Food Scarcity & Hunger
Azeem M. • HSB4U1 CPT • May 25, 2016
A shortage of food may happen when not enough food is produced, such as when crops fail due to drought, pests, or too much moisture. But the problem can also result from the uneven distribution of natural resource endowment for a country, and by human institutions, such as government and public policy (Tan, n.d.).
The Global Food Crisis
- Food prices have risen 83% on average compared with three years ago. As a result, many more people are going hungry or have to choose between food and other things that they need, like getting medical help or going to school.
- Because most people living in poverty spend 50-80% of their income on food, the rise in prices hits them hardest.
- Persistent hunger affects 854 million people around the world. The rise in prices is expected to push another 290 million people over the edge.
- In rural areas, landless labourers, nomadic pastoralists and women are the groups most severely affected.
- Even small-scale farmers face hunger, because many of them do not produce enough to satisfy all their needs.
Why is it happening?
- Climate change is a major cause. Extreme weather, including droughts,
floods and storms, have reduced crop yield in many parts of the world.
- The World Bank says the massive diversion of corn to produce ethanol in North America was a trigger for the rise in food prices.
- The rising cost of fossil fuels has risen costs of fertilizer and other inputs that farmers need.
- Lack of government investment in small-scale food production in recent decades has made it harder for farmers to take advantage of higher prices and produce more food.
Hunger in the World
Number of hungry people in the world
Almost all the hungry people, 780 million, live in developing countries, representing 12.9 percent, or one in eight, of the population of developing countries. There are 11 million people undernourished in developed countries.
Progress in reducing the number of hungry people
- There has been the least progress in the sub- Saharan region, where more than one in four people remain undernourished – the highest prevalence of any region in the world.
- Hunger continues to take its largest toll in Southern Asia, which includes the countries of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The estimate of 276 million undernourished people in 2014-2016 is only marginally lower than the number in 1990–1992.
- Eastern Asia (where China is the largest country) and South-eastern Asia (Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, etc.) have reduced undernutrition substantially.
- Latin America has the most successful developing region record in increasing food security.
- Children are the most visible victims of undernutrition.
- It is estimated that undernutrition - including fetal growth restriction, stunting, wasting, and deficiencies of vitamin A and zinc along with suboptimum breastfeeding - is a cause of 3.1 million child deaths annually or 45% of all child deaths in 2011 (Black et al. 2013).
- Undernutrition magnifies the effect of every disease, including measles and malaria. The estimated proportions of deaths in which undernutrition is an underlying cause are roughly similar for: diarrhea (61%), malaria (57%), pneumonia (52%), and measles (45%) .
Does the world produce enough food to feed everyone?
This growth in food availability along with improved access to food helped reduce the percentage of undernourished people in developing countries from 34% in the mid 1970s to only 15% three decades later. (FAO 2012, p. 4) The principal problem is that many people in the world still do not have sufficient income to purchase (or land to grow) enough food.
Dependency theory states that wealth flows from poor and underdeveloped countries to wealthier countries. Raúl Prebisch (1901-86), an Argentinian economist, formed the basis of the theory after conducting studies that suggested that economic activity in developed Western countries often led to serious economic problems in underdeveloped countries.
The economies and cultures of developing countries are distorted to meet the needs of developed countries. The terms of trade between developed, developing, and underdeveloped are unbalanced as well as unfair. This can be seen in the above charts, showing that there are an extraordinary amount of people who are hungry, and 98% of these people live outside of high-income countries. There can be a case made that poverty directly correlates with impoverishment.
Widespread malnutrition is one of the effects of this foreign dependency. Brazil is the second largest exporter of agricultural products, but 50 percent of its population is malnourished. Although Ethiopia has one of the largest populations of cattle in Africa, a majority of the population suffers from malnutrition and the government continues to export large numbers of cattle to the Middle East. Even during the peak of the 1985 famine, the government was sending dried meat to Egypt.
Through unequal economic relations with wealthy countries in the form of continued debts and foreign trade, poor countries continue to be dependent and unable to tap into their full potential for development.
Causes of Hunger
Harmful economic systems. A principal underlying cause of poverty and hunger is the ordinary operation of the economic and political systems in the world. Essentially control over resources and income is based on military, political, and economic power that typically ends up in the hands of a minority, the bourgeoisie, who live well, while those at the bottom, the proletariat, barely survive.
Climate change. Climate change is increasingly viewed as a current and future cause of hunger and poverty. Increasing drought, flooding, and changing climatic patterns requiring a shift in crops and farming practices that may not be easily accomplished are three key issues. Another key issue is the future of industrialization and higher standards of living, as the principal cause of climate change is the amount of carbon dioxide produced by high energy use.
Hunger in Canada
Millions of Canadians struggle to put food on the table
Author, University of Toronto nutritional sciences professor and leader of PROOF, a research project focusing on policy options to address food insecurity says, “Most people in Canada have no clue that this problem is so big and so serious and we need to raise awareness."
According to StatsCan annual community health surveys, some disturbing trends were found across the country. Canadians’ concerns about food have grown in every province and territory since 2002.
In 2012, Ontario and Alberta appeared to be faring better with about 12% of people facing worries about what to put on the dinner table. Rates rise in the Maritimes, such as 17.5% in Nova Scotia and 16.2% in Prince Edward Island. The northern territories also faced hardship – in Nunavut, 45% of Canadians encountered food scarcity and in the
N.W.T. it was one in five.
In 2012, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia also faced the highest levels of food insecurity since the federal government started monitoring the problem.
The breakdown by city revealed that Halifax had the highest incidence of food insecurity, with one in five households affected, followed by Moncton, then Guelph and Barrie, Ont.
“It appears that at a severe level at least, food insecurity leaves an indelible mark on children’s health,” Tarasuk said. Ten years later, they could be dealing with asthma, depression or other conditions. “This has a very toxic effect on people’s health,” she said.
Nunavut's Hunger Problem
Israel Mablick opens his fridge and sees very little to sustain his family. There is a small pot of leftover seal meat on the second shelf, next to a tub of margarine and a couple of slices of bread. There's juice, a bag of milk, some water and a carton of eggs, plus condiments and a small bag of shredded cheese.
"There's always been incidents of starvation," said Frank Tester, an Arctic historian at the University of British Columbia. One of the worst episodes occurred in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when a shift in caribou migration patterns caused widespread starvation in the southern interior of the Kivalliq Region to the west of Hudson Bay.
Food has always been expensive in the North. The population is relatively small and scattered across a vast region far from the major transportation hubs. Shipping costs are exorbitant — particularly in Nunavut, where there aren't any roads to connect the territory's communities to the rest of Canada.
The high cost of shipping food to the North put some items beyond the reach of many people. In an effort to make food more affordable, the federal government started the Northern Air Stage Program — better known as Food Mail — in the 1960s to subsidize shipping costs. The subsidy shifted to retailers when Nutrition North replaced Food Mail in 2011. The new program gives retailers a subsidy based on the weight of eligible foods shipped to eligible communities.
The cost of food has contributed to a palpable and growing sense of frustration across Nunavut. The catalyst for much of the angst was a Facebook group called "Feeding My Family." People started posting photos of shocking price tags in grocery stores. That grew into street protests — a rare show of Inuit defiance.
What can be done?
We need to...
- Encourage and support farmers who grow food in sustainable ways, both locally and internationally.
- Become more environmentally responsible to minimize the effects of climate change.
The government needs to...
- Provide urgent assistance to countries facing immediate food shortages.
- Move quickly to reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, and take leadership at the United Nations in forging a new post-Kyoto deal.
- Increase Canada's development assistance and use more of it to help small-scale farmers produce more food.
- Provide additional assistance to help poor countries adapt to climate change.