Your Action Is Needed To Help Stop The Starving

OK, Greenpa has a post up talking about how we need action to bring about some political change to stop the starving that is occurring around the world.  It’s not just happening in isolated cases, but also in a lot of places that weren’t having problems before.  Great compilation of news stories so go over and read it.

When I read all these stories I wonder to myself how these people get into these situations.  If they are so hungry why don’t they get some plants and plant them?  I don’t understand why the people are looking to their government to help them instead of making a solution themselves.  Why is that?  I can’t figure it out.

We have the same thing going on here in America.  People are hungry but the idea to grow some of their own food never crosses their mind.  Why is that?

All these news stories talk and talk and talk about all the reasons that we’re having all this mass hysteria about food and shortages and riots.  Why is that?  They say it’s because people are eating too much meat (true) or because food is being used to make fuel for cars instead of people (true).  It’s because there are droughts (true) and because the prices have gone up and some of the more poor groups can’t afford to buy it (true).

Why isn’t there any mention of overpopulation?  Why is there never any mention of how these local economies have sold themselves out for the export money (at our behest) and thus have lost the ability to be self sufficient with their agriculture?  Why doesn’t anyone mention that Bangladesh is the same size as Wisconsin or Arkansas but they have either 30 times or 75 times as many people as those two states?  Is that sustainable?  There never seems to be an mention of how badly the politicians in those countries have managed their countries.  There’s never any blame on the people themselves for allowing their food security to become so compromised.

Greenpa speculates in his blog post that financial traders could be the cause of some of the price increases.  He’s right, people speculate and “invest” in the food markets all the time, and have for a long time.  Do we need to get rid of it?  I don’t know.  It would seem like the prudent thing to do would be to keep food supplies out of the arena of speculators.   Of course, without the commodity exchanges and these “speculators” our food supplies would be completely local and we wouldn’t ever see food being exchanged around the world.

I think the repercussions from that would be much, much worse than what the world is seeing now.


11 responses to “Your Action Is Needed To Help Stop The Starving

  1. “When I read all these stories I wonder to myself how these people get into these situations. If they are so hungry why don’t they get some plants and plant them? I don’t understand why the people are looking to their government to help them instead of making a solution themselves. Why is that? I can’t figure it out.”

    They tried. And that’s the cause of the problem. They wanted to grow food, so they cut down forests to make space for it, which made their land less fertile, so they had to cut down more forests, and…

    If you have google maps, go check out the Haiti-Dominican Republic border. You’ll see something: on the Haiti side, no forests, on the DR side, forests. That Haitians are eating chunks of mud and Dominicans are eating food is no coincidence.

    You ask, why don’t they feed themselves? Well, they tried. This is how it goes.

    I’m a farmer with an acre on the edge of a forest. On my acre I have a vegie garden, a potato or wheat field, maybe a pig or some chickens. I produce just enough to feed your family. Then a school opens in the area, with a fee of $100 annually per child. Wow, wouldn’t it be great if I could educate my kids? Then they could go to the capital and get jobs there, have a better life, and maybe look after their old mum and dad in their old age. But I have no spare cash, I only grow just enough food to feed my family.

    Rightyo, I’ll just cut down half an acre of that forest. I can sell the timber and firewood, and grow more crops there. With the money from that, I can send my kids to school.

    Bugger, everyone else has done it, too! No we have much less forests. Oh well, it’s no big deal if we don’t have much forests, is it? Isn’t crop land more important? Didn’t those nice foreigners tell us we should try to feed ourselves? And didn’t the government say we shouldn’t be freeloaders, and should take care of ourselves? Alright, clear the damn trees.

    Damn, the rains came early this year. They washed away my crops. Ten years ago when the forest was up there, the trees used to hold the water in the land, and they provided all sorts of leaves and wild animal poo and stuff to fertilise my land. But with them gone, the rains just washed the crops away, and the topsoil, too. The fertile soil’s gone.

    Oh well, there’ll be more fertile soil in the forest! We’ll just move the house a hundred yards up the hill, clear some more forests and start again. No worries, right?

    Hmm, actually maybe the logging is a bad idea. Maybe we should get the villagers together to stop it! We could plant more trees than we cut down. But… a foreign logging company has come in, and the government won’t listen to our petitions. We’re pretty sure some money changed hands. Also the guys from the next village whose farms all washed away in the storm, they’re logging here, too, just to get cash to live. So… whatever we do, someone is going to log the land.

    Oh dear, Haiti has now gone from 60% forest cover in 1925 to less than 1% today. Hmmm. No big deal, is it? Except… most of the topsoil is gone. The land is no longer fertile. Oh well, time to give up on this farming business and head to the city and see if I can find work.

    What’s this? There are already a million others here in shantytowns. Damn. Well, I’m angry! The government told me to try to get wealthier, and I tried, but we’re still poor! And when we tried to plant more trees to fix our mistake, corrupt officials let just anybody cut down our trees! And now here I am in the city and there’s nothing for me! Not even a place to plant a potato.

    Time for riot, revolution and civil war. I’m hungry! My baby is hungry! There’s some bastard with too much land, it’s growing lots, I’ll just take his crops instead.

    Hmmm, funnily enough riot, revolution and civil war, prompted by lack of food, these turn out to be bad for food growing…

    And there you have it, pretty much.

    Over in the Dominican Republic the dictator for some reason was fond of forests, he went around executing people who did illegal logging.

    Thus, Haiti has under $2,000 pc GDP, DR $10,000; Haiti an HDI of 0.53 or so, DR 0.78; and while DR has a high rich-poor gap as measured by Gini Index of 53, Haiti’s is worse at 59. [Figures all from memory, check ’em if they sound crazy.]

    I mean, the Dominican Republic is no paradise. They’ve had coups, military governments, civil conflict – but at least nobody’s eating chunks of mud in the Dominican Republic. Why? They kept their forests.

    Really the issue is not population. A tenth the population would just take ten times as long to cut down all the forests and go hungry, but it’d still happen in the end. What matters is the lifestyle they choose, the way they try to solve their problems, whether they just cut down, or cut down and regrow.

    And Haiti’s experience really is an excellent example for the West. After all, trees can always be replanted and grow back. Oil, coal, natural gas and so on won’t – once you burn ’em, they’re gone forever.

    That’s the thing about population – it’s not how big it is, it’s what you do with it. Reduce the world’s population by 95% overnight, leaving just Australia and the US, and change nothing else, and we’ll still whack past a dangerous level of climate change.

  2. overpopulation is kind of the elephant in the room when it comes to green discussions. Religion, tradition, and plain old biological drive make it a very sticky subject.

    since the “first world” consumes the most, it should stand to reason that we need to look at # of consumers as well as per capita consumption.

    People get unnecessarily defensive, its kind of like bringing a vegetarian home for dinner.

  3. I’m not sure how you can read what I just wrote and then talk about “overpopulation”. If you make your country into a desert, then any population above zero is too much. If you make your country into a green and productive land, it can sustain a remarkably high population.

    Population – it’s not how big it is, it’s what you do with it.

  4. Matt,

    You have escaped a mindset that as a society we’ve been teaching our children for a long time, that we are consumers not citizens who both consume and produce. You have escaped the metal monkey trap. Many others have not.

  5. I’m with Kyle – I actually think that almost all of these reports do mention overpopulation. What they don’t mention is that 30 Bangladeshis together still can’t eat as much grain as one American guy who likes his burgers and eats CAFO meat and chicken.

    The “no one talks about overpopulation” narrative annoys the heck about me – bullhockey. People talk about overpopulation all the time. The problem is we talk about it stupidly – as though large populations in the poor world were equivalent to rich world consumption. It doesn’t matter if the Kenyans have 5 kids – they still won’t use as much energy as 1/4 of an American.

    Nor do we mention that worldwide TFRs are falling – rapidly. Bangladesh has become a rhetorical trick – yes, it is densely populated. So is Japan. The problem is that it is poor and densely populated – and when we talk about population this way, we end up implying that the one thing poor people have access to – something that improves their lives in the short term, if not the long one – is children. In much of poor South Asia, a child contributes more to the household than they eat by the time they are six. By 12, they may make a full, nearly adult contribution. If a woman in India who gets no social security wants to have a child grow up and be sure to have one be alive when she turns 60, she has to have five children – because so many will die young.

    We do talk about population. We just talk about it so very badly.


  6. The other thing I just would add is that most poor people do grow food – the vast majority of the world’s poor are rural farmers with insufficient land to feed themselves and sell a surplus. Even in cities, food production is a norm all over the poor world.

    The problem is that even if you grow sweet potatoes and raise chickens in urban Laos, you still need to eat rice – and that means land access. And the poor of the world lack land for the same reason American poor people do – they can’t afford it – because land is kind of desirable – and more and more so when you need to eat.

    I think you may misunderstand why some people focus on rich world behaviors, rather than poor world contributions to their own tragedies. It isn’t that we absolve anyone of responsibility, or condescendingly say they are too foolish to be blamed, it is that in the order of evils, powerful people preying on the weak and vulnerably is generally considered a bigger sin than the weak and vulnerable treating each other badly.

    I think you are also taking Greenpa’s proposal too far – limiting food speculation need not close down all markets, any more than limiting war profiteering closes down all markets. We regulate markets all the time.


  7. Population is never mentioned by anyone other than mostly fringe publications, or if it’s a mainstream publication it’s so they can point to certain parties and say there are too many of them.

    The fact of the matter is that there are too many of everyone. There are too many of us and too many Bangledeshies (sp??) and too many Japanese and too many (insert whoever you want now). But when population is talked about it’s to point at poor people.

    I think there is serious validity to the idea that the land controls how successful you are. But, America and Europe are mostly deforested and we’re OK. I think the difference there is a difference in soil type and importance of the trees.

    Worldwide hunger is a result of crappy governance, rich countries stealing and over consuming, poor decision on land management, population, over production of certain crops, speculation in the markets, poor infrastructure investment, poor long term planning, IMF and World Bank stealing from poorer countries and maybe 10 other things.

    You can’t say it’s just one thing. Well, one other thing you could say is that it’s happening because of expectations and cultural norms. I remember reading this recently and the author mentions that sometimes you have to think rethink your norms to fit a new paradigm.

    Perhaps these cultures should figure out how to make these grain crops less important in their food supply. They expect that they will always be able to import the grain crop they want. Less than 100 years ago that was mostly unheard of.

  8. Commented too quickly…

    My main point is that it isn’t just one thing leading to this problem, but many. Closing out speculation might help, but I wouldn’t expect it to bring prices down much more than 10-15%. Making the dollar stronger would help but I don’t see that we’re going to see that anytime soon. So, what left but to give them some emergency aid and try to hope for the best.

    I read an article recently also that mentioned that one factor in these violent protests is that these people are boiling over because they have no other reasonable means of expressing their outrage, not just for the food situation but for their whole lives and political process. Essentially, since they have no voice in their government they explode into violent protests.

    There are a ton of factors here. Market speculation is just one of them.

  9. What I meant, and sorry if this correction is too late in the game was the discussion of first world overpopulation. How do you explain to your semi well to do (or at least in a comfortable margin of debt) neighbor that just because you can doesn’t mean you should have 5 kids.

    It gets stickier when people ask why we didn’t just “have kids of our own” instead of adopting. There is no way to explain our position without the possibility that the questioner will get defensive. Though my wife and I had somewhat different primary motiviations for adopting, both of those reasons have a tendency to make others stop and give pause. We’re far from saints, and it irritates me that people pass us off as committing to this unattainable, difficult standard, so that they can go about their “normal” lives, never considering how they might be a part of the solution because its something “they thought about, but could never do it.”

    And if I can close this post with a public service message…

    Before you consider having children of your own, consider the likely millions who are without parents, or proper care. Our lifestyles and ability to turn a blind eye to war, disease and poverty make orphans every second. Many of them right in our own neighborhoods. Just as putting an ear of corn in the gas tank puts food prices out of reach for millions. Excluding yourself from the possibility of foster or adoptive parenting ensures another child will not get the life they deserve.

    This cuts to the quick for so many, especially those who already have children, but now that we all know what we know now, shouldn’t the possibility of redefining what is a “normal family” bear more than a passing thought?

    I know this got more rant-ish than I intended, but there is a solution to the population problem that does not involve turning a blind eye while billions starve in the malthusian gambit. Granted, short term it may be unavoidable, but there is a way out of this in the long term.

  10. BTW, Kory, I agree with you about the merits of adoption (yes, I have biological children, but was raised with foster siblings and our family will probably adopt). I would, however, note that adoption is not a solution to overpopulation. Statistically speaking, both in the poor and rich world, people tend to have the reproductive average plus one – that is, let’s say you give up a child for adoption. That doesn’t mean you’ll never want to have children again – generally speaking, the adopted child operates as an additional child – sometimes consciously, as in China where girls and disabled boys are discarded so that parents can have a more desired biological child, or in America, where the removal of children from families doesn’t mean that the parents are likely to stop whatever behaviors led to the removal – and those behaviors generally do lead to an increased risk of pregnancy.

    So no, it isn’t any kind of a fix for the population problem, good as it is in other ways.


  11. While I certainly don’t question that the behaviours of those who havc children taken from them (or give them up) is not likely to change. What I advocate is the place of adoption for those who desire children. Being male no doubt means my “clock” so to speak does not tick as loudly, but if those who “can” adopt, do adopt, then there is a myriad of benefits both potentially direct and indirectly affecting population numbers. Firstly there is a great possibility that the net potential population growth does not increase. While those who do have their children removed from the home will most likely continue to have more children, if experience is a teacher, these individuals have numerous children in any event.

    The indirect effect is that the tone of the social fabric changes. The more people realize they can be a part of the solution to orphaned abused and neglected children there are, the more likely people are to realize there is a greater problem of population overall, and the more likely people are to realize they can be a part of any solution we face.

    Yes the immediate gains are theoretical and cynically slim, and its just one pebble in the jar, but isn’t every action just one pebble in a jar?

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