“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”
I will write this post in first person as I happened to work in restaurant for a while. No one had to show me the numbers, sadly I remember what I saw: at least 40% of the food we served -during my shift only- was thrown away. Food in perfect conditions, that sometimes had been barely touched. Straight to the trash. I remember I never felt so powerless in my life, thinking about all those people that aren’t able to eat, sometimes for days. Us, so abundant, so wealthy, we go out for a bite and never even stop to think were that food came from or where is going after is removed from our candle-lighted table. This experience -stronger than any other I had before- upset me, and got me thinking about our whole “food system”.
Since the beginning of times, man has devised apocalyptic theories, commonly driven by collective fear, trumpeting catastrophes and even extinction of the human race. The Malthusian catastrophe, one of those theories, inspired the Green Revolution starting in the 1930s, continuing most markedly from the late 1960s. Technological advances during World War II accelerated innovation in all aspects of agriculture, specially mechanization, fertilization and pesticides. This Green Revolution encouraged the development of hybrid plants, chemical controls, large-scale irrigation, and heavy mechanization in agriculture all over the world, and despite sustainable agriculture being a topic of scientific interest during the 1950s, new chemical approaches were mainstream. The Malthusian catastrophe became the corner stone of modern agriculture. Food security became the greatest propaganda that big food corporations would use to favor their cause.
Under the Malthusian premise, GMOs and industrialized ways of production became the hopeful solution of future food security. The premise of the Green Revolution was to end the specter of hunger, feed the world. However, this way of production actually threatens both food sovereignty and food security. Let’s briefly expose here the most visible “achievements” of the Green Revolutions and its and paradigm shift in agricultural production.
- Every year, 20 times more kilograms of topsoil are lost than kilograms of food produced. Soil and biodiversity depletion, deforestation, these are the result of monoculture -predominantly 4 crops, soya, maize, palm oil and sugar cane- and the excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides. Even more, waste from feedlots and fertilizers overnourish water, thus causing weeds to prevent biodiversity. On the other hand, pesticides, antibiotics and hormones –these last ones used at factory farms- get into drinking water and endanger human health.
- Green Revolution has favored industrial agriculture, which has been more functional to the production of commodities than feeding the people. Furthermore, this industrialized and subsidized agriculture collaborated with the artificial cheapness of food, at the expenses of reduced variety and quality.
- Industrial agriculture has caused the displacement of house and farm gardens, which not only represents a dramatic lost in important food crops, but it also wiped out the “self-sufficient” concept from at least two entire generations. Agriculture has become a monopoly in the hands of a few companies that control the patents of seeds used for planting.
Yet again, we find our-selves in the middle of arguments about the necessity of implementing a second, a third, a forth… Green Revolution. However, reality might be a little bit uncomfortable, and far more complicated, for these quarrels.
By 2011, a FAO report showed that only in Europe and North America 95 to 115kg of food are wasted per capita each year, while in countries from Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa comes to 6-11kg/year. Even though food loses are as high in developed as in developing countries, the later ones lose more than 40% of production during harvesting and processing stage, while developed countries food-loss is more than 40% during retail and household consumption. Furthermore, and this is truly shocking, developed countries waste almost the same amount of food (nearly 222 million tons) that Sub-Sahara African countries produce (230 million tons).
At the same time, world’s obese population it’s close to double those that go hungry. The Good Enough to Eat index of Oxfam offers shocking statistics – recently driven from eight global data sources including the World Health Organization- where one out five people in the world is obese, whereas one in nine suffer from chronic undernourishment. It’s interesting noticing the distribution: 904 million adults and 30 million children considered overweight, live in developing countries, whereas in developed countries there are about 557 and 10 million respectively.
Suggesting that other Green Revolutions are needed to overcome hunger is over simplistic and it responds to specific economic interests. As shown, food production and food security are complex phenomena, with great interdependency between its variables. Why food matters? Because food production affects the environment, health, distribution of wealth, and inequality both social and economic.
Therefore, it could be said that a great deal of the food insecurity challenge comes to a matter of proper distribution of resources and know how. This is about logistic, but it’s also an economic and political matter, in terms of how means of production are distributed. We have enough resources (both material and natural), what is lacking is concrete political decisions to change the way food and food production is conceived. Reducing hunger it’s more than just increasing the quantity of food, it is also about increasing the quality of food in terms of diversity, nutrient content and safety. Likewise, patronizing redistribution of land to small farmers, encouraging crop diversification, preventing seed patenting, hybrids and the monopoly of production. Ideally, a more democratic way of food production should be our aim.
In this process, we cannot disregard our cultural and educational background. We are still thinking about food revolution but instead what we really need is an educational revolution, specially regarding consumption. More or less, we’ve been immersed in a educational system (which includes a whole system of beliefs) based in an industrialized conception of life for over a century. It was design to serve Industrialization. It is time to find a different approach if we want to be able to change anything, if we really want to “save the world and feed the poor”.