Famine, Food Scarcity and Our Broken Agricultural System
With the world economy having ground to a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the UN issuing dire warnings of imminent and widespread food shortages, the word “famine” is once again seeping into our collective consciousness.
For those people living outside of the West (with its over-abundant food supplies and widespread obesity) malnutrition and starvation pose very real threats to life.
With many experts now calling for a more equitable world economy and a “Great Reset” that might usher in a greener, more sustainable future, how will we go about tackling the massive food crisis looming on the horizon?
It’s a very complex subject, but if we’re going to combat the growing problems of famine and malnutrition, we all need to have a basic understanding of the issues at hand:
So How Do We Define Famine?
Just like the term “pandemic”, “famine” has a specific definition: Famine is a situation where a region experiences an extreme lack of food and the basic staples to sustain life.
If 30% or more of an area’s population is suffering from acute malnutrition, and more than two out of every 10,000 people begin to die due to starvation, then a famine crisis will usually be declared.
“Famine is broadly understood as an extreme crisis of access to adequate food, manifested in widespread malnutrition and loss of life due to starvation and infectious disease.” — Dan Maxwell & Nisar Majid. “Famine in Somalia”
So How Does Famine Come About?
From as far back as the early 1980s, we’ve become accustomed to seeing news footage of starving families in places like Ethiopia and Somalia.
In many of our minds, those horrific scenes were caused by nebulous terms like “drought” and “overpopulation”:
“Continuing population growth…makes periodic famine unavoidable… Many of the children saved by the money raised over the next few weeks will inevitably be back again in similar feeding centers with their own children in a few years time.” — Sir Jonathan Porrit
So that’s “case closed” for the cause of famine?
Well, not really, no.
Yes, overpopulation is a problem. Yes, climate change is causing unpredictable weather, including droughts. However, this kind of linear, Malthusian logic is not only painfully simplistic, it’s also rooted in some highly dubious political science, most notably the 19th century Eugenics movement, which neatly dovetailed with Victorian attitudes on colonialism.
If we were to examine the real reasons behind nearly one-in-three people around the world being in a state of malnutrition, we’d see the same ugly list rearing its head, time after time:
- Unchecked capitalism
- Constant war, driven by profit and resources
- Poor management of supply chains
- Failing educational programs
- Mismanagement of the environment
A Resource-based Economy
Geopolitics, supply chains and Systems Management are wildly complex subjects for an article of this scope. Suffice to say though, that if we want to end world hunger, we absolutely must throw off the shackles of mainstream politics and abandon economic systems based around greed and power.
In short, we need to begin the shift towards a Global Resource-based Economy.
A Global Resource-based Economy acknowledges that, for the overwhelming majority of people, money is not a necessity of life.
Human necessities such as food, clean water and shelter should be easily accessible and efficiently distributable to everyone, without having to rely on antiquated systems of credit, debt or servitude.
The Global Resource-based Economy sounds far-fetched, but in reality, automation and big-data are reducing human labor year-on-year, and the need to “work for work’s sake” will soon be seen as an archaic notion.
Yes, it’s a lofty goal, but if we’re going to respect our planet and acknowledge that the world’s resources belong to all of us in equal measure, we’re going to need to change our politics and belief systems from the ground up.
Stewardship of the Environment
Climate change might well be ravaging the world’s agriculture, but agriculture itself is ravaging the climate.
Groups like the the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research have already helped to refine agricultural systems to such an extent that they’ve doubled our outputs of corn, rice and wheat since the 1950s.
But now, they face a new challenge: How to double those agricultural yields again by 2030, without ruining the planet in the process?
The answer seems to revolve around “topsoil”.
Wildfires Point to the Answer
When it comes to the wildfires that continue to ravage the West Coast of the USA, it’s easy to blame “unnaturally hot weather” and “climate change” without actually considering that humans are directly to blame for the problem:
“The apocalyptic images of wildfires mark another scream from nature. We pause to give witness to the scale & force of fire when it finally rises to equalize decades of artificial ‘management’ of grass & woodlands.” — Dr. Zach Bush
Dr. Zach Bush goes on to explain that forest fires, although alarming, are actually an important part of nature.
When forests burn, dead wood and scrub are destroyed, eventually leaving ash rich, fertile soil that goes on to nourish the deeply buried layers of seeds banks under the forest floor. This eventually leads to increased biodiversity and an explosion of new life. Combine that with the right mixture of forest animals, and the land effectively manages itself.
Except there’s a problem: Human intervention.
We pollute the forest with fire retardant, chemical-laced water, attempt to manage the types of species and animals that call the woodlands home, and generally make an enormous mess of these diverse natural habitats.
So What Does This Have to Do With Agriculture?
The way we manage big, industrial farming operations is very similar to the way we cope with wildfires:
Yes, yields are massive, but the way we manage the land is short-sighted and doomed to eventual failure, with half of the world’s agricultural land already losing topsoil at an astonishing (and famine-inducing) rate.
The Loss of Topsoil and Natural Habitats
Topsoil is the rich, dark, nutrient-filled earth that is exposed when fields are plowed. This constant process of digging and turning the soil causes it to slowly disappear, sometimes due to gradual wind erosion, but on modern farms, usually because of water run-off.
Modern farms aren’t dissimilar to strip-mining in their operation: For ease of planting and harvesting, hedgerows and woodland are stripped back to create unnaturally huge “mega fields”, whose heavily compacted soil and lack of natural “breakwaters” causes immense amounts of nutrient rich soil to run-off into waterways and oceans.
The result is something of a vicious cycle: The topsoil disappears before anything gets the chance to grow in it, and the closely packed crops end up stunted and nutritionally deficient as a result. Not only that, but the lack of local flora and fauna brought about by these huge field systems means that pests and crop diseases are rife.
So how does conventional farming currently overcome these issues?
- GMO crops
Famine and Ecological Collapse Aren’t Inevitable:
Careful use of water, combined with better crop rotation and more diverse local habitats could largely solve the mess that modern farming has made for itself.
But it can’t do that if we stick to the same systems that got us into this mess in the beginning.
To solve the destruction of our planet, and end world hunger for good, we’re going to need radical solutions that are completely decentralized, and immune to exploitation by global capitalism.
The solutions are within our grasp, and if we work together as a global community, we might just avert a planet-wide crisis, before it’s too late.
Agnieszka K. Wielgosz serves as a vocal sustainability/ regenerative wellness advocate. She is the woman behind CEI Collective, serving the creative needs of wellness professionals, regenerative & green living brands to grow and make a dynamic impact.
Through documentaries, visual storytelling and media content creation she searches for those big ideas, and the individuals behind them, that create a lasting change — ideas that address a gap or an opportunity that changes the way things are done, the way society views regenerative wellbeing of people and the planet.
You might be curious what the CEI acronym stands for; it stands for CONNECT EDUCATE INSPIRE. These are her three driving pillars to achieve societal planetary wellbeing.
Beyond her work with clients, she is well-known as an ardent mixed media artist who cultivates a mindful living approach. Agnes is passionate about creating a ripple effect and is excited to bring her skills and enthusiasm to your world.
Connect with her on IG: @ceicollective FB: @ceicollective
Let’s restore ecosystems and learn as humans to live within the boundaries of our planet. Founder @ceicollective Inspiring change @regenerativelifeco