I hated broccoli as a kid. Still do. But, that never seemed to stop my mother dishing it out, roughly once a week. And so ensued a conversation that I’m sure many of us are familiar with:
Mum: “Eat your broccoli.”
Me: “No, I don’t like it.”
Mum: “You know that children in Africa are starving”
Me: “Bet you they don’t like broccoli either.”
Mum: “You don’t know how lucky you are! Lots of kids would love to have that broccoli”
Me: “Fine, I’ll send it to them.” [gets up to find envelope]
Mum: “Don’t be stupid – you know what I mean.”
Suffice to say, it was usually a draw. At about this point, my father would pass by, proclaim his love for broccoli, and eat it off my plate.
The idea of poor people in far off places going hungry was something I grew up with. But, it’s not something I ever expected to take seriously as an adult. Until two years ago.
In a disturbing report, the Food and Agriculture Organisation announced that for the first time since records have been kept, 1 billion people on our planet would go to bed hungry. And, it turns out, the problem isn’t that there’s not enough food to go around, it is that the world’s poorest people just can’t afford to buy enough of it.
That struck me hard. I’d gone a few days – maybe four or five – without really eating properly, and knew, albeit fleetingly, about the dull pang and emptiness that comes with being really hungry. But still, I didn’t really know it. I didn’t know what it would be like to get up every day, go about my life, but do so eating just one basic meal a day – enough to survive, but not enough to ever really make me feel satisfied.
I got a sense of what that would be like last year when our Australian Manager, Rich Fleming took it upon himself to live off $1.25 a day for a month. You can read about that here, but from an outsider’s perspective, it was clear how hard it was. Within two weeks Rich was noticeably thinner. At the football one weekend he complained about blurry vision, and he was lethargic – slow to do everything.
So, I was intrigued to find out why hunger had gone up in the last decade – from 857 million in 2000, to 1.05 billion today. And, I wanted to know what was being done about it, and what, if anything, I could do about it.
The policy experts have spent – and continue to spend – ages arguing about why hunger has gone up. In short, it seems that it’s largely the result of the Global Food Crisis of 2007/8, which saw a big jump in food prices – which means that poor people, especially in cities, couldn’t afford enough food. This, in turn, has been driven by things like population growth, increasing fuel prices, less land being used to grow food, bad crop yields because of the weather, price speculation on international markets and more demand for food.
What struck me about many of these reasons is the presumption that the world’s poor buy their food, rather than grow it themselves. And, although this is increasingly the case as more people move to cities, we also need to think about what’s happened to farmers growing their own food.
And, it’s with this that we can start thinking about responses. At the most local level, the best way to reduce hunger is to support communities to grow enough of their own food. It’s for this reason that the G8 announced last year that they would provide $21b through the IMF to promote food security in the world’s poorest countries.
At the more structural and international level, there are a couple of things that we can do too:
- Give to organisations that support farmers to be more effective. Some of the big international agencies like Oxfam do great work in this regard, as do some of the smaller boutique agencies like Heifer International or the Hunger Project. And, whoever who consider giving to, it’s important to ask how they help farmers grow more in the long-term, not just this year.
- Encourage your government to invest in research and share it with the world’s poor, particularly for strong agricultural countries (looking at you, Australia). Technology, science and innovation are central to helping improve crop yields.
As we reflect on a decade of change in hunger, the picture isn’t great. There’s a lot of work to be done, especially with the prospect of sharing the world with 9 billion people by mid century.