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  • famine scales are the ways in which degrees of food security are measured, from situations in which an entire population has adequate food to full-scale famine?

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Growth in food production has been greater than population growth. Food per person increased during the 1961-2005 period. The y-axis is percent of 1999-2001 average food production per capita. Data source: World Resources Institute.
Barley is a major animal feed crop.

Food security refers to the availability of food and one's access to it. A household is considered food secure when its occupants do not live in hunger or fear of starvation. According to the World Resources Institute, global per capita food production has been increasing substantially for the past several decades.[1] In 2006, MSNBC reported that globally, the number of people who are overweight has surpassed the number who are undernourished - the world had more than one billion people who were overweight, and an estimated 800 million who were undernourished.[2] According to a 2004 article from the BBC, China, the world's most populous country, is suffering from an obesity epidemic.[3] In India, the second-most populous country in the world, 30 million people have been added to the ranks of the hungry since the mid-1990s and 46% of children are underweight.[4]

Worldwide around 852 million people are chronically hungry due to extreme poverty, while up to 2 billion people lack food security intermittently due to varying degrees of poverty (source: FAO, 2003). Six million children die of hunger every year - 17,000 every day.[5] As of late 2007, increased farming for use in biofuels,[6] world oil prices at more than $100 a barrel,[7] global population growth,[8] climate change,[9] loss of agricultural land to residential and industrial development,[10][11] and growing consumer demand in China and India[12] have pushed up the price of grain.[13][14] Food riots have recently taken place in many countries across the world.[15][16][17]

It is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain food security in a world beset by a confluence of "peak" phenomena, namely peak oil, peak water, peak phosphorus, peak grain and peak fish. More than half of the planet's population, numbering approximately 3.3 billion people, live in urban areas as of November 2007. Any disruption to farm supplies may precipitate a uniquely urban food crisis in a relatively short time.[18] The ongoing global credit crisis has affected farm credits, despite a boom in commodity prices.[19] Food security is a complex topic, standing at the intersection of many disciplines.

A new peer-reviewed journal of Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food is to be published from 2009.[20] In developing countries, often 70% or more of the population lives in rural areas. In that context, agricultural development among smallholder farmers and landless people provides a livelihood for people allowing them the opportunity to stay in their communities. In many areas of the world, land ownership is not available, thus, people who want or need to farm to make a living have little incentive to improve the land.

In the US, there are approximately 2,000,000 farmers, less than 1% of the population. A direct relationship exists between food consumption levels and poverty. Families with the financial resources to escape extreme poverty rarely suffer from chronic hunger; while poor families not only suffer the most from chronic hunger, but are also the segment of the population most at risk during food shortages and famines.

Two commonly used definitions of food security come from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

  • Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. (FAO)
  • Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes at a minimum (1) the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and (2) an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies). (USDA)[21]

The stages of food insecurity range from food secure situations to full-scale famine. "Famine and hunger are both rooted in food insecurity. Food insecurity can be categorized as either chronic or transitory. Chronic food insecurity translates into a high degree of vulnerability to famine and hunger; ensuring food security presupposes elimination of that vulnerability. [Chronic] hunger is not famine. It is similar to undernourishment and is related to poverty, existing mainly in poor countries."[22]


Food security in Canada



Wealth is significant to food security; wealth by individuals to obtain what is needed, community wealth for adequate infrastructure, and production by food system wealth and distribution. Canada has a very skewed distribution of the benefit arising from financial dimensions of wealth which contributes to food insecurity for many because; those who benefit the least are poor whereas, those who benefit the most from wealth is rich. The food and agriculture sector suffers from many of the same monetary wealth generation and skewed distributions.[23]

Food security in the United States

Community food security

Community food security is a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice

Following are six basic principles of community food security, as defined by the Community Food Security Coalition:

  • Low Income Food Needs Like the anti-hunger movement, CFS is focused on meeting the food needs of low income communities, reducing hunger and improving individual health.
  • Broad Goals CFS addresses a broad range of problems affecting the food system, community development, and the environment such as increasing poverty and hunger, disappearing farmland and family farms, inner city supermarket redlining, rural community disintegration, rampant suburban sprawl, and air and water pollution from unsustainable food production and distribution patterns.
  • Community focus A CFS approach seeks to build up a community's food resources to meet its own needs. These resources may include supermarkets, farmers' markets, gardens, transportation, community-based food processing ventures, and urban farms to name a few.
  • Self-reliance/empowerment Community food security projects emphasize the need to build individuals' abilities to provide for their food needs. Community food security seeks to build upon community and individual assets, rather than focus on their deficiencies. CFS projects seek to engage community residents in all phases of project planning, implementation, and evaluation.
  • Local agriculture A stable local agricultural base is key to a community responsive food system. Farmers need increased access to markets that pay them a decent wage for their labor, and farmland needs planning protection from suburban development. By building stronger ties between farmers and consumers, consumers gain a greater knowledge and appreciation for their food source.
  • Systems-oriented CFS projects typically are "inter-disciplinary," crossing many boundaries and incorporating collaborations with multiple agencies.[24]

Food insecurity

Food insecurity has been described as "a condition in which people lack basic food intake to provide them with the energy and nutrients for fully productive lives." (Hunger Task Force) In 2005, 35.1 million Americans, which includes 22.7 million adults and 12.4 million children, lived in households that were unable to afford the food they need for the year.[25] Households that are more likely to experience food insecurity are female-headed with children, those with incomes below the poverty line, and those that reside either in principal cities or within rural areas.[26] The top three states ranking in prevalence of food insecure households between 2003-2005 were New Mexico (16.8%), Mississippi (16.5%), and Texas (16.0%).[26]

The USDA report cited below asks the question, "How often were people hungry in households that were food insecure with hunger?" Around 4 percent of people reported going hungry at least once a year, while on any given day the figure is estimated to be between 0.5 percent and 0.8 percent.[27]

A March 1, 2009 Associated Press article cited many examples of hungry children in the United States. The article talked about all of the children's mothers, but did not mention any of their fathers. The article also said that some of the mothers were feeding their children junk food such as potato chips and hot dogs, instead of nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, and milk.[28]

Stunting and chronic nutritional deficiencies

Children and a nurse attendant at a Nigerian orphanage in the late 1960’s with symptoms of low calorie and protein intake.

Many countries experience perpetual food shortages and distribution problems. These result in chronic and often widespread hunger amongst significant numbers of people. Human populations respond to chronic hunger and malnutrition by decreasing body size, known in medical terms as stunting or stunted growth. This process starts in utero if the mother is malnourished and continues through approximately the third year of life. It leads to higher infant and child mortality, but at rates far lower than during famines. Once stunting has occurred, improved nutritional intake later in life cannot reverse the damage. Stunting itself is viewed as a coping mechanism, designed to bring body size into alignment with the calories available during adulthood in the location where the child is born. Limiting body size as a way of adapting to low levels of energy (calories) adversely affects health in three ways:

  • Premature failure of vital organs occurs during adulthood. For example a 50 year old individual might die of heart failure because his/her heart suffered structural defects during early development.
  • Stunted individuals suffer a far higher rate of disease and illness than those who have not undergone stunting.
  • Severe malnutrition in early childhood often leads to defects in cognitive development.

"The analysis ... points to the misleading nature of the concept of subsistence as Malthus originally used it and as it is still widely used today. Subsistence in not located at the edge of a nutritional cliff, beyond which lies demographic disaster. Rather than one level of subsistence, there are numerous levels at which a population and a food supply can be in equilibrium in the sense that they can be indefinitely sustained. However, some levels will have smaller people and higher normal mortality than others."[29]

Global water crisis

Grain storage facilities in Australia

Water deficits, which are already spurring heavy grain imports in numerous smaller countries,[30] may soon do the same in larger countries, such as China or India.[31] The water tables are falling in scores of countries (including Northern China, the US, and India) due to widespread overpumping using powerful diesel and electric pumps. Other countries affected include Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. This will eventually lead to water scarcity and cutbacks in grain harvest. Even with the overpumping of its aquifers, China is developing a grain deficit.[32] When this happens, it will almost certainly drive grain prices upward. Most of the 3 billion people projected to be added worldwide by mid-century will be born in countries already experiencing water shortages. After China and India, there is a second tier of smaller countries with large water deficits—Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Mexico, and Pakistan. Four of these already import a large share of their grain. Only Pakistan remains self-sufficient. But with a population expanding by 4 million a year, it will also likely soon turn to the world market for grain.[33][34]

Land degradation

Intensive farming often leads to a vicious cycle of exhaustion of soil fertility and decline of agricultural yields.[35] Approximately 40% of the world's agricultural land is seriously degraded.[36] In Africa, if current trends of soil degradation continue, the continent might be able to feed just 25% of its population by 2025, according to UNU's Ghana-based Institute for Natural Resources in Africa.[37]

Land deals

Rich governments and corporations are buying up the rights to millions of hectares of agricultural land in developing countries in an effort to secure their own long-term food supplies. The head of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Jacques Diouf, has warned that the controversial rise in land deals could create a form of "neocolonialism", with poor states producing food for the rich at the expense of their own hungry people. The South Korean firm Daewoo Logistics has secured a large piece of farmland in Madagascar to grow maize and crops for biofuels. Libya has secured 250,000 hectares of Ukrainian farmland, and China has begun to explore land deals in Southeast Asia.[38] Oil-rich Arab investors, including the sovereign wealth funds, are looking into Sudan, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Cambodia and Thailand.[39]

Climate change


According to a UN climate report, the Himalayan glaciers that are the principal dry-season water sources of Asia's biggest rivers - Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween and Yellow - could disappear by 2035 as temperatures rise.[40] Approximately 2.4 billion people live in the drainage basin of the Himalayan rivers.[41] India, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar could experience floods followed by severe droughts in coming decades.[42] In India alone, the Ganges provides water for drinking and farming for more than 500 million people.[43][44] The west coast of North America, which gets much of its water from glaciers in mountain ranges such as the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada, also would be affected.[45] Glaciers aren't the only worry that the developing nations have, sea level is also reported to rise as climate changes progresses, reducing the amount of land available for agriculture.[46]

In other parts of the world a big effect will be low yields of grain according to the World Food Trade Model, specifically in the low latitude regions where much of the developing world is located. From this the price of grain will rise, along with the developing nations trying to grow the grain. Due to this, every 2-2.5% price hike will increase the number of hungry people 1%.[47] And low crop yields is just one of the problem facing farmers in the low latitudes and tropical regions. The timing and length of the growing seasons, when farmers plant their crops, are going to be changing dramatically, per the USDA, due to unknown changes in soil temperature and moisture conditions.[48]


On 2008-04-29, a UNICEF UK report found that the world’s poorest and most vulnerable children are being hit the hardest by the impact of climate change. The report, “Our Climate, Our Children, Our Responsibility: The Implications of Climate Change for the World’s Children,” says access to clean water and food supplies will become more difficult, particularly in Africa and Asia.[49]

Wheat stem rust

Stripe Rust on a wheat stem
Watch the DIVERSEEDS short films on ways to fight wheat rust using crop wild relatives to improve resistance in modern varieties.

An epidemic of stem rust on wheat caused by race Ug99 is currently spreading across Africa and into Asia and is causing major concern. A virulent wheat disease could destroy most of the world’s main wheat crops, leaving millions to starve. The fungus has spread from Africa to Iran, and may already be in Pakistan.[50][51][52]

The genetic diversity of the crop wild relatives of wheat can be used to improve modern varieties to be more resistant to rust. In their centers of origin wild wheat plants are screened for resistance to rust, then their genetic information is analysed and finally wild plants and modern varietes are crossed through means of modern plant breeding in order to transfer the resistance genes from the wild plants to the modern varieties.[53]

Dictatorship and kleptocracy

As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has observed that "there is no such thing as an apolitical food problem." While drought and other naturally occurring events may trigger famine conditions, it is government action or inaction that determines its severity, and often even whether or not a famine will occur. The 20th century is full of examples of governments undermining the food security of their own nations–sometimes intentionally.

When governments come to power by force or rigged elections, and not by way of fair and open elections, their base of support is often narrow and built upon cronyism and patronage. Under such conditions "The distribution of food within a country is a political issue. Governments in most countries give priority to urban areas, since that is where the most influential and powerful families and enterprises are usually located. The government often neglects subsistence farmers and rural areas in general. The more remote and underdeveloped the area the less likely the government will be to effectively meet its needs. Many agrarian policies, especially the pricing of agricultural commodities, discriminate against rural areas. Governments often keep prices of basic grains at such artificially low levels that subsistence producers can not accumulate enough capital to make investments to improve their production. Thus, they are effectively prevented from getting out of their precarious situation."[54]

Further dictators and warlords have used food as a political weapon, rewarding their supporters while denying food supplies to areas that oppose their rule. Under such conditions food becomes a currency with which to buy support and famine becomes an effective weapon to be used against the opposition.

Governments with strong tendencies towards kleptocracy can undermine food security even when harvests are good. When government monopolizes trade, farmers may find that they are free to grow cash crops for export, but under penalty of law only able to sell their crops to government buyers at prices far below the world market price. The government then is free to sell their crop on the world market at full price, pocketing the difference. This creates an artificial "poverty trap" from which even the most hard working and motivated farmers may not escape.

When the rule of law is absent, or private property is non-existent, farmers have little incentive to improve their productivity. If a farm becomes noticeably more productive than neighboring farms, it may become the target of individuals well connected to the government. Rather than risk being noticed and possibly losing their land, farmers may be content with the perceived safety of mediocrity.

As pointed out by William Bernstein in his book The Birth of Plenty: "Individuals without property are susceptible to starvation, and it is much easier to bend the fearful and hungry to the will of the state. If a [farmer's] property can be arbitrarily threatened by the state, that power will inevitably be employed to intimidate those with divergent political and religious opinions."

Economic approaches

There are many economic approaches advocated to improve food security in developing countries. Three typical approaches are listed below. The first is typical of what is advocated by most governments and international agencies. The other two are more common to non-governmental organizations (NGO’s).

Westernized view

Conventional thinking in westernized countries is that maximizing the farmers profit is the surest way of maximizing agricultural production; the higher a farmer’s profit, the greater the effort that will be forthcoming, and the greater the risk the farmer is willing to take.

Place into the hands of farmers the largest number and highest quality tools possible (tools is used here to refer to improved production techniques, improved seeds, secure land tenure, accurate weather forecasts, etc.) However, it is left to the individual farmer to pick and choose which tools to use, and how to use them, as farmers have intimate knowledge of their own land and local conditions.

As with other businesses, a percentage of the profits are normally reinvested into the business in the hopes of increasing production, and hence increase future profits. Normally higher profits translate into higher spending on technologies designed to boost production, such as drip irrigation systems, agriculture education, and greenhouses. An increased profit also increases the farmer’s incentive to engage in double-cropping, soil improvement programs, and expanding usable area.

Food justice

Fight Hunger: Walk the World campaign is a United Nations World Food Programme initiative.

An alternative view takes a collective approach to achieve food security. It notes that globally enough food is produced to feed the entire world population at a level adequate to ensure that everyone can be free of hunger and fear of starvation. That no one should live without enough food because of economic constraints or social inequalities is the basic goal.

This approach is often referred to as food justice and views food security as a basic human right. It advocates fairer distribution of food, particularly grain crops, as a means of ending chronic hunger and malnutrition. The core of the Food Justice movement is the belief that what is lacking is not food, but the political will to fairly distribute food regardless of the recipient’s ability to pay.

Food sovereignty

A third approach is known as food sovereignty; though it overlaps with food justice on several points, the two are not identical. It views the business practices of multinational corporations as a form of neocolonialism. It contends that multinational corporations have the financial resources available to buy up the agricultural resources of impoverished nations, particularly in the tropics. They also have the political clout to convert these resources to the exclusive production of cash crops for sale to industrialized nations outside of the tropics, and in the process to squeeze the poor off of the more productive lands. Under this view subsistence farmers are left to cultivate only lands that are so marginal in terms of productivity as to be of no interest to the multinational corporations. Likewise, food sovereignty holds it to be true that communities should be able to define their own means of production and that food is a basic human right. With several multinational corporations now pushing agricultural technologies on developing countries, technologies that include improved seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides, crop production has become an increasingly analyzed and debated issue. Many communities calling for food sovereignty are protesting the imposition of Western technologies on to their indigenous systems and agency.

Those who hold a "food sovereignty" position advocate banning the production of most cash crops in developing nations, thereby leaving the local farmers to concentrate on subsistence agriculture. In addition, they oppose allowing low-cost subsidized food from industrialized nations into developing countries, what is referred to as "import dumping". Import dumping also happens by way of food aid distribution through programs like the USA's "Food for Peace" initiative.

World Food Summit

The World Food Summit was held in Rome in 1996, with the aim of renewing global commitment to the fight against hunger. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) called the summit in response to widespread under-nutrition and growing concern about the capacity of agriculture to meet future food needs. The conference produced two key documents, the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action.

Irrigation canals have opened dry desert areas of Egypt to agriculture.

The Rome Declaration calls for the members of the United Nations to work to halve the number of chronically undernourished people on the Earth by the year 2015. The Plan of Action sets a number of targets for government and non-governmental organizations for achieving food security, at the individual, household, national, regional and global levels.

World Summit on Food Security

The World Summit on Food Security will take place in Rome, Italy, between 16 and 18 November 2009. The decision to convene the summit was taken by the Council of FAO in June 2009, at the proposal of FAO Director-General Dr Jacques Diouf. Heads of State and Government are expected to attend the summit, which will take place at FAO’s headquarters.

Achieving food security

"The number of people without enough food to eat on a regular basis remains stubbornly high, at over 800 million, and is not falling significantly. Over 60% of the world's undernourished people live in Asia, and a quarter in Africa. The proportion of people who are hungry, however, is greater in Africa (33%) than Asia (16%). The latest FAO figures indicate that there are 22 countries, 16 of which are in Africa, in which the undernourishment prevalence rate is over 35%."[55]

A liquid manure spreader, equipment that is used to increase agricultural productivity.

In its "The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2003", FAO states that:[56]

'In general the countries that succeeded in reducing hunger were characterised by more rapid economic growth and specifically more rapid growth in their agricultural sectors. They also exhibited slower population growth, lower levels of HIV and higher ranking in the Human Development Index'.

As such, according to FAO, addressing agriculture and population growth is vital to achieving food security. Other organisations and people (eg Peter Singer, ...) too have come to this conclusion and advocate improvements in agriculture, and population control.[57]

USAID[58] proposes several key steps to increasing agricultural productivity which is in turn key to increasing rural income and reducing food insecurity. They include:

  • Boosting agricultural science and technology. Current agricultural yields are insufficient to feed the growing populations. Eventually, the rising agricultural productivity drives economic growth.
  • Securing property rights and access to finance.
  • Enhancing human capital through education and improved health.
  • Conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms and democracy and governance based on principles of accountability and transparency in public institutions and the rule of law are basic to reducing vulnerable members of society.

The UN Millennium Development Goals are one of the initiatives aimed at achieving food security in the world. In its list of goals, the first Millennium Development Goal states that the UN "is to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty", and that "agricultural productivity is likely to play a key role in this if it is to be reached on time".

"Of the eight Millennium Development Goals, eradicating extreme hunger and poverty depends on agriculture the most. (MDG 1 calls for halving hunger and poverty by 2015 in relation to 1990.)

Notably, the gathering of wild food plants appears to be an efficient alternative method of subsistence in tropical countries, which may play a role in poverty alleviation.[59]

The agriculture-hunger-poverty nexus

Eradicating hunger and poverty requires an understanding of the ways in which these two injustices interconnect. Hunger, and the malnourishment that accompanies it, prevents poor people from escaping poverty because it diminishes their ability to learn, work, and care for themselves and their family members. Food insecurity exists when people are undernourished as a result of the physical unavailability of food, their lack of social or economic access to adequate food, and/or inadequate food utilization. Food-insecure people are those individuals whose food intake falls below their minimum calorie (energy) requirements, as well as those who exhibit physical symptoms caused by energy and nutrient deficiencies resulting from an inadequate or unbalanced diet or from the body's inability to use food effectively because of infection or disease. An alternative view would define the concept of food insecurity as referring only to the consequence of inadequate consumption of nutritious food, considering the physiological utilization of food by the body as being within the domain of nutrition and health. Malnourishment also leads to poor health hence individuals fail to provide for their families. If left unaddressed, hunger sets in motion an array of outcomes that perpetuate malnutrition, reduce the ability of adults to work and to give birth to healthy children, and erode children's ability to learn and lead productive, healthy, and happy lives. This truncation of human development undermines a country's potential for economic development–for generations to come.

There are strong, direct relationships between agricultural productivity, hunger, and poverty. Three-quarters of the world's poor live in rural areas and make their living from agriculture. Hunger and child malnutrition are greater in these areas than in urban areas. Moreover, the higher the proportion of the rural population that obtains its income solely from subsistence farming (without the benefit of pro-poor technologies and access to markets), the higher the incidence of malnutrition. Therefore, improvements in agricultural productivity aimed at small-scale farmers will benefit the rural poor first.

Increased agricultural productivity enables farmers to grow more food, which translates into better diets and, under market conditions that offer a level playing field, into higher farm incomes. With more money, farmers are more likely to diversify production and grow higher-value crops, benefiting not only themselves but the economy as a whole."[60]

Biotechnology for smallholders in the (sub)tropics

The area sown to genetically engineered crops in developing countries is rapidly catching-up with the area sown in industrial nations. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), genetically engineered (biotech, GM) crops were grown by approximately 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries in 2005, up from 8.25 million farmers in 17 countries in 2004. The largest increase in biotech crop area in any country in 2005 was in Brazil, provisionally estimated at 44,000 km² (94,000 km² in 2005 compared with 50,000 km² in 2004). India had by far the largest year-on-year proportional increase, with almost a threefold increase from 5,000 km² in 2004 to 13,000 km² in 2005.[61]

Current high regulatory costs imposed on varieties created by the more modern methods are a significant hurdle for development of genetically engineered crops well suited to developing country farmers by modern genetic methods. Once a new variety is developed, however, seed provides a good vehicle for distribution of improvements in a package that is familiar to the farmer.

Currently there are some institutes and research groups that have projects in which biotechnology is shared with contact people in less-developed countries on a non-profit basis. These institutes make use of biotechnological methods that do not involve high research and registration costs, such as conservation and multiplication of germplasm and phytosanitation.

Apart from genetic engineering, other forms of biotechnology also hold promise for enhancing food security. For instance, perennial rice is being developed in China, which could dramatically reduce the risk of soil erosion on upland smallholder farms.

Risks to food security

Further information: More factors leading to food insecurity and crisis.

Fossil fuel dependence

While agricultural output increased as a result of the Green Revolution, the energy input into the process (that is, the energy that must be expended to produce a crop) has also increased at a greater rate, so that the ratio of crops produced to energy input has decreased over time. Green Revolution techniques also heavily rely on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, some of which must be developed from fossil fuels, making agriculture increasingly reliant on petroleum products.

Between 1950 and 1984, as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture around the globe, world grain production increased by 250%. The energy for the Green Revolution was provided by fossil fuels in the form of fertilizers (natural gas), pesticides (oil), and hydrocarbon fueled irrigation.[62]

David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell University, and Mario Giampietro, senior researcher at the National Research Institute on Food and Nutrition (INRAN), place in their study Food, Land, Population and the U.S. Economy the maximum U.S. population for a sustainable economy at 200 million. To achieve a sustainable economy and avert disaster, the United States must reduce its population by at least one-third, and world population will have to be reduced by two-thirds, says the study.[63]

The authors of this study believe that the mentioned agricultural crisis will only begin to impact us after 2020, and will not become critical until 2050. The oncoming peaking of global oil production (and subsequent decline of production), along with the peak of North American natural gas production will very likely precipitate this agricultural crisis much sooner than expected.[12] Geologist Dale Allen Pfeiffer claims that coming decades could see spiraling food prices without relief and massive starvation on a global level such as never experienced before.[64]

However, one should take note that, (numbers taken from the CIA World Factbook), the country of Bangladesh achieved food self-sufficiency in 2002 with both a far higher population density than the USA (~1000 inhabitants per square kilometer in comparison to just 30/km2 for the USA - so this is more than 30 times as many), and at only a tiny fraction of the USA's usage of oil, gas, and electricity. Also, pre-industrial Chinese mini-farmers/gardeners developed techniques to feed a population of more than 1000 people per square kilometer (cf. e.g. F.H. King's 1911 report, "Farmers of Forty Centuries"). Hence, the dominant problem is not energy availability but the need to stop and revert soil degradation.

Hybridization, genetic engineering and loss of biodiversity

In agriculture and animal husbandry, the green revolution popularized the use of conventional hybridization to increase yield by creating "high-yielding varieties". Often the handful of hybridized breeds originated in developed countries and were further hybridized with local varieties in the rest of the developing world to create high yield strains resistant to local climate and diseases. Local governments and industry have been pushing hybridization which has resulted in several of the indigenous breeds becoming extinct or threatened. Disuse because of unprofitability and uncontrolled intentional and unintentional cross-pollination and crossbreeding (genetic pollution), formerly huge gene pools of various wild and indigenous breeds have collapsed causing widespread genetic erosion and genetic pollution. This has resulted in loss of genetic diversity and biodiversity as a whole.[65]

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using the genetic engineering techniques generally known as recombinant DNA technology. Genetically Modified (GM) crops today have become a common source for genetic pollution, not only of wild varieties but also of other domesticated varieties derived from relatively natural hybridization.[66][67][68][69][70]

Genetic erosion coupled with genetic pollution may be destroying unique genotypes, thereby creating a hidden crisis which could result in a severe threat to our food security. Diverse genetic material could cease to exist which would impact our ability to further hybridize food crops and livestock against more resistant diseases and climatic changes.[65]

Genetic erosion in agricultural and livestock biodiversity

Genetic erosion in agricultural and livestock biodiversity is the loss of genetic diversity, including the loss of individual genes, and the loss of particular combinants of genes (or gene complexes) such as those manifested in locally adapted landraces of domesticated animals or plants adapted to the natural environment in which they originated. The term genetic erosion is sometimes used in a narrow sense, such as for the loss of alleles or genes, as well as more broadly, referring to the loss of varieties or even species. The major driving forces behind genetic erosion in crops are: variety replacement, land clearing, overexploitation of species, population pressure, environmental degradation, overgrazing, policy and changing agricultural systems.

The main factor, however, is the replacement of local varieties of domestic plants and animals by high yielding or exotic varieties or species. A large number of varieties can also often be dramatically reduced when commercial varieties (including GMOs) are introduced into traditional farming systems. Many researchers believe that the main problem related to agro-ecosystem management is the general tendency towards genetic and ecological uniformity imposed by the development of modern agriculture.

Price setting

On April 30, 2008 Thailand announces the project of the creation of the Organisation of Rice Exporting Countries with the potential to develop into a price-fixing cartel for rice.[71][72]

Treating food the same as other internationally traded commodities

On October 23, 2008, Associated Press reported the following:

"Former President Clinton told a U.N. gathering Thursday [Oct 16, 2008] that the global food crisis shows "we all blew it, including me," by treating food crops "like color TVs" instead of as a vital commodity for the world's poor....Clinton criticized decades of policymaking by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and others, encouraged by the U.S., that pressured Africans in particular into dropping government subsidies for fertilizer, improved seed and other farm inputs as a requirement to get aid. Africa's food self-sufficiency declined and food imports rose. Now skyrocketing prices in the international grain trade—on average more than doubling between 2006 and early 2008—have pushed many in poor countries deeper into poverty."[73]

Food is not a commodity like others. We should go back to a policy of maximum food self-sufficiency. It is crazy for us to think we can develop countries around the world without increasing their ability to feed themselves.[73]

Former US President Bill Clinton, Speech at United Nations World Food Day, October 16, 2008

See also


  1. ^ Agriculture and Food—Agricultural Production Indices: Food production per capita index, World Resources Institute
  2. ^ Nearly 1 in 5 Chinese overweight or obese, MSNBC, August 18, 2006
  3. ^ Chinese concern at obesity surge, BBC, October 12, 2004
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ 2008: The year of global food crisis
  7. ^ The global grain bubble
  8. ^ Food crisis will take hold before climate change, warns chief scientist
  9. ^ Global food crisis looms as climate change and fuel shortages bite
  10. ^ Experts: Global Food Shortages Could ‘Continue for Decades'
  11. ^ Has Urbanization Caused a Loss to Agricultural Land?
  12. ^ a b The World's Growing Food-Price Crisis
  13. ^ The cost of food: Facts and figures
  14. ^ Food Price Unrest Around the World, September 2007- April 2008
  15. ^ Riots and hunger feared as demand for grain sends food costs soaring
  16. ^ Already we have riots, hoarding, panic: the sign of things to come?
  17. ^ Feed the world? We are fighting a losing battle, UN admits
  18. ^ Mathew Maavak–WE ARE IN A BAD FIX
  19. ^ Amid strong farm economy, some worry about increased debt, Associated Press, April 20, 2008
  20. ^ New ISPP Journal. Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food
  21. ^ "Food Security in the United States: Measuring Household Food Security". USDA. Retrieved 2008-02-23.  
  22. ^ Melaku Ayalew–What is Food Security and Famine and Hunger?
  23. ^ Toronto Food Policy Council. 1994. Health, wealth and the environment: the impacts of the CUSTA, GATT and NAFTA on Canadian food security Toronto Food Policy Council Discussion Paper Series Discussion Paper. In Toronto Food Policy Council Discussion Paper Series. Toronto: Toronto Food Policy Council.
  24. ^ Community Food Security Coalition, What is community food security? accessed on November 1, 2007 @ 7:10pm PDT.
  25. ^ America's Second Harvest - Hunger and Poverty Statistics
  26. ^ a b ibid
  27. ^
  28. ^ Pictures of hunger: Photo project captures the life of those in need, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 1, 2009
  29. ^ Robert Fogel, The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death: 1700-2100; Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  30. ^ Water Scarcity Crossing National Borders
  31. ^ Asia Times Online:: South Asia news - India grows a grain crisis
  32. ^ Outgrowing the Earth
  33. ^ The Food Bubble Economy
  34. ^ Global Water Shortages May Lead to Food Shortages-Aquifer Depletion
  35. ^ The Earth Is Shrinking: Advancing Deserts and Rising Seas Squeezing Civilization
  36. ^ Global food crisis looms as climate change and population growth strip fertile land
  37. ^ Africa may be able to feed only 25% of its population by 2025
  38. ^ Rich countries launch great land grab to safeguard food supply, The Guardian, November 22, 2008
  39. ^ Arable Land, the new gold rush : African and poor countries cautioned
  40. ^ Vanishing Himalayan Glaciers Threaten a Billion
  41. ^ Big melt threatens millions, says UN
  42. ^ Glaciers melting at alarming speed
  43. ^ Ganges, Indus may not survive: climatologists
  44. ^ Himalaya glaciers melt unnoticed
  45. ^ Glaciers Are Melting Faster Than Expected, UN Reports
  46. ^ Issues In Food Security
  47. ^ Impacts of Climate Change on Food Security
  48. ^ Issues In Climate Change
  49. ^ UNICEF UK News:: News item:: The tragic consequences of climate change for the world’s children:: 29 April 2008 00:00
  50. ^ Millions face famine as crop disease rages
  51. ^ "Billions at risk from wheat super-blight". New Scientist Magazine (2598): 6–7. 2007-04-03. Retrieved 2007-04-19.  
  52. ^ IRAN: Killer fungus threatens wheat production in western areas
  53. ^ Hanan Sela, University of Haifa, Israel See DIVERSEEDS short video
  54. ^ Fred Cuny–Famine, Conflict, and Response: a Basic Guide; Kumarian Press, 1999.
  55. ^ Food and Agriculture Organization
  56. ^ The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2003
  57. ^ Peter Singer advocating population control
  58. ^ USAID - Food Security
  59. ^ Claudio O. Delang (2006). "The role of wild food plants in poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation in tropical countries". Progress in Development Studies 6 (4): 275–286. doi:10.1191/1464993406ps143oa.  
  60. ^ Agriculture, Food Security, Nutrition and the Millennium Development Goals 2003-2004 IFPRI Annual Report Essay Joachim von Braun, M. S. Swaminathan, and Mark W. Rosegrant
  61. ^ ISAAA Briefs 34-2005: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2005
  62. ^, Eating Fossil Fuels.
  63. ^, Peak Oil: the threat to our food security
  64. ^,Agriculture Meets Peak Oil
  65. ^ a b “Genetic Pollution: The Great Genetic Scandal”; Devinder Sharma can be contacted at: 7 Triveni Apartments, A-6 Paschim Vihar, New Delhi-110 063, India. Email: dsharma(a) Centre for alternative agricultural media (CAAM). [1]
  66. ^ Pollan, Michael (2001-12-09). "The year in ideas: A TO Z.; Genetic Pollution; By Michael Pollan, The New York Times, December 9, 2001". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-21.  
  67. ^ "Dangerous Liaisons? When Cultivated Plants Mate with Their Wild Relatives; by Norman C. Ellstrand; The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003; 268 pp. hardcover, $ 65; ISBN 0-8018-7405-X. Book Reviewed in: Hybrids abounding; Nature Biotechnology 22, 29–30 (2004) doi:10.1038/nbt0104-29; Reviewed by: Steven H Strauss & Stephen P DiFazio; 1 Steve Strauss is in the Department of Forest Science, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331-5752, USA. steve.strauss(a); 2 Steve DiFazio is at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Bldg. 1059, PO Box 2008, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831-6422 USA. difazios(a)". 2004-01-01. doi:10.1038/nbt0104-29. Retrieved 2009-06-21.  
  68. ^ "“Genetic pollution: Uncontrolled spread of genetic information (frequently referring to transgenes) into the genomes of organisms in which such genes are not present in nature.” Zaid, A. et al. 1999. Glossary of biotechnology and genetic engineering. FAO Research and Technology Paper No. 7. ISBN 92-5-104369-8". Retrieved 2009-06-21.  
  69. ^ “Genetic pollution: Uncontrolled escape of genetic information (frequently referring to products of genetic engineering) into the genomes of organisms in the environment where those genes never existed before.” Searchable Biotechnology Dictionary. University of Minnesota., [2]
  70. ^ "“Genetic pollution: Living organisms can also be defined as pollutants, when a non-indigenous species (plant or animal) enters a habitat and modifies the existing equilibrium among the organisms of the affected ecosystem (sea, lake, river). Non-indigenous, including transgenic species (GMOs), may bring about a particular version of pollution in the vegetable kingdom: so-called genetic pollution. This term refers to the uncontrolled diffusion of genes (or transgenes) into genomes of plants of the same type or even unrelated species where such genes are not present in nature. For example, a grass modified to resist herbicides could pollinate conventional grass many miles away, creating weeds immune to the most widely used weed-killer, with obvious consequences for crops. Genetic pollution is at the basis of the debate on the use of GMOs in agriculture.” The many facets of pollution; Bologna University web site for Science Communication. The Webweavers: Last modified Tue, 20 Jul 2005". Retrieved 2009-06-21.  
  71. ^ Australia|April 30, 2008|Mekong nations to form rice price-fixing cartel
  72. ^ Post|May 1, 2008|PM floats idea of five-nation rice cartel
  73. ^ a b Charles J. Hanley (October 23, 2008). "`We blew it' on global food, says Bill Clinton". Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-01-15.  


  • Cox, P. G., S. Mak, G. C. Jahn, and S. Mot. 2001. Impact of technologies on food security and poverty alleviation in Cambodia: designing research processes. pp. 677–684 In S. Peng and B. Hardy [eds.] “Rice Research for Food Security and Poverty Alleviation.” Proceeding the International Rice Research Conference, 31 March–3 April 2000, Los Baños, Philippines. Los Baños (Philippines): International Rice Research Institute. 692 p.
  • Singer, H. W. (1997). A global view of food security. Agriculture + Rural Development, 4: 3-6. Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CTA).
  • von Braun, Joachim; Swaminathan, M. S.; Rosegrant, Mark W. 2004. Agriculture, food security, nutrition and the Millennium Development Goals (Annual Report Essay) Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Further reading

External links


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