World Food Day is No Food Day for a billion hungry people

Agriculture Rule #1: Cultivation of Marijuana pays well. Growing food does not…

by Peter Webster

October 16, 2011 designated as “World Food day” has come and gone – or has it?

For too many of the billion hungry people the world over, most days are “no food day”. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) promoted the theme “Food Prices – From Crisis to Stability” to highlight a worldwide trend that is “hurting the poor consumer, the small producer and agriculture in general” because “food prices which were stable for decades have become increasingly volatile”. They concluded that “controlling prices was key to the fight against hunger”.

FAO further lamented that “Agriculture cannot respond fast enough with increased food production because of long-term under-investment in research, technology, equipment and infrastructure”.

The statement by the FAO Director General, Dr. Jacques Diouf, leaves several unanswered questions:

Why did FAO emphasize the volatility or fluctuation of food prices and not the fact that the prices were higher although fluctuating? How do higher prices hurt producers and agriculture in general? Why does FAO concern itself with the hungry? Since when are the interests of food producers the same as those of consumers? Could the high price of energy be a contributing factor to high food prices? Why is there under-investment in agriculture?

It is unfortunate that the FAO statement does not distinguish between the food producers and distributors.

Promoting more investment in agriculture is like “pushing rope” since it deals with an effect and not the cause!

Food producers around the world have repeatedly increased their production when they are adequately rewarded for their investment. Our experience in Barbados supports this.

When our government in 1971 taxed all of the nasty profits out of our highly efficient sugar industry (over $50 million between 1974 and 1981) the result was dwindling capital investment in the industry with productivity falling by 50% from a high of over ten tonnes of sugar per hectare to the five tonnes per hectare currently being achieved.

Our people supposedly abhor agriculture but several are reputed to be cultivating marijuana in discreet nooks and crannies around the island despite the risk of imprisonment.

Why are they not growing sweet potatoes and yams? Could it be that cultivation of the latter is not lucrative enough?

We need to stop expecting the food producers to feed the poor and hungry – this is society’s responsibility not the food producers who are trying to earn a living!

I strongly recommend that FAO focus on its mandate to promote food production and leave the job of feeding the hungry to those with that conflicting mandate. In the process FAO should ensure that OXFAM and other food-aiders feed the hungry with fresh, healthy food from their poor countries like rice, yams, sweet potatoes, vegetables and coconut water instead of over-processed and unhealthy wheat flour and powdered milk. This would promote food production in the very countries where most of the hungry are located. Unfortunately, such action would put the food-aiders out of work and we cannot have that, can we?

I recall hearing President Bush (the son) admit in the dying days of his Presidency (October, 2008) that the USA had made a mistake in providing food-aid to poor countries. He concluded that the USA should have helped the countries to produce their own food instead.

At the time I thought “Wow! I wonder how many people have heard and will remember this”. Obviously not many!


FAO also supports the “elimination of trade-distorting agricultural subsidies in rich countries”.

Rubbish! Agricultural subsidies have been practiced by the rich countries for centuries. It is one of the reasons why they are rich! Their economies are not bled by having to import billions of $ in foreign food. Subsidies promote their agricultural industries, maintain their producers’ standard of living and contribute significantly to their economies by providing value added opportunities which amount to more than half of the value of their agricultural industry.

They also promote their countries’ food security. Such subsidies only distort trade in agricultural commodities when the surpluses they tend to produce are dumped on the world market at less than their real cost of production. It is the act of dumping that distorts the trade not the subsidies!

Governments the world over subsidise housing, health, education, transport, and utilities for the poor but are not supposed to subsidise the most basic and important item needed by the poor – food! Logic seems to be lacking. Furthermore, if the subsidies are eliminated where would the food-aiders get their cheap food to feed the hungry? Round and round we go….

Peter Webster

Peter Webster is a retired Portfolio Manager of the Caribbean Development Bank and a former Senior Agricultural Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture.

Note from BFP and the author: The above article was submitted by the author to The Nation and the Barbados Advocate. Neither of those government rags published it – we assume because it did not meet whatever political tests are normally applied to journalism in Barbados. It makes you wonder how the editors of both those papers can look their employees and their neighbours in the eye.


Filed under Agriculture, Barbados, Business & Banking, Consumer Issues, Human Rights

3 responses to “World Food Day is No Food Day for a billion hungry people

  1. Newbie

    Why don’t the powers that be stop storing and then destroying food mountains as in Europe and FEED THE HUNGRY !!!

    The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
    How does the CAP work?

    The CAP is a form of protectionism designed to defend European producers from cheaper products outside the EU. This was once done by subsidising agricultural produce but is now achieved by the EU deterring imports from outside the EU with a system of import tariffs and simultaneously subsidising farmers through the Single Farm Payment. If surplus food is produced then the EU intervenes in the market either by subsidising export of the product at below cost price; by storing it, creating the EU ‘food mountains’; selling it later; or destroying it. Such exports are generally dumped on poor countries, especially in Africa. The CAP also seeks to control production by setting quotas on how much a farmer can produce then paying them not to produce more.


    My take with food aid has always been that it is just another political ploy to appear to be doing something that the VOTING population approves of.


  2. 216

    Man look…tummuch people pon de planet…leh de billion people starve nah man, iz ah good start fuh de planet.

  3. Yashvi

    It’s shameful that in 2011, there arew almost 200 equip and high-tech countries that are formed and controlled by ‘powerful’ humans who have deliberately failed to feed 1 billion ‘powerless’ humans out of the 7 billion population on this planet (that is full of natural food produce). Which nations are genuinely contributing to the supply of Earth’s basic element: H20 to the underprivileged whom die of dehydration and starvation? Instead of relying upon Agricultural producers and NPOs, surely it is up to each individual country’s Govt and Non-govt organisations’ responsibility to prioritise food distribution as upmost crucial duty to prevent hunger from being the number 1 primary and most uncivilised cause of death on Earth.

    I have physically witnessed two groups of underprivileged within same demographics 1) the needy being too poor to afford any food ASWELL AS 2) the needy not getting the chance of even retrieving any edible resources at all. In the former, an impaired+ undressed infant begs for money and in the latter, a completely under-nourished mother gives birth to a hungry child.

    Yet ofcourse logic fails in these 100+ developed (Western) impractical and selfish countries aim to diminish poverty without being able to feed every single human life on Earth?!