The recently completed World Food Summit managed to focus a little bit of
attention on two critical global issues: the dimensions of world hunger and the
conflicting strategies for easing the burden of hunger for the world's poorest
Of the nearly six billion people now living on the earth, about 800,000,000 are
so poor that they lack access to the basic essentials for living. Nearly one
seventh of the humans on earth - about three times the population of this
country-live in poverty. The situation is so desperate that 35,000 people die
every day from hunger and related diseases. Half of them are children.
Although the situation is most critical in the poor, developing countries, the
increasing presence of food drives in our own communities reminds us that hunger
also exists in the wealthiest countries.
The Food Summit's participants agreed that steps must be taken to reduce the
number of poor by half to about 400,000,000 by 2015. The Summit's statement on
hunger affirmed"the right of all to have access to adequate food and the basic
right of all not to be hungry." The United States disagreed with this. Our
government said that to achieve the right to adequate food is "an aim or an
aspiration" but not an international obligation of governments.
While the desire to feed the hungry may be nearly unanimous, the conflicting
methods proposed to reach that goal are likely to produce very different
outcomes. In one view, "Trade is a key element in achieving world food
security." In another view, "Indigenous and traditional knowledge and practices
in production, processing and preservation of foods need to be promoted,
improved and disseminated to ensure equitable availability of safe food. ...
National self-sufficiency in basic food staples should be sought."
The U.S. plans to feed the world with ever greater use of genetic engineering,
large-scale, capital-intensive agriculture and mega-corporations selling
processed food around the world to those who have enough money to buy it.
Third-world countries with productive agricultural resources will grow vast
quantities of uniform crops for export to the first world. In theory, this
system produces enough income to pay for imported, processed food. In reality,
it doesn't work that way.
Peasants are pushed from self-sufficient lives into dependency as either farm
workers or urban poor. This strategy implies control over land, capital, water
and genetic resources by large corporations, and promises liberal use of
pesticides and a decrease in the diversity of farming systems, diets, foods,
organisms and lifestyles.
The voices of the people, as represented by over 200 civil society organizations
from more than 70 countries representing farmers, peasants, indigenous
communities, environmentalists and mothers, as well as advocates of organic
agriculture, peace, and human rights, favor more local and democratic control.
Their smaller-scale solutions empower women and the poor with the knowledge and
resources to feed themselves, their families and their communities using
traditional methods. They would replace the current agricultural paradigm which
tends to destroy nature with one which seeks to produce in harmony with nature's
The corporate strategy depends on secret formulas, patented organisms and
so-called "free" trade. It sees hunger as a production problem when in fact
there's plenty of food, it just isn't used wisely or distributed equitably.
This system creates dependence and ignorance among the people and generates
"exclusion and poverty."
In contrast, the people's strategy depends on widespread knowledge and access to
resources and a wide diversity of plants, animals, diets and farming methods.
It creates self-reliance and empowers communities. It sees corporate-dominated
industrial growing and distribution systems as the cause of such widespread
hunger in a world where more than enough food is produced to feed everyone.
Last month, hardly anyone paid much attention to the Food Summit in Rome, Italy.
Hardly anyone's paying attention as these same forces play out the same issues
right here in Connecticut right now. As the industrial system's proponents seek
to limit farming with restrictive zoning, home, school and community gardeners
and farmers work to spread the knowledge we need to feed ourselves. More about
all this next week.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
C1996, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT certified
organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban agriculture
projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwalk, CT). Their collection
of essays Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful
Future is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. This essay first appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT.
New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing