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How to Feed the World

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It's been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy spoke of ending world hunger, yet on the eve of World Food Day, Oct. 16, the situation remains dire. The question "How will we feed the world?" implies that we have no choice but to intensify industrial agriculture, with more high-tech seeds, chemicals and collateral damage. Yet there are other, better options.

Something approaching a billion people are hungry, a number that's been fairly stable for more than 50 years, although it has declined as a percentage of the total population.

"Feeding the world" might as well be a marketing slogan for Big Ag, a euphemism for "Let's ramp up sales," as if producing more cars would guarantee that everyone had one. But if it worked that way, surely the rate of hunger in the United States would not be the highest percentage of any developed nation, a rate closer to that of Indonesia than of Britain.

The world has long produced enough calories, around 2,700 per day per human, more than enough to meet the United Nations projection of a population of nine billion in 2050, up from the current seven billion. There are hungry people not because food is lacking, but because not all of those calories go to feed humans (a third go to feed animals, nearly 5 percent are used to produce biofuels, and as much as a third is wasted, all along the food chain).

The current system is neither environmentally nor economically sustainable, dependent as it is on fossil fuels and routinely resulting in environmental damage. It's geared to letting the half of the planet with money eat well while everyone else scrambles to eat as cheaply as possible.   


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