Over 7 billion currently reside throughout the world, and the United Nations estimates that the global population will increase to a staggering 9 billion people by 2050. The obvious question, therefore, is how do we provide enough food to sustain so many people? Well, it may surprise you to learn that we already have a surplus of food; we just have massive food inequality, and this is where the issue lies.
Food security is defined as the state of having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food and it is massive inequality that prevents so many individuals from attaining this. In a recent study, 795 million people were estimated to suffer from chronic undernourishment, and 780 million of those people lived in developing countries. This statistic is alarming, to say the least, especially when one becomes aware of the fact that 1/3 of all food produced for consumption is wasted annually. One of the main explanations for this trend is poverty.
In countries where people cannot afford healthy food or food at all, their malnutrition makes them weaker and possibly unable to work. This inability to work further feeds the cycle of poverty by preventing them from earning the money to in turn afford food. On the agricultural side, when farmers cannot afford seeds or farming equipment, they are usually forced to use improper or less effective means of cultivation, which provides them with less resources to feed themselves.
The issue of poverty extends to and affects a multitude of other factors related to food insecurity. For example, even if people are able to successfully cultivate crops or have the means to buy them, many developing countries have limited means of transporting and storing the food before it perishes. In poor countries, the risk of war is also much higher, and these conflicts constantly disrupt agriculture. Crops can be destroyed as a means of control or simply abandoned as the farmers flee. Another unpredictable factor is weather. While extreme weather events affect farmers worldwide, those who are more affluent have a greater ability to mitigate crop losses (in a drought, they can afford to drill more wells, etc.). On the consumer side, people in developed countries can usually afford increased food prices due to weather fluctuations, whereas those living in poorer countries cannot.
Food inequality throughout the world is extremely well documented, and can be illustrated by obesity rates as well as the malnourishment mentioned above. 30% of the world’s population is obese, with 13% of that group stemming from the United States alone. This can be explained by the fact that as a country becomes wealthier, many aspects of their lifestyles change.
People living in developed countries are far more sedentary than those in developing countries. This is usually attributed to increases in technology that have allowed a vast majority of the country to work less physically demanding jobs. Also, as affluence increases, diets change; people end up having access to many more calorie-dense, nutritionally poor foods. In response to the lack of nutrition and empty calories, their bodies crave more food volume and the cycle continues.
The irony of the situation is that, on one hand, there are millions of people suffering from not having enough food but on the other, there are millions suffering from having too much. While it is an odd dichotomy, it’s not surprising. This is because food inequality is not just a food issue, and to reduce it as such is to only look at one part of a larger picture. Wealth inequality, lack of infrastructure, threats of war, and climate change are all contributors as well as the counterparts to these issues in developed countries. In order to feed people efficiently, we need to re-evaluate our global systems. We must reduce food waste and eliminate the cycle of poverty, just to name a few big problems.
As I’ve said, the issues that have led to food inequality are global and will involve the help of everyone with the means to do so in order to be rectified. We can feed our population now if we make conscious decisions and implement changes in policy. Simply put, in order to address the needs of our future population, we must first address the needs of our population today. Otherwise, we will encounter the same problems on an even bigger scale.