Starvation / Feeding Humanity
supplies of food for 100% of humanity
16 million people dying from starvation/800 million malnourished
1: Famine Relief, Fertilizer for Basic Food Production, and Sustainable
abilities to detect famine before its most pernicious onslaught
is similar to our ability to detect hunger or an infection in
an individual human. Waiting for the infection to rage out of
control or putting the life of the patient in jeopardy, is similar
to how we deal with famine.
1A: International Famine Relief Agency
eliminate the ad hoc nature in which famines are currently
dealt with in the world -- usually a terminally late effort that
begins well after the onset of the now preventable disease -- an
International Famine Relief Agency would be developed. Its function
would be to both amass a large grain reserve (not unlike in function
to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the United States) and to
use this food for emergency aid in times when global weather patterns,
political conflicts or other disruptions in food supply cause
the spectra of famine to rise in some part of the world.
Famine Relief Agency would be charged with the responsibility
and empowered to deal with famine in both the curative and anticipatory
mode. An annual budget of $2 billion would fund a Famine Early
Warning System; purchase of grain and other food reserves; and
shipment, delivery and distribution of food. The amount of food
accumulated in reserve would be a function of the severity and
extent of famine in the world at any given time. In years of plenty,
the reserves would be built up; in years of shortfall and famine,
more of the budget would be spent on distribution of food stocks.
Both activities -- the purchase of grain in times of plenty and the
distribution in short-fall years -- would act to stabilize world
Strategy 1B: Increased Fertilizer
much of the developing world where starvation and malnutrition
are prevalent, crop fertilizers are a luxury that are used mostly
on cash crops exported to the developed world. Few farmers in
the developing world can afford to use petrochemical-based fertilizers
on staple crops sold in the village market because of the high
expense and because the prices of these fertilizers fluctuate
along with oil prices.
through a program to provide farmers in the developing world with
simple implements and instruction in their usage, indigenous nitrogen-rich
organic material can be used as a source of fertilizer for the
neglected staple crops that provide food for the world's poor.
Research has shown that, depending upon the crop, yields can be
increased by between 40 and 100% over current levels on farmlands
not now receiving fertilizer.
Most developing countries use an average of 52% of the fertilizer
that is used in developed countries, and their yields per acre
are only 74% of those in developed countries.
In Africa, the situation is even worse. There, fertilizer use
is at 11 kilograms per hectare -- compared to 700 kilograms in parts
of Europe. Given that this
is only about 1.7% of the fertilizer application rates in Europe,
it is surprising that yields are 26% of what they are in the US
developing nations, the addition of fertilizer from relatively
inexpensive local sources could increase the production of foods
for domestic consumption.
The fertilizer response curve (i.e., application of fertilizer
to crops that have little or no fertilizer increases yields at
a much higher rate than applying additional fertilizer to crops
already having fertilizer)
makes it clear that application of fertilizer at a rate of 50%
of that applied in the developed world would result in food production
increases of close to 25% and in some instances, such as in Africa
where the need is most severe, increases as high as 100% are possible.
All hunger-afflicted areas of the world are, at most, between
10 and 33% short in their production of the amount of food that
would be needed to make themselves self-sufficient in basic food
local production does not guarantee that everyone will receive
the food needed to eliminate hunger and malnourishment, but it
is a necessary condition for insuring long-term abundance. The
addition of 25 to 50% more food in food deficit areas will have
a tremendous effect on the availability of food in each food short
Strategy 1C: Sustainable Agriculture
increased fertilizer availability with sustainable agricultural
farming methods -- such as nutrient cycling, diverse production regimes,
minimum tillage, companion-planting, biological pest control, and
soil and nutrient conservation -- would help guarantee both local
abundance and future productivity. In addition to increasing local
food production and self-reliance, soil erosion would be decreased,
dependence on foreign imports decreased, and resistance to drought
and pests increased through the use of locally available organic
fertilizers and sustainable agriculture techniques.
basic farm tools required to tap into local nitrogen
sources can be manufactured domestically by any developing country,
adding to its industrial production and employment.
In addition, the incomes of farmers would rise with their higher
productivity, even as their newly enriched croplands become more
resistant to soil erosion.
implement this two-pronged effort in all the food-short areas
of the world would involve a very aggressive program for teaching
and demonstrating sustainable farming methods to traditional small-scale
farmers, coupled with financial incentives and economic safety
nets that strongly encourage the switch. Given the costs of agriculture
extension programs in the US and elsewhere in the world, the size
of the program needed for food-short areas -- including an order
of magnitude more on-farm extension workers, demonstration farms,
education materials, transportation vehicles, communication equipment,
tools and support facilities, along with the financial incentives
to encourage farmers to learn the new agriculture methods -- would
cost about $17 billion per year for 10 years -- $7 billion for the
fertilization program and the $10 billion for the education program.
-- How Much Is A Human Life Worth?
International Famine Relief Agency could be funded with 32% of
what just the US spends on candy each year. The Increased Fertilizer
Availability Program could be funded with just 11% of what Europe,
Japan and the US spend on cosmetics. Together, all three programs --
famine relief, fertilizer and sustainable agriculture -- total $19
billion per year for ten years, which is 2.4% of the world's total
annual military expenditures or 1.9% of the world's annual
expenditures on illegal
This amount is also about 55% of what the people of the US spend on weight
loss programs each year. The
cost for eliminating starvation and malnutrition in the world
is also about 75% of what European governments spend annually
on subsidies to their farmers
or 38% of what Japanese farmers receive.
benefits of eliminating starvation, hunger and malnutrition from
the world far outweigh the costs. Well nourished people are healthier
and more productive members of society. There are lower health-care
costs and an economy better able to meet the needs of its citizens.
A society without famine, hunger or malnourishment is more economically
and politically stable and secure. Ignoring moral imperatives
entirely and focusing on just economic factors makes this even
more clear. Currently, the US government, for its own cost/benefit
analysis for determining the cost to the tax payer of different
policy alternatives, has come up with a range of values for the
worth of a human life between $750,000 and $2.6 million.
This is not as heartless as it may sound. It is the government's
sincere attempt to figure out the actual costs and benefits of
policy initiatives. For example, if a new federal safety regulation
costs $1 billion to implement and saves 100,000 lives, the overall
economic benefit to society, if the value of a human life is placed
at $1 million, would be $99 billion; if on the other hand the
new regulation costs $10 billion to implement and saves 10 lives,
the loss would be over $9 billion.
a similar approach and valuation for a human life, it becomes
apparent that the world would benefit economically by over $10
trillion per year in just the number of lives saved
by implementing the International Famine Relief Agency, Increased
Fertilizer Availability Program, and Sustainable Agriculture Program.
Adding the reduced health-care costs and increased productivity
from a better-fed and healthier population would significantly
increase this already astronomical figure.
the economist who would argue that the value of a starving human
in the developing world is somehow not worth the same as that
of a US citizen (perhaps because that person would not earn as
much in their lifetime as someone in the US or some other exotic
argument that attempts to mask the demented racism of such a diminished
valuation), it can be pointed out that a valuation of one-half
of the lowest figure that the US government puts on the value
of a human life still results in a payback on investment in less
than 25 hours.
Valuing the life saved at only $10,000 results in a net gain of
close to $100 billion and a payback on investment in 70 days.
What the World Wants Chart