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is the title of this New York Times op ed by Samuel Loewenberg.   I think it should be mandatory reading.  The Horn of Africa is facing massive famine.   Loewenberg writes, appropriately I would say,

American attention to the hunger crisis has focused on the dire conditions of Somalis, but they account for just about a third of the 13 million people affected. According to the United Nations, hunger afflicts 4.5 million people in Ethiopia and 3.75 million people in Kenya, which has about half of Ethiopia’s population. An estimated half a million Kenyan children and pregnant or breast-feeding women suffer acute malnutrition.

He also writes

Unlike earthquakes or hurricanes, droughts and food price increases take time to develop, and the resulting hunger crises are forecast well in advance. From water harvesting to livestock support to cash assistance, there are a plethora of steps that could have significantly ameliorated the current crisis. Why weren’t they taken?

There is more, much more, in his op ed, including why it makes more sense to send money than our excess food -  the latter loses half its value in transport, while the former allows local purchase which can help build up a sustainable food production system; to build roads -  transport of food stuff and broader markets for local agriculture.   We know that.  You can read what he has to say.

I want to use his column as a starting point for a further discussion.

There are two parts to this discussion.  The first is how we are contributing to famine around the world.   The second is the real fear of the impact of malnutrition not just around the world, but here at home.

If these topics do not interest you, then please - stop reading.

Otherwise, I ask that you continue.

The United States is a major contributor to famine and hunger around the world.  Our energy policy is one contributor.  So are our agricultural policies - and this includes our own individual diets.  So are the policies we impose on other nations through things like the IMF - and our policies on birth control.   And finally, we cannot discount the impact of our aggressive use of military force in other nations.

Our energy policy -  so long as we continue to pursue grain-based ethanol we are a major contributor.  We drive up the price of grains, which are basic to the diets of many around the world.  We encourage or at least acquiesce in the destruction of agricultural lands for the production of energy and the building of infrastructure.  We devote more resources to the transportation of petroleum and liquified natural gas than we do to providing sustainable agriculture and nutrition, both at home and abroad.  Our continued expansion of the use of fossil fuels is a major contributor to global climate change that seems to be a major factor in the kinds of droughts we are seeing ever more frequently, and not just in the Horn Africa -  think of the extended droughts and fires in Texas, for example.

Our Agricultural policies -   here I remind people that I am a close friend of the current Secretary of Agriculture, whom I believe is trying to address some of these issues, but is not totally free to act.   Also, not all of our agricultural policies are in his domain.  Internationally we are pushing for genetically modified crops.   We have patenting of seeds, we overly emphasize the use of chemical fertilizers.  We insist on markets overseas for our 'excess' food production.  We have for too many years had a policy that puts too much emphasis on monoculture production of "cash crops."  Our own diet requires far too much energy to produce - not merely in transportation, but also in how we fertilize our fields.   We have tried to export our methods of agriculture - seed and fertilizer companies see "markets" and "profits" and insist our government assist them, even as these destroy sustainable agriculture in other nations.  And of course our heavy reliance upon petroleum-based agriculture contributes to global climate change, as noted in discussing energy.

Our individual diets - In my lifetime the expansion of our consumption of meat, pork as well as beef, has been simply astounding.  We use far too much of our grain for the fattening of livestock, which in terms of food energy is incredibly inefficient.   Our demand for beef is so great that we are seeing the destruction of rain forests for the planting of grains to feed livestock and for greater grazing areas.   This destruction is also a contributor to global climate change.  Then there is the loss of potable water, in this case through pollution created in some case by the animal waste of things like massive pig farms in North Carolina.   Water pollution is also occurring because of energy - think of the threat to the Ogallala Aquifer by the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline - and destruction of environment to gain access to energy sources in remote areas also risks poisoning water supplies for many.    I also note that we want cheap seafood, which leads to things like the massive driftnets that kill much aquatic life (not just dolphins) that we don't consume so that we can have cheaper prices for those species we do eat, or at least greater profits for some of the companies providing our sea food.  In the process we are destroying the livelihoods of many -  Nicholas Kristof has in the past pointed out the connection between the development of piracy in Somalia and the destruction of livelihood for Somali fishermen by the kinds of fishing Western companies do,.

Policies imposed on other nations -  our economic policies often create crises for other nations, especially financially.  When the IMF comes it, it is likely to insist on economic activities that will produce cash to repay the financial aid that is given.  Often this means conversion of agriculture from sustainable internal use to the growing of cash crops to be sold often less for the benefit of the producing country than for economic actors -  financial institutions as well as food producers - in the more developed world (Europe, North America, and Japan).  This disruption of agricultural processes in the less developed world is often directly related to the shortage of food locally.

Also imposed on other nations, our policies on birth control - we are seeing massive growth of population in the less developed world, beyond their ability to feed their own people.  The US could help with family planning, but religious conservatives in the US has made that almost impossible.  It might be worth noting that not only does an uncontrolled population growth create real pressures on food supplies, it also contributes mightily to economic and military instability, as increasing numbers of young un- or underemployed men is highly correlated with violence of all kinds, from crime to military adventurism to terrorism.  

Our aggressive use of military force - we destroy societies.  We often contribute to instability.  That and our use of economic sanctions can lead to medical crises as well as food crises.  We are spending resources on destruction when the world desperately needs resources on turning to more sustainable production of energy, more sustainable production of food.  One of the societies we are destroying is our own -  the hundreds of billions we continue to spend on military and related activities prevents us from even maintaining the infrastructure that allowed the US to flourish.  Our water systems; our bridges, tunnels and dams;  our public buildings including schools;   these are all in desperate need of repair to say nothing of upgrade.  Our rail system, passenger and freight, is in many ways a joke compared to other nations.  We use too much energy for transport, in part because of inefficiencies in our system.

Above the fold, I said that we should be concerned with malnutrition not merely in places overseas, like the Horn of Africa, but at home as well.

On January 20. 1937, the nation heard these words from Franklin Delano Roosevelt:  

I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.

We are not yet back to the depths of the Great Depression.  NOT YET.  But in the past decade plus we have seen an explosion of unemployment, a reduction of buying power, increasing numbers of Americans losing their homes.  Along the way food pantries have seen empty shelves at the same time as the need for nutritional support has exploded.  People's incomes have stagnated, or in real dollars declined - except for those at the top.  The government has, instead of spending as it did during the Great Depression, begun to emphasize "fiscal responsibility" to the point that even as those in need of supplemental nutritional support expands we are cutting the funds to provide such support.  That kind of approach will be as destructive in this country as similar mandates by the IMF and the World Bank have been destructive of the economies of other nations.

Someplace along the way the American people have a decision to make.  If we continue to operate on the assumption that a pure, unregulated capitalist system is desirable with the profit motive the highest goal, we will discover several things.  First, unregulated capitalism is incompatible with democracy.  Second, it is unsustainable, even for the the capitalists.  Third, many people will suffer, perhaps not immediately the kind of malnutrition that leads to the bloated bellies of children that periodically appear on our television screens and in our newspapers that then motivate Americans to temporary interventions to alleviate suffering.  

A child who is hungry will not learn.

A child with poor nutrition will have serious health problems.

Infants and small children who lack appropriate and balanced nutrition suffer in brain development.

We need to think systemically.  There are many things that are interrelated.

Our own level of consumption - of energy as well as of some foods - is unsustainable for the current population of the world.  We are destroying the environment, including that needed for production of OUR food, for maintaining OUR supply of potable water.

Now we see it overseas.

But the Famine Next Time could be here -  in our poor rural areas, on our Native American Reservations, in our inner cities.  

Too many people around the world, and far too many in the United States, are for the long term food insecure.

Do we have the will, the moral fortitude, to recognize this, and to address it?

I wonder. . . .

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (24+ / 0-)

    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Sun Nov 27, 2011 at 04:00:55 AM PST

  •  Like every other predictable calamity, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, envwq, Maggie Pax

    we (our politicians and 'statesmen') will ignore this inevitability and then say something profoundly stupid (Who could have imagined....?) when it's too late to act.  It's almost as if we had some genetic predisposition to wait until the crisis is upon us.  

    I think it's more than a little ironic that those who take this most seriously appear to be the "preppers" (survivalists).  Despite the fact that they are totally selfish and doing their prepping for all the wrong reasons, at least they understand that it will happen if nothing is done.  

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Sun Nov 27, 2011 at 04:23:54 AM PST

    •  it's the non-preppers who are the selfish ones. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      luckylizard, mrsgoo

      Preparing for disasters, human-made as well as natural, is an exercise in taking responsibility and cooperating with neighbors.  A prepared community is one that won't immediately become a drain on emergency resources when something happens.  

      The selfish ones are those who tootle along as if nothing bad is going to happen, and if it does, someone else will save them.

      (Writing this from less than a mile from the Hayward fault, with a month's supply of earthquake water on hand.)

      "Minus one vote for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

      by G2geek on Sun Nov 27, 2011 at 03:26:40 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You're right, to a point... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I guess the preppers on the show were more than a little extreme.  No matter where we live, there is some kind of disaster that can occur, and we should take sensible steps to care for ourselves, just in case.  

        Water is the biggest one.  After all the "boil orders" that happen around here when a water main breaks, you'd think people would have at least some of it on hand, but they don't.  One thing I've realized is that, while I have plenty of beans, rice, and pasta, I don't have enough water to make those things into food.  I'd only thought about drinking water.  It's time for me to plan a little, too.  Thanks!

        When I wrote the comment, I had in mind the extreme folks I'd just seen.  One was ready with a deep nuclear bunker.  The family even considered it their weekend getaway spot.  (Living twenty feet underground isn't my idea of a vacation.)  Another had rooms with walls lined with preserved and dried food, plus months' worth of water, and a greenhouse, but no plans for escape or defense if others decided to "share" in the family's resources.  The final group was tucked away in the hills of NC and in addition to all these preparations had a friggin' arsenal to defend themselves.  

        All of them were preparing for end-of-the-world scenarios.  As we're seeing now, sometimes catastrophic things don't turn around in a month or a year.  I'm not sure that any prep could sustain a family for the years it might take to recover.

        -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

        by luckylizard on Sun Nov 27, 2011 at 06:04:41 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  of course they were extreme: TV thrives on that. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Emotions! Drama!

          They aren't going to bring people on who just said "yeah I have a month's worth of provisions in the storm cellar" or "we have a rifle and we know where the deer are" or whatever.  

          Nonetheless, could be useful to see what some of the more extreme folks are up to, this by way of picking up some tips & hints.  

          And the place where I fall short is, not enough no-cook food on hand, and somewhat clueless about it.  Though in theory a month's worth of MREs wouldn't be that expensive, and the stuff could be rotated by eating a little of it now & then and replacing it.  

          "Minus one vote for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

          by G2geek on Sun Nov 27, 2011 at 08:17:32 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I don't think anyone (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            can have everything just right.  It's not unusual for us to get snowed in for a few days, so I try to keep that in mind this time of year.  The cooking thing can be an issue, though.  I can manage for a day or two without cooking, especially in winter when refrigeration isn't a problem, but there comes a point when it's necessary to cook things.

            I did see one thing on that show that was a good idea.  They poured their bags of dried beans and other things into old two-liter pop bottles - no danger of mice or bugs getting into their stash and a way to reuse those bottles.  They store relatively easily, and the green ones could even provide a measure of light protection.  

            -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

            by luckylizard on Sun Nov 27, 2011 at 10:05:04 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  I have no idea who if anyone will read this (8+ / 0-)

    and what if any kind of response it will draw

    I wrote it because it struck me on reading the op ed that while it makes good points and should be shared, I felt that it was far too narrow in its focus

    I am far from an expert on these matters.  I know that.  And yet I have no trouble grasping the systemic nature of the problem, the fact that it cannot be addressed in separate silos.

    I felt that made it worthwhile for me to make an attempt at explaining what I thought I saw.

    Hope it serves some use.

    Hope at least a few people read and consider both the op ed and my disorganized thoughts.

    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Sun Nov 27, 2011 at 04:27:21 AM PST

  •  Agricultural economics & policy is something (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    the fan man, HamdenRice

    I've had on my "learn about this" list for quite some time.  Accordingly, I enjoyed this diary, and any recommendations for further reading welcome.

    •  Best place to start is Amartya Sen (4+ / 0-)

      He won the Nobel Prize for economics about a decade ago, signaling a shift in the committee from free market economics to more empirical approaches.

      Sen is famous for two ideas that have actually percolated outside of the professional economics discussion:

      1.  The idea of millions of "missing women" in Asia.  What a lot of people don't know is that Sen used sub-Saharan Africa as the baseline, because he wanted a region that was roughly equal in terms of overall poverty, and because African women had traditional "entitlements" to the control of family food; and

      2.  The idea that famine in most cases is not the result of there not being enough food but the result of poor people not being able to afford to purchase food that is available -- ie Ireland exported food during the potato famine and during the Somali famine of the early 1990s, the warehouses were full of food being kept off the market by speculators.

      He is also incredibly readable, and a typical Sen book ranges from wonderfully readable anecdotes and historical case studies to Nobel level math (usually in an appendix to each chapter).

  •  We don't need more food. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HamdenRice, ggwoman55, Russgirl

    The most recent estimates reveal that we currently produce enough to provide adequate nutrition for 9 billion people.  Since there are only 7 billion and a goodly number of those are starving, the problem is not quantity but appropriate allocation and distribution.
    Why does the problem continue?  Because there is a belief that people's ability to sustain themselves must be restricted in order to make them do what they are told (work).  The impulse to dominate human kind can only be satisfied if humans are coerced and convinced that, if they want to survive, there is no alternative but to comply with the directives of their superiors.  
    The human propensity to get up and wander on their own two feet (or even over open waters) is a great impediment to people who want them to stay put, or where they've been relocated (refugee camps, reservations, settlements, homeless shelters, detention centers). Even keeping them moving on a treadmill (home, car, office, car, home) is better than letting them seek their fortune in new climes.
    The question is why some humans are intent on exploiting their own kind.  I suspect it's because they are talentless and do no know how to care for themselves.  So, other humans have to be coerced to produce more and share their surplus. Since they could have it, if they only asked, one suspects that these talentless humans suffer from other deficits which keep them from relating well to their own kind.

    "Does not play well with children" may be more telling than we are aware.

    People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

    by hannah on Sun Nov 27, 2011 at 06:47:41 AM PST

    •  going to quibble some (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Maggie Pax, hannah, G2geek

      yes, there is still currently enough total food production or production capacity to feed everyone currently alive, but we cannot continue current rate of world population growth and be able to keep that true

      further, there is currently no easy way to get food surplus from nations like US to people who need it in a cost effective way

      in long term makes more sense to develop/sustain more local capabilities, which includes issues like transportation, reduction of conflict, and affordability

      also recognize that much of the caloric availability of surplus from nations like US is in products not part of current / traditional diet of many cultures.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sun Nov 27, 2011 at 08:01:00 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  A good quibble. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        However, since cost is an arbitrary designation which we can affect by making different decisions than the ones we currently make, cost is a lame excuse.
        Moreover, what agribusiness is producing is largely not worth consuming, if we are concerned about human well being and over-all health.  So, our agriculture needs to be revamped and the impulse towards monopoly needs to be tamped.

        But, food is being used as a weapon, to coerce, as is much of the rule of law, and that has to be stopped.

        People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

        by hannah on Sun Nov 27, 2011 at 08:41:20 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  There is also a huge amount of unused capacity (3+ / 0-)

        Traveling around sub-Saharan Africa is really eye opening.  Despite being the "hungriest" region, it also is the most underpopulated -- wildly underpopulated in some areas -- with vast amounts of unused resources.

        Angola is twice the size of Texas, with a population around the size of meto New York (18 million), is blessed with abundant agricultural resources, as well as oil, but millions were driven off the land during decades of civil war and are kept off because of extensive land mining (Angola has the highest rate of amputees in the world, in part because of the war, but also because of farmers stepping on mines).

        The Portuguese forced labor policies were so brutal that the population barely grew, not reaching 5 million until 1960.

        Liberia is mostly empty, rich with soil and strong reliable rains, with a deep rice cultivation culture, but American rice dumping and decades of civil war have virtually destroyed its agricultural sector.  Liberia alone could feed much of West Africa under ideal circumstances.

        When we talk about how much food there is, and how much the West and developing areas produce, we also have to talk about under utilized resources and capacity.

  •  Good summary TK, though let's say this is a (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    jumping off point for further inquiry, not a conclusion by any means.

    Food exports for famine relief began under Eisenhower with the appropriate title "Ag Trade Development and Assistance Act", but like Clean Air legislation under Bush, took an Orwellian turn under Kennedy as "Food for Peace". It was always a gift with many strings attached. The good news is this is finally changing and as you point out, those in power are finally seeing that sending money for local farmers to purchase food during drought or other upheavals is preferable to sending food. The developed world realizes it will have its hands full feeding its own, with little to spare for the world at large.

    Ag development: Yes US companies want to sell their seeds, pesticides and fertilizers. So do companies based China, India, Brazil, and countries in the fast dissolving EU. Farmers are going to watch to see what succeeds. As you point out, access to markets, post harvest storage of crops, appropriate crop development are more urgent considerations. The UN Food Program is working on just those priorities. Just so we don't go down the rabbit hole of the perfect destroying the good, there is reasonable agreement that judicious use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides will be needed to bring agriculture from subsistence to sustainable in most regions of the world. Crops that can handle drought, flood, acidic and alkaline soils will also be necessary. This may involve genetically altering crops in a lab, though not necessarily transgenic alterations, or good old fashioned breeding. (Did you know Mexican farmers tried to interbreed Monsanto's corn with their own? They liked the yield and vigor of the dreaded GM corn) Take a deep breath and relax. These will not be patented, they are being developed in public funded facilities. Either way, it takes years to get a reliable new crop to market, so we will help farmers understand what they already have in their bag of tricks. Finally, can we please get monocropping off the bad guys list? It is very simplistic as used. A field of grass, wheat or alfalfa are monocropped. Good points and bad points, but not an evil creation of man.

    I'll write more later I hope. Good material for discussion. Thanks.

    “The first principle [in science] is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Richard Feynman

    by the fan man on Sun Nov 27, 2011 at 06:53:57 AM PST

    •  never claimed I would fully address it (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      the fan man, G2geek

      this was one of several pieces among my morning readings that caused me to think -  another was someone writing about the rural area that Walker Percy and James Agee addressed in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.  Those readings, and some other recent readings, perhaps caused me to decide to reflect on several related themes.

      I am quite concerned about the lack of systemic thinking when we look at problems.  A friend who lived in Canada until recently remarked on the difference between the Canadian and US approaches to medical research -  we focus on outcomes no greater than 3-5 years, whereas Canada with a single payer system can easily track results for several multiples of that -  other than the Framingham heart study which went on for decades, it is hard to think of anything close to that systemic in the US.

      Systems thinking, including chaos theory, would probably lead to very different approaches than the kinds of linear thinking and narrow cause-effect arguments (although often those argue on the basis of correlation without demonstrating the nexus between stimulus and response necessary for a true cause-effect relationship).

      As is often the case when I post here, my intent was to provoke a discussion, a rethinking.  For whatever reason, probably having to do with the poor presentation and writing I offered, this has not had the kinds of discussion for which I had hoped.  So be it.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sun Nov 27, 2011 at 07:08:10 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Nor did I suggest you did! Systems rethink is (0+ / 0-)

        in the works but I'm suggesting the answer may not look like what we think it should look like.  It will be across philosophies, sciences and ideologies. It will not be organic, but will use organic methods. It will not be "conventional" chemical agriculture but will use those methods as well. It will rely on new crop development, with a keen understanding of what already is available to farmers. It will also be networked and IM'd. Most importantly, it is being developed at the local level with support from regional ag schools and sciences.  If you've read any"Nurturing the Planet" series, you'll get an idea of what's happening. Very hopeful.

        All this is happening at the same time as countries like China buy or lease countries worth of land in Africa and corporations export factory farming. It's worth noting that Brazil is undertaking their equivalent of our destruction of midwest prairies to make room for soybeans. Quite sobering.

        “The first principle [in science] is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Richard Feynman

        by the fan man on Sun Nov 27, 2011 at 09:03:24 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  It appears we have reached a tipping point and (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    where we go from here I am not sure anyone can predict. The most fragile economies will be hit hardest and longest both in terms of stability and the capacity to feed their populations.

    "Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." Arundhati Roy

    by LaFeminista on Sun Nov 27, 2011 at 08:12:32 AM PST

  •  We're Screwed (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    We're just flat screwed.  Thanks to Kos, I caught on to this several years ago.  My family doesn't even believe me.  They think I'm crazy.  Lost a friend partially because of talking to her about this stuff.

    My kids are getting "preparedness" stuff for Christmas.  Where they will promptly put it in the closet and tell themselves I'm nuts.

    If I can't even convince my own kids, who am I going to convince?

    •  when the need arises, the stuff will come out of.. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ... the closet and be put to good use.  And then your family will also admit you were right, though that isn't the point.  

      "Minus one vote for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

      by G2geek on Sun Nov 27, 2011 at 03:32:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Good Idea (0+ / 0-)

      What sorts of things are you giving?  I would like to do that too.

      •  As the saying goes "teach", don't "give". If (0+ / 0-)

        you don't know, get em all enrolled in courses that teach them the basics of food production, wood work, metal work, first aid, etc. Oh, and try not to come across like Linda Hamilton in "Terminator".

        “The first principle [in science] is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Richard Feynman

        by the fan man on Sun Nov 27, 2011 at 05:56:11 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  They are adults in their own homes, and a couple (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          the fan man

          of them are parents themselves.  They have some of the skills named above.  That is why I was thinking in terms of handy, useful things.

          I should have called myself Granny something I suppose when I created a UID here.

          •  No problem, and you are their mom! (0+ / 0-)

            “The first principle [in science] is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Richard Feynman

            by the fan man on Mon Nov 28, 2011 at 11:28:16 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

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