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The World Food Crisis. Fred Magdoff 1.) There is a catastrophic food crisis. 2.) In addition to “routine” hunger. 3.) It is interacting with a longer term underlying food crisis and making it worse. A Broad Overview. Total world population = 6 billion people.

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The World Food Crisis

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The world food crisis

The World Food Crisis

Fred Magdoff

The world food crisis

1.) There is a catastrophic food crisis.

2.) In addition to “routine” hunger.

3.) It is interacting with a longer term underlying food crisis and making it worse.

The world food crisis

A Broad Overview

Total world population = 6 billion people

In cities = 3 billion people

In rural areas = 3 billion people

The world food crisis

The Wretched of the Earth

  • 3 billion live on less than $2 per day

  • 1 billion live on less than $1 per day

  • 1 billion live in slums

  • 25 million per year migrate to cities

  • 1 billion have no access to clean water

  • 2 billion have no electricity

  • 2.5 billion have no sanitation systems

The world food crisis


  • The UN estimates that 840 million people suffer from undernourishment, although the number may be considerably higher.

  • The number suffering from mineral shortages, food insecurity and temporary food shortage may approach 3 billion.

The world food crisis

Hunger amid plenty in the U.S.

  • In 4 million U.S. families (with 9 million people) someone skipped meals because of lack of food.

  • 12 million U.S. families (with about 34 million people) are “food insecure.”

  • Huge increases in the last decade in those using food pantries, food shelves, soup kitchens, etc.

The world food crisis

Hunger frequently occurs amid plenty in poor countries too

Poor in India Starve as Surplus Wheat Rots(New York Times, 12/12/02)

Want Amid Plenty, An Indian Paradox: Bumper Harvests and Rising Hunger

(Wall St. Journal, 6/25/04)

The world food crisis

There is enough food produced world wide—and usually within most countries—to feed everyone.

The world food crisis

Why are people hungry?

Because they are poor (working or not) and living in an economic system that

a) needs, creates, and maintains an underclass, and that

b) does not admit a “right” to basic necessities such as food.

The world food crisis

The availability of food to people reflects very unequal economic and political power relationships within and between countries.

The world food crisis

Percent of total national income (2001)












The world food crisis

Household distribution of net worth in the United States (2001)

Percent of families

Top 1%

Top 5%

Top 10%

Top 20%

Bottom 80%

Bottom 40%

Percent of net worth







The world food crisis

The Current Crisis

Bangladeshi demonstrators protest over high food prices and low wages

The world food crisis

Haiti’s President Tries to Halt Crisis Over Food

April 10, 2008

The police in Haiti struggled Wednesday to control looting and rioting over high food prices…

The world food crisis

Food Inflation, Riots Spark Worries for World Leaders

— Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2008

The world food crisis

Rioting in response to soaring food prices recently has broken out in Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ethiopia. In Pakistan and Thailand, army troops have been deployed to deter food theft from fields and warehouses. World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned in a recent speech that 33 countries are at risk of social upheaval because of rising food prices. Those could include Indonesia, Yemen, Ghana, Uzbekistan and the Philippines. In countries where buying food requires half to three-quarters of a poor person's income, "there is no margin for survival," he said.

The world food crisis

The price of rice, the core of the Bangladeshi diet, has jumped by more than 30 percent since then — a major problem in a country where nearly half the population survives on less than $1 a day.

The world food crisis

An adviser to the country's Ministry of Food, A.M.M. Shawkat Ali, warned of a 'hidden hunger' in Bangladesh and economists estimate 30 million of the country's 150 million people could go hungry — a crisis that could become a serious political problem for the military-backed government.

The world food crisis

"Inflation of staples is really out of control. We've never seen this before…If we don't react now, this summer will be full of danger.”

—WFP representative Gian Carlo Cirri

The world food crisis

The world's poor ``are living very close to the edge as it is…If they are pushed further, they are typically the first who will spark unrest.'’

— Robert Zeigler, director-general of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.

The world food crisis

Rising prices threaten millions with starvation, despite bumper crops

The Independent (UK)

Sunday, 2 March 2008

There has never been anything remotely like the food crisis that is now increasingly gripping the world, threatening millions with starvation. For it is happening at a time of bumper crops.

The world food crisis






The world food crisis

Effects in U.S. are less than in poor countries

Ingredients are small part of price of highly processed foods.

In U.S. people have higher incomes and spend less a % of their income on food.

The world food crisis

Causes of Current Crisis

The world food crisis

But it’s not just ethanol: also problems with biodiesel primarily from soybeans and oil palm

The world food crisis

  • Increase in fuel prices(“biofuels” plus food system is VERY energy intensive).

  • Increase in meat consumption(Per capita consumption has more than doubled in last 50 years.)

  • Formerly self-sufficient countries now importing food.

  • Weather(Australia, Bangladesh)

  • Speculation(local hoarding as well as speculation in the “commodities super cycle.”)

The world food crisis

Governmental Responses

Emergency imports

Eliminating import duties

Freezing exports of foods

More food subsidies


The world food crisis

Governmental Responses

Bush Orders $200 Million in Food Aid

By Associated Press

4:31 PM EDT, April 14, 2008

(A congressional analysis shows the Iraq war costing taxpayers almost $2 billion a week.)

The world food crisis

The long-term crisis

The world food crisis

The long-term crisis

Neoliberal Policies

Decreased support to small farmers

Lowered food production by small farmers

Increased migration to city slums

Increased larger farms

The world food crisis

The Future?

  • Fewer than 20 million highly productive and mechanized farmers can grow all the world’s food.

  • (Note: one person in Brazil — the governor of the state of Mato Grosso, the “soybean king” — controls about 250,000 acres.)

The world food crisis

The Future?

If 20 million farms can produce all world food needs — regardlessofwherethefarmsarelocated — what will be the fate of billions of people that will not find other employment?

The world food crisis

How can poor nations keep the large mass of people in rural areas productively employed in agriculture?

One of the great moral, economic, and political issues of the 21st century.

The world food crisis

  • A healthy food supply should be recognized as a human right.

  • Policies should be implemented to ensure that people have access to sufficient food.

The world food crisis

  • Protection of, and active government support for, agriculture.

  • Developing agriculture — primarily to provide food for their own people — needs to be a priority for poor countries.

  • Promote farming carried out by small to medium producers working alone or in cooperatives.

The world food crisis

  • Promotion of appropriate — ecologically sound — practices.

  • Institute land reform where needed (Brazil, Venezuela, South Africa, the Philippines, etc.).

  • Major urban agriculture programs to help poor in cities grow their own food and/or derive income.

The world food crisis

Monthly Review, May 2008

The world food crisis

The world food crisis

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