70% of 1 Billion Who Are Chronically Hungry Are Farmers

Dispatches from The New York Times/Shell Oil 2012 Energy Summit titled Earth 2050: The Food Water Energy Nexus.

Eric Holt-Gimenez, Executive Director, FoodFirst Institute for Food and Development Policy, says that of the one billion people who are chronically hungry, 70% are farmers!

Now in the world of counterintuitive facts, that’s astounding.

Why? Among other reasons cited by Eric Holt-Gimenez, food grown in developed countries that heavily subsidize costs creates such a distorted market that small-scale farmers in developing countries can’t sell the food they grow for what it costs them to grow it.

He notes that: “70% of the food grown never crosses outside the borders of the country it was grown in, but the 30% that does gets exported ends up controlling the prices for the other 70% of locally-grown food.” These prices are set at levels that are devastatingly low for local growers.

FoodFirst research notes that: “While 91% of the planet’s 1.5 billion hectares of agricultural land are increasingly being devoted to agro-export crops, biofuels and transgenic soybean to feed cars and cattle, millions of small farmers in the Global South still produce the majority of staple crops needed to feed the planet’s rural and urban populations.”

Despite the onslaught of industrial farming, the persistence of thousands of hectares under traditional agricultural management documents a successful indigenous agricultural strategy of adaptability and resiliency. These pockets of traditional, small-scale agriculture have stood the test of time, and can still be found, almost untouched over a period of four thousand years, in the Andes, Meso-America, Southeast Asia and parts of Africa. They offer promising models of sustainability that promote biodiversity that thrive without agrochemicals and sustain year-round yields even under marginal environmental conditions.Contrast that to the state of food and food consumption in America.

Nicolette Hahn Niman, livestock rancher and author of Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Good Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farming, notes that:

“2/3 of Americans are overweight, we consume 500 more calories a day more than we did a just a decade ago, 40% of the food grown in the US is never consumed because it spoils, is wasted or fails to meet our aesthetic requirements.  Forty percent of the energy used in food production goes to fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, 20% of that energy is used in equipment. Eighty percent of antibiotics sold in America are used for animals.”

When Michael Pollan was asked about why local, organic, healthy food was so expensive he answered: “You either pay your grocer now or your doctor later.”

4 comments

  1. Sana Rafiq /

    I’m a little confused by your headline and wondering if it might be a mistake or editorial oversight.

    The article cites a report that says that of the 1 billion who are chronically hungry 70% of them are farmers (population = 1 billion who are hungry), whereas the headline says that 70% of farmers are chronically hungry (population = all farmers in the world). To me it seems that those are two entirely different statistics.

    • Alex Tursi /

      Thanks, Sana. Clarification: There are 1 billion who are chronically hungry, 70% of them are farmers, there are 700,000 chronically hungry farmers. I’ve made the change in the blog post.

  2. When small-scale farmers in developing countries can’t sell the food they grow for what it costs them to grow it, then they can be forced to look for other more lucrative unsustainable alternatives such as growing ilicit crops that ironicaly are mostly consumed in the developed countries.
    So the developed countries that heavily subsidize costs and by doing so devastate small-scale farmers in developing countries, they not only create more hunger, but also foster an international health and security problem.

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