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Monday, 24 June, 2002, 08:47 GMT 09:47 UK
James Morris: World Food Programme
Select a link below to watch the Talking Point debate with James Morris, executive director of the World Food Programme.
The United Nations food summit in Rome has ended with a renewed pledge to end world hunger, but without a decision on how to achieve it.
The summit took place against the background of a worsening food crisis in southern Africa, with countries like North Korea and Afghanistan facing similar crises.
Critics say not enough cooperative effort is being made to improve the situation. Only two leaders from Western nations - Spain and Italy - attended this week's meeting.
The secretary-general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) condemned the West for ignoring the plight of the poor.
But there has also been criticism of Zimbabwe for rejecting 10,000 tons of corn that was not certified as free from genetic modifications, despite a quarter of the population suffering from food shortages.
Do you think we are doing enough to help fight world famine? Are government policy failures to blame? Should foreign aid donations be increased? And should starving nations accept GM crops?
We discussed world hunger on our global interactive phone-in programme broadcast online, on the BBC World Service and on Digital television in the UK. We were joined by James Morris, executive director of the World Food Programme.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Corrupt African regimes which are the direct cause of starvation can be changed if we in the West stop taking the best, brightest and richest people as refugees and skilled workers. These are the type of people best suited to topple corrupt regimes through democratic means or revolution.
All the evidence now indicates that future population growth is considerably overestimated and that crop yields continue to rise. In fifty years time mass hunger will be a memory. This will have been achieved quietly and with dignity by scientists and technologists working in free and open democracies without diversion by the incompetence of governments and the mass hysteria of political debate.
Most world hunger is caused by civil wars, despot governments and corrupt politicians. We already produce enough food worldwide to feed everyone. What we need to do is end all these causes with whatever means necessary and ignore the hypocritical liberals who condemn GM crops and protest about government intervention into foreign affairs. What is more important, national pride or saving millions of lives? Would your answer be the same if you were the one that was starving?
In the next 12 months, 4 million children will die from starvation, malnourishment and disease. That's 1 every 8 minutes - the time it takes you to read this page.
We know corrupt regimes have taken some of this money for themselves. Sort out the starving people first - send them products rather than money if necessary - then go after the people who have caused this. Because while we're all pontificating about the small print, people are dying.
Of course it can! Stop trashing the environment, stop with the ignorant GM hysteria, stop trashing food stocks, improve the process of distribution.
Hunger is rarely caused by a lack of food; the world already produces an excess to the extent that governments in the West have to artificially support the market price and encourage non-production.
Rather, it is a lack of wealth and/or political freedom that prevents the purchase of food, the instability of corrupt, dictatorial regimes, war, civil or otherwise, and the devastating economic effects produced by the West dumping foodstuffs at below market prices on the developed world whilst discouraging imports through tariffs.
Considering that 90% of all the grain in the western world goes to feeding cattle and other livestock, its no wonder that world hunger is in the state it is. It will only get worse as Third World nations adopt the resource-wasting western diet and habit for meat.
Khalid Rahim, Toronto Canada
Please listen to a Uganda guide in the Murchison National Park. "If the West gives money it must police it, if not it is stolen and people like me don't receive it." At the time a minister had misappropriated thousands of dollars intended to support wildlife projects. The guide had not been paid for weeks. To tackle global hunger requires all of us to put pressure on governments of the West to stop ignoring these issues. Hunger is a complex problem only well thought out plans that consider local issues can stand a chance to enable people to feed themselves.
Ever since I was a child I have sent money to end African hunger. There was Live Aid, Band Aid, Comic Relief, Save the Children, etc. When I asked my elders why the hungry were still hungry, they told me that greedy warlords kept the food from the people for political reasons. That's what I thought the US was trying to solve in Somalia - stop the warlords and the people will get the help we are willing to give them. However, that effort ended in disaster. Now I'm an adult with a nice income and I'm still willing to help Africans and any other starving people on earth. If someone would just tell me how to use that money in a way that will actually benefit needy people, I will donate gladly.
As I have recently returned from Malawi, Kasuugu, to be precise completing voluntary work, I saw firsthand a voluntary-run feeding programme. The World Food Programme will not be enough - they will need help from all sides. Education is the key to the problem - teach the members of the countries affected how to grow crops and more importantly how to manage the crop after you have harvested it. Firstly, you have to overcome corruption of the respective governments and the World Bank's thinking of having their debits returned from the African countries. I also strongly agree with Jason from the UK
Kaye Molloy, Amsterdam, Netherlands
In order to eliminate hunger, I believe the governments of the world, as well as the UN, must make a concerted, united effort to overcome the great social inequalities created by capitalism, and minimize their impact.
The deciding factor for famine has always been the amount of food available over the number of mouths it has to fill. China took the draconian measure of limiting each woman to having one child only and forbidding marriage until the age of 25. However, even that does not stop the pregnancies as one newspaper article exposed the infanticide of female babies in favour of male babies and the population is still three or four times too big to handle.
The other factor is corrupt governments who will only distribute wealth amongst the higher echelons and deprive their ethnic minorities of the mere basics such as food.
It is very possible to defeat world hunger if we can bring ourselves to do one simple thing: be more charitable. If every person on this planet can put away a little portion of his wealth for the less privileged, world hunger will become something unheard of.
Money is not the answer. The only way to solve these problems is to tackle the issue of corruption.
In Ethiopia there was a famine when the government said that it owned the land and it was not the people's land. In Zimbabwe the same thing is happening. The EU and the US are a joke - they say that they are going to impose smart sanctions. How smart are these sanctions if you let these people pillage our land?
I wonder if the leaders of famine-struck countries have downsized their military, given up their chauffeur-driven limousines stopped using their private swimming pools or even skipped lunch. I doubt it.
The IMF encourages the growth of cash crops because it is the only way that peasant farmers can break the cycle of subsistence poverty. Famine has rather more to do with
the cruelty, incompetence and idiotic social policies of African governments. Just take a look at Zimbabwe. Two years ago it was one of Africa's brightest economic stars, now it is a famine zone. All thanks to Mugabe's murderous and racist policies.
Steve Watt, London England
World hunger cannot be defeated as long as rich nations aren't caring. Western governments are too busy bothering themselves with their paranoid security concerns to open their eyes and realize millions of people in the world are starving. Our priorities need to be re-examined.
I think we should send food, clothes, medical supplies etc and not money. It appears to me that the people running those countries just seem to build up their armies and fill their bank accounts. I agree with the folk who say they should be taught to farm and I think they should plant trees that bear fruit and nuts. I can't understand why the authorities don't open factories. Lets face it, everybody needs furniture and other goods, not just us western folk. All countries need to manufacture goods, then we would have full employment and things would be cheaper. I know the greedy won't like that idea but there are more needy who would.
I am in no way surprised at the failure of the food summit in Italy. Preventing starvation will be a futile exercise until the corrupt and inept leaders of these nations are forced out first.
Seeing the likes of Robert Mugabe at the summit turns my stomach. The man should be held personally responsbile for the devastation in Zimbabwe and the same goes for every other African leader. They are all totally irresponsible and incompetent with no committment to the people that they govern. As for the poor turnout at the summit, governments around the world cannot take African politicians seriously, they are constantly looking for handouts and show nothing for it. If Mugabe for one re-invested his personal wealth as a sign of committment to the future of Zimbabwe and encouraged others to follow, then maybe they will be taken seriously. Africa is a sad example of the inability of it's indigenous people to prosper and thrive. Some areas were the bread-basket of Africa and look how they have managed to destroy it. It is pitiful and for the Western world to stand by and allow African politicians to remain in power for more than five years at a time is criminal.
Brandon Kutka, Chicago, USA
Isn't this gathering of world leaders a joke; as with other UN activities, we see world leaders thinking of themselves and being out of touch with the little people?
Why do you allow Mugabe to participate in this farce, when, by stopping the white farmers from effectively planting, he has been an indirect cause of this famine?
Leanne, Sydney, Australia
We will not begin to seriously tackle world hunger until the terms of trade with underdeveloped countries are radically altered to allow them access to our markets. Until the West starts to view investment in the Third World as a partnership, not as a means of financial exploitation, the Third World will continue to suffer while we benefit from the hardship of their lives in the form of cheap imports.
World hunger could be defeated if we stopped spending billions of pounds on circuses like the World Cup and on absurdities such as developing countries spending billions on arms for no apparent reason. I, for one, have stopped giving to charities because as long as charities do the work that the governments of developing countries should be doing we will never get rid of the problem.
World hunger can be ended but it's going to have to be done with sound, realistic, stable economic and agricultural policy. Nothing else will do.
I would be more than happy to donate a portion of my small salary, if I was confident that my money would go to the people who need it. I do not however, wish to line the pockets of some greedy politician or finance an oppressive regime.
Western efforts to shift blame on the policies of third world nations tend to distract attention from the fact that many of the most damaging policies are those imposed by the IMF and World Bank: restructuring economy for export (to raise hard currency to pay back loans) rather than for feeding people. True: many governments have adopted policies harmful to their people, but before the West blames them for it, shouldn't we at least stop encouraging them?
In Zimbabwe in January I drove past what was once enormous fields of wheat and maize, but was now land overgrown with weeds. This situation is a direct result of Mugabe's land-grab. The commercial farmers in that area had built a huge dam and irrigation system years ago, and were able to produce good crops come rain or drought. They are no longer allowed to farm.
It seems to me that there are two major causes of famine, often found together. Firstly, increasing populations in areas which are marginal for human populations. This includes areas prone to floods or frequent droughts. Secondly, bad government which includes states which borrowed large amounts of capital from western banks to build 'prestige' projects, and governments who start wars either externally or internally. The first of these is a consequence of technological and economic development, and is perhaps the more tractable of the two. The second is an unpleasant facet of human nature which is showing no signs of declining. I accept that the first world could do more to alleviate both of these problems by providing more aid and fewer guns, but in the end the people living in these areas must also bear some of the responsibility.
R Callister, UK
I think that if all the money, that is supposed to be for these undeveloped countries, would have arrived properly the problem might be solved in some way but that's not the reality. Of course every government of each country has responsibilities in this aspect and they should take more care of the people instead of thinking all the time in themselves. If they have the "power" to do it why don't they try?
It is quite amazing to see that about 90% of respondents to this issue is from the West.
This is some indication that the Western world is concerned about the issue. It is my belief that the problem of hunger can be solved if all people in authority can regard it a god given duty
to mankind to do what is right in their line of authority to make sure that every living person gets at least food to eat; not riches. Believe me, this is all it takes. Let us think about it!
Sedinam Akpedonu, Ghana
It is one thing for Africa to fail to produce hi-tech goods, but failing to feed itself is simply shameful. It is important to note that the Southern African countries on the brink of mass starvation are the ones with some of the best agricultural assets in Africa - i.e. very fertile soils, plenty of fresh water, including very well trained manpower, and a hard working peasantry. Governments simply need to throw in their part-correct policies.
We are fortunate enough to live in a time when we are on the edge of the scientific breakthroughs needed to revolutionise world farming. GM crops and clean safe energy in enormous amounts will soon be available safely and cheaply to all, the only real question is whether we have the bravery to overcome our neo-Luddite tendencies and move forward into the future.
Craig Harry, England
Although population explosion is a genuine factor for the persistence of poverty and hunger, the crux of the problem lies in such eternal qualities like corruption and greed. A hundred years back Bengal had half the population as of today. Yet it suffered two back to back famines that left thousands dead. Indeed most of the famines are man made. The same goes for the African countries. From autocracy to democracy, poverty continues to be the constant scourge. It is futile to criticize the West or the efforts of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, for mere aid is hardly the solution. The fault lies in the very system of the society.
World hunger will not be defeated as long as the governments that allow their people to starve exist. It is a travesty to send food aid to countries in famine and starvation, when the only people to reap any of the benefits of the food given in charity, in most cases, are those with connections to the corrupt government officials. Quit wasting good food on countries that won't give it to its people.
All the people who are complaining that developing countries should limit their population should consider why people in these countries have such large families. Many people in the developing world are farmers, and so they need many children to work the land and grow crops, and also to provide care in old age. The poor availability of contraceptives is another problem. Instead of forcing these countries to limit the number of children born per family, we should redistribute wealth from the richer to the poorer world. Remember the saying "there is enough in the world for everyone's need, but not everyone's greed." Family size is well known to be associated with level of development, so as countries become socially, industrially and economically more advanced, family sizes will fall, just as what happened throughout Europe after the advent of the industrial revolution.
The main cause of starvation in the "Third World" is the fact that powerful capitalist entities such as "The International Monetary Fund" (IMF) and the World Bank have their greedy claws on those countries' finances.
Poorer countries are forced to grow cash crops to pay off their crippling debts to the western bankers. African farmers grow flowers that appear on restaurant tables in the west, instead of growing edible crops to feed the starving. Putting an end to the Third World debt (which most countries have paid off in interest three times over) will end the problem of starvation. I find the people here who say we should allow these innocent people to die because of the population growth quite nauseating.
To solve the problem of world hunger, we must look at the root causes: lack of economic freedom and stability with the various countries. With a stable government and society, combined with economic freedom, prosperity will become achievable.
"Kaz, USA, via UK" you blame capitalism? Take a closer look at the fundamentally Socialist/dictatorial alternative you recommend. In order to achieve your aims, the state must have overwhelming power to force "conservation, compassion, and common sense" a level of power that always is corrupted over time. Vast majority of those suffering from hunger and poverty today are doing so under Marxist/socialist regimes, all powerful dictators or self proclaimed "monarchies". The most poor and hungry on Earth are living under leaders who have ample power and resources for doing good, but instead they ever so often choose a darker more selfish path. Your solutions will lead to the very thing that will bring more poverty and hunger, not less. Secular democracy with a solid bill of rights, true freedom, and yes, capitalism are a proven, albeit imperfect combination for promoting beneficial change.
Kaz, USA, via UK
Put simply, no.
If you address the current problem, by whatever means, a constraining limit on population will be removed and the world population will grow until the constraint manifests itself again.
The only answer is to impose an artificial population constraint which will kick in before nature's own. Sadly, nobody seems prepared to do this and some religious groups even continue to preach just the opposite.
In the last hundred years the population has gone from one billion to five billion because food has become cheaper and more abundant. If you increase production at the expense of the environment, the population will simply increase at a higher rate. Poor countries need to control their population or there is nothing anyone can do, regardless of how many silly protests the left has.
Peoples who live under conditions of tyranny will never be able to feed themselves. Food without freedom and democratic institutions that guarantee opportunity will only increase their numbers and exacerbate their starving.
God's earth provides enough to feed everyone, but greed dishonesty and politics prevents everyone getting enough by ensuring that some get far more than they need and prices being kept high by wastage. GM isn't the answer: justice is.
Unfortunately this is highly unlikely to happen because the demands of "economic growth" require burgeoning populations in order to create more consumers. The fact that many of these are unable to feed themselves without external aid is simply ignored, along with the environmental consequences of this insane and unsustainable policy.
Of course it can! There is plenty of food on the planet! But no one seems to care do they? Twenty four thousand people die of starvation every day and Blair and Bush do not even bother to attend the UN summit. I would be personally willing to have a tax on hunger on my salary, with the money used to feed the starving people. We have so much, how can we be so selfish?
We are the fourth richest country in the world. If we can't help others, then who can we help?
There is nothing wise and good about allowing the world's population to keep increasing (if anything we should be looking at a reduction to no more than 1 billion, not supporting an increase towards 7+ billion). To do so threatens the balance of life in the world.
Short-sighted compassion is being placed before pragmatism, and in saving a few we are condemning billions to a long slow death when the system collapses under its own weight.
Of course not!
I think very few of us are doing enough to help fight world famine! I believe that the governments of the so-called
"developed" countries(how can anyone be called "developed" when we still live in a world where many people die of hunger?)
do very little to relieve the people from their sufferings.
Definitely all foreign aid donations should be increased, but at the same time I think there should be a co-ordinated effort to help develop the infrastructure of these countries, so that they can soon stand on their own feet, without the occasional "handouts" from the West, which actually sustain the existing problem.
As a race, humans can achieve anything if we all work together. We are taught to do team projects at school or work because it is often the best way of achieving a task. Yet on a global scale we don't do this. I think the main hurdle to global teamwork are the world's governments. They are showing the wrong kind of leadership. This problem can be solved but it is frustrating to think that it will not be solved in our lifetimes.
Of course we are not doing enough to help fight world famine. The most important thing is not how much we should donate but how to use the resource donated currently. We should stop the resources from being wasted as they are at present.
Not unless third world countries control their population explosion. It makes absolutely no sense for people in third world countries who can barely feed themselves to have so many children.
Widespread hunger won't ever be solved when even the destructive energy-intensive form of agriculture is racing to keep up with population growth. A sustainable world population is probably a third of today's.
Vast areas of Africa should be the most productive agricultural continent on the planet. Instead, through incompetence and corruption by just about all the African governments (with just a few pitiful exceptions), vast areas of the continent can't even feed themselves! If we (in the prosperous West) want to do anything about the underlying problem, we have to interfere politically, economically and, yes, even militarily. By simply providing aid we are subsidizing ineptitude and perpetuating the problem. Unfortunately, it's cheaper to "throw aid" at the problem than really deal with it.
There is a common myth that the world does not produce enough food to feed everyone. This is a lie, there is more than enough food, it's just the management of resources that causes starvation. The biggest cause of famine is the IMF. They insist that third world countries produce cash crops to export to the west at bargain prices. When in reality they should be encouraged to produce food to feed their own people.
Still as long as there's enough people alive to sell arms to, I'm sure the west will be happy.
I think we are doing more than enough to fight world hunger, and we simply cannot go on spending billions of dollars from our taxes trying to help the six countries most at risk, when to be honest, 99% most of their problems are caused by corrupt governments. At the end of the day, these countries must help themselves, instead of expecting richer nations to keep on helping them, year after year, decade after decade. Charles Darwin had a word for it - it's called survival of the fittest.
Hunger may well disappear from the poor countries of the world if their governments are serious enough to want to tackle the problem. A country like India has a food surplus, but millions in that country still do not have enough to eat. To crown it all, its government now wants to export more food, which EU countries are keen to buy. If such short sighted free market ideology is allowed to determine policy making in these matters, the world may never be rid of hunger.
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