1. Having Enough Food For Our World
The old man stopped for a moment to rest as the sun began to sink on the horizon. He shared a laugh with old Rob, the mule, as he wiped the sweat from his brow. Another day of plowing done, and maybe it will rain.
We’re a long way from this quiet twilight hour on a small farm when we stare down the long brightly-lit aisles of a “modern” supermarket, and we’re also a long way from our own roots. We now live in a society where we can actually pass through life without growing a single carrot or piece of fruit. All Life Scientists should become as involved with life in all its aspects as they possibly can. Hopefully all of us have experienced the joy and wonder of planting a seed and watching it bloom and bring forth its gift to us: life. It is truly miraculous to behold the transformation of life that occurs when food is ingested and it becomes a part of our very being.
Like air, food is a miracle; it is also a union of nature’s creation and human effort. When food is available in sufficient quantities, we tend to take it for granted, like the air we breathe. World leaders come and go, astronauts circle the earth in the space shuttle, but without the farmers and harvests, all else would be meaningless.
In the twentieth century, only one out of two people works in agriculture (the majority are women). In the past, the vast majority of people who ever lived were farmers. More than 20 centuries ago, a Chinese poet wrote:
“When the sun rises, I go to work,
When the sun goes down, I take my rest,
I dig the well from which I drink,
I farm the soil that yields my food,
I share creation, kings can do no more.”
And so it is.
In the midst of an era of persistent hunger and poverty, this fertile earth could produce more than enough food to meet our needs today and for the foreseeable future. Yet many people cannot afford to buy food; others are denied their ability to produce it because they have no access to land, seeds and tools. Others face erratic weather conditions, poor soil and a scarcity of water.
Two-thirds of our exported grain goes not to feed starving children, but to feed hungry animals raised for meat that is too expensive for hungry people to buy. Many areas of the world have the capacity to feed themselves but their cropland is being used to grow cash crops for export to the developed world.
1.1 Sharing the Harvest—Starvation and Malnutrition in the World
Population increases by exponential growth or multiplication; a system variable can continue through many doubling intervals without seeming to reach significant size. But in one or two more doubling periods, this size can be considerable. After 4,000 recorded years of human history (in the Bible), world population grew to an estimated 300 million people by 1 A.D., and reached a billion in the early 1800s. By 1930 (about 100 years later), the population had already doubled to 2 billion. Within another 30 years, another billion was added, reaching about 3 billion in 1960. Fifteen years later (1975), it was about 4 billion. From mid-1982 to mid-1983, world population rose by 82 million. In 1983 the estimated world population was between 4.6-4.7 billion (twice the global population of 20 years ago), and will probably reach 5 billion by 1986.
Today about 75% of the world’s population live in the “underdeveloped” nations, 40% of these in extreme poverty. Political and economic pressures are rising in many nations. Countless refugees migrate, hoping to find salvation in a new country, just as our ancestors did when they came to this new world. Often those who themselves have next to nothing reach out to these refugees and offer shelter; others are not so pure in spirit and greet refugees with hostility, or even drive them away. Most Americans have, for the most part, been fortunate and have not really ever suffered from starvation, but as human beings we must ask ourselves how we would feel if the hand reaching out for help and a morsel of food were our own, and we were turned away.
Statistics indicate that a person born in the richer, industrialized countries will consume during a lifetime 20 to 40 times as much as a person born in Africa, Asia or Latin America. Another statistic says that the average American consumes 2 1/2 times as many pounds of food over a lifetime as the average Asian, eating about 30 tons in a lifetime compared to an Asian’s lifetime total of about 12 tons, which is mostly in rice. Westerners average almost 5 tons of meat, 1 1/2 tons of sugar (not including cakes, pastries and ice cream) and 12,000 eggs. Asians consume about 1/4 the sugar and “only” about 500 pounds of meat, fish and eggs combined. (East/West Journal, November 1982.)
A study on meat consumption gave the following figures: New Zealanders consumed the most meat worldwide—about 229.1 pounds of meat per person in 1982. The United States was second with about 222.2 pounds per person. We have already discussed how vegetarianism can help in alleviating world hunger—again, cropland would be used directly to feed the people, not indirectly to feed animals to feed people. We have seen that people are frugivorous by nature, and so land used for animals as food is both wasteful and contrary to our biological heritage (to say nothing of cruel, as far as the use of
animals for food is concerned).
In the middle of the earth’s bounty, over a billion of us—that is 1 out of 4 members of the human family—go hungry. Fifteen to twenty million of us die from hunger every year. That is 41,000 of us each day, 28 of us every minute, 21 of us children. In Africa alone, 4 million children may die this year and next from starvation and malnutrition. Humanity has never lived without hunger, its oldest and most lethal enemy. Ours is the first generation that has ever had the possibility of calling forth a world in which hunger may be ended. What is lacking is not technology, but the individual and global will to take necessary actions to preserve human lives and our precious environment. Meanwhile, while 1 of 4 of us go hungry, and 41,000 of us die daily from hunger, at least dogs with wealthy owners on the Cote d’Azur in France are getting by. A news item (May 14, 1984) reports that a gourmet restaurant for dogs featuring 3-course meals costing up to $15 and “served on real china” just opened recently. (I read of a similar restaurant in New York a few years back.) The restaurant offers a selection of cheeses from Holland and France, elaborate main courses, and a pastry cart. Some examples of the plat du jour are “a selection of beef filet with artichoke,” or “fish mousse with skimmed milk and fresh green beans.” The dogs are served by white-coated waiters “under the supervision of a veterinarian, a profession dog handler, and a dietitian.” It used to be that dogs were thrown table scraps, but perhaps now a few starving people could apply for jobs as waiters there and hope for a few table scraps themselves! Fifteen dollars would buy dinner groceries for a whole family, if this family were “worthy” enough to receive the same generosity bestowed upon these dogs.
The World Conservation Strategy was published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and was the result of three years of research and discussion involving more than 450 government agencies and over 100 countries. It was “launched” on March 1980, in London and 32 other capital cities across the world. A summary of the strategy appears in the April 1980, Not Man Apart. However, it fails to recognize the naturally-retrogressed and humanly overexploited state of the biosphere and of the present late-interglacial soil, and does not emphasize remineralizing soils, reforesting large areas or establishing biomass energy plantations, or restoring the earth’s poverty-stricken ecosystems. It is more concerned with “conserving” than rebuilding, but does say that most countries are too poorly organized even to conserve, that severe soil degradation is already a critical problem, that deserts could soon adversely affect 630 million people, that tropical forests were quickly becoming extinct—and that time was “running out.” Because there is less and less to conserve in the first place, nowadays, it is now imperative that we rebuild our environment, while there is still some time left to do so. Conservation alone is not enough.
These times are characterized by a great awakening of the human force all over the planet, as more and more people become more and more conscious of the human potential for higher evolution. This is seen in the many popular movements, grassroots communities and local organizations that are flourishing everywhere. This world force is a new kind of leadership that can unify the expressions of groups and organize for action. Leadership from, and of, the group—and from the “least” among us—is the hope for change in our time!
The elimination of poverty is the ethical issue of our time, said John Sewell, President of the Overseas Development Council (Washington, D.C.), who says, “some 100 or more years ago, the idea that trade in human beings should be abolished was one that struck reasonable and rational observers as a political impossibility, yet that issue became the moral problem of that time, and eventually trade in humans was stopped. And I would guess that my children will wonder why we are not about our task faster in the last part of the twentieth century, when we have both the knowledge and the wherewithal to deal with global poverty.”
R. Buckminster Fuller devoted his attention to the need for integrity in the world in the last months of his life, before he died at 87. “Human integrity,” he said, “is the uncompromising courage of self determining whether or not to take initiative, support, or cooperate with others in accord with all the truth and nothing but the truth as it is conceived of by the divine mind always present in the individual.”
As of 1983, 73 countries have “ended” hunger, at least as a basic, society-wide condition. This was true of no country on the planet in the year 1900. By 1940, it was true of only nine. It is clear that the individual—each one of us—is the key to realizing these, and future, achievements. When famine struck Biafra in the late 1960s, $6 million was raised in the U.S. for relief. It took more than a year. But in March 1980, $42 million was raised in only five months to aid Cambodia. On a global level, the growth in responsiveness to emergencies has been equally dramatic, and today, world response to emergencies is faster, more generous—and more effective, when it begins with the assumption that the purpose of aid does not end with temporary relief, but that its purpose is to find the resources for food-sufficiency within the situation. Recently, a Canadian nongovernmental organization called Inter Pares (“among equals”) invited Third World farm leaders to live with their Canadian hosts; they had joint meetings and worked out solutions to mutual production problems. Successful education projects in every industrialized country show the same truth: We share one planet and our opportunity is to succeed together or not at all.
Crop yields are usually assumed to be continually increasing, but former USDA researcher Lester Brown documented that chemically-induced yields were falling or leveling off in the U.S., China, France, and elsewhere (The Worldwide Loss of Cropland, 1978, Worldwatch Paper No. 24). Pollution by pesticides and fertilizers, and potential deterioration in climate or weather, are not taken into account when predicting higher crop yields. Brown says that major improvement in the food supply for the world’s poorest populations isn’t likely if things continue as they are, and what improvements do occur “will require an increase of 95% in the real price of food.” (p. 415). Those who think that today’s agricultural methods will increase crop yields in the future also think that food production will only increase fast enough to meet rising demands if world agriculture becomes “significantly more dependent on petroleum and petroleum-related inputs” (again, this would increase the real price of food over the 1970-2000 time period), but it is obvious for ecological reasons that it is now time for a world transition away from petroleum dependence, though it is uncertain how this will occur.
Meanwhile, farmer’s costs of raising and maintaining yields have increased rapidly; yields will increase more slowly than projected. These yields also assume a (roughly) 180% increase in fertilizer use. These fertilizer projections are intended to apply to a full package of “yield-enhancing inputs,” including pesticides, herbicides, irrigation, etc. Not enough emphasis is being placed on the fact that there are only 2 1/2 inches of the original glacial deposit left in the topsoil, and there is no more on the way up. (We’ll talk more about this later.)
Because we have not fully recognized the natural operational principles of the earth’s ecology, and applied these principles in the key areas of our lives, we have brought ourselves to the point where we must now courageously face the totality of our problems.
- 1. Having Enough Food For Our World
- 2. The Quality Of Our Food Is Determined By The Quality Of Our Soil
- 3. Questions & Answers
- Article #1: How Vitamin and Mineral Content in Food Decreases Step-by-Step
- Article #2: Saving Open-Pollinated Seeds By Margaret Flynn
- Article #3: Hand Pollination of Squash
- Article #4: The Spirit Speaks
- Article #5: Origin of the World’s Basic Food Plants
- Article #6: You’ve Just Been Poisoned By Mike Benton