 tonnes of food aid to feed some 8 million people threatened by starvation, but unless some rain falls soon more than a million tonnes will be needed, according to aid organisations. Ethiopia’s ‘disaster preparedness and prevention commission’ blames two years of drought, sporadic heavy rains, frost, black-beetle and crop damage by hail for the food crisis.

The cost of maintaining Ethiopia’s army is several fold more than feeding victims of drought in the country.

But it is the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea that is really to blame this time. A UN appeal valued at some £126 million has already met with some success. The EU has pledged 430 000 tonnes of aid, the UK contributing £2.5 million of this aid. The greatest problem is through the logistics of getting food to the hungry. Aid is only being provided if the Ethiopians pledge to end the war with Eritrea. Without aid and debt relief the cycle of crisis and poverty is not expected to be broken; the population will continue to increase and inadequate farming practice will continue!

70% of Ethiopians do not have enough to eat. Half the under 5s are underweight.


In the world there is enough food to feed everyone adequately, but the food is unevenly distributed around the countries of the world and especially within the poorer countries. As a whole both Europe and the USA produce surpluses and some LEDCs actually export to the MEDCs. Some final points:

  • Famine is avoidable – many countries in Africa have traditionally produced enough food to feed themselves. Changes in crops and farming methods have caused famine. A return to sustainable agriculture is a must.
  • In the ‘hunger’ business – the USA sees the exporting of grain as a way of reducing the trade deficit and eliminating agricultural surpluses (it produces one-third more food than it needs!). However, exporting grain to poor nations can seriously harm the nations they are supposed to help.
  • On aid, the poorest nations often make difficult choices when dealing with hunger and malnutrition. Accepting aid (surpluses) is no substitute for adequate food production, which would free countries from dependence on international assistance.
  • On increasing food supply: (a) drainage, irrigation and terracing can increase the area of agricultural land; (b) you can increase yields through the use of fertilisers, crop spraying and by developing high-yielding varieties of seeds.

More than 25 years after the first ‘world food conference’, the goal of eradicating hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition are still elusive.

However, limiting population growth will have the most immediate and dramatic effect.

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