Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 4. 1962.

Us and Malthus — What has the Student to do with the Problem of Hunger?

Us and Malthus

What has the Student to do with the Problem of Hunger?

In June this year the largest public appeal ever held in this country will be launched under the Food and Agricultural Organisation's international Freedom-from-hunger Campaign. The target is to raise an amount totalling half of New Zealand's annual Colombo Plan appropriation or an average of four shillings per head of population —half a million pounds in all. The New Zealand University Students' Association, after approaches from the I.S.C. Coordinating Secretariat in Leiden and from the F.A.O. head-quarters in Rome, undertook at its Annual Meeting in Otago last year to lend its support to the appeal by assisting with the publicity and fund-raising of the Campaign. By decision of the delegates present at the N.Z.U.S.A. Annual General Meeting, the Resident Executive was directed to pledge their support to the Government. Preparations for the New Zealand campaign by the National Freedom-from-Hunger Campaign Committee are now well advanced and the opportunity for the student community to give its full weight to the programme therefore is at hand.

It is almost a trite observation to say that millions of people are still undernourished; that of the world's 3,000 million people more of them went to bed hungry last night than well fed; that tomorrow morning there will be almost 140,000 more of us to feed and that each year science keeps a greater proportion of us alive through improved nutrition and through progress in the use of preventive medicines. These estimates have been reiterated too long for them to be impressive, and their constant use in contexts of moboratory have made us sceptical about their accuracy.

The known dimensions of the world food problem, however, are formidable enough. F.A.O. statistics cover no more than 40 countries comprising 1,300 million people—46% of the world's population. In all of these countries, with a combined population of 538 million, the average consumption of energy foods is known to be below minimum requirements. These countries are notably those located in the developing regions of the world, such as the Far East, Africa and Latin America. Mainly due to lack of complete or wholly reliable information, there are no comparable estimates for other regions of the world. But it can certainly be said that a similar general deficiency in energy foods is to be found in many other developing countries. This means, therefore, that more than half of the population of the world is not adequately fed.

Furthermore, in many countries, although the average calorie in-take may be above requirements, this average conceals the fact that large sectors of the population, particularly in the low-income brackets, are under-nourished or malnourished. Although sufficient data on the consumption of nutrients, such as proteins, minerals and vitamins, are not available to give even a rough order of magnitude for most countries, dietary surveys do indicate that deficiencies in the intake of these elements are wide-spread.

This is the situation today. It could be infinitely worse tomorrow. There are 50 million more people in the world every year. By the year 2000, in a little over 30 years and in our own generation, our present population of 3,000 million will have at least doubled itself and may have even reached 7,000 million. World production of cereals to meet this expansion will need to be increased by over 100 per cent, and production of animal products by between 200 and 300 per cent in the same period. This increase will not be achieved if the present rate of increase in world food production is not speeded up.

Statistics indicate that food production is increasing at the present moment at a slightly faster rate than the world population explosion. For instance, in eastern Europe, including the U.S.S.R.. food production per head is now about 40 per cent above the prewar level; In western Europe and North America it is now 15-20 per cent higher and in the Near East it is about 10 per cent better; in Latin America, Africa and the Far East, including China, the level of production is still estimated to be slightly less than it was before World War II. (It has been found that, whereas the population of the Asian region has increased by 15 per cent since the war years, agricultural production has now risen again only to the level of 1939.)

These figures reveal an all too familiar pattern.

The technically advanced western countries are increasing food production at a greater rate than the densely populated and under developed areas. Population explosion therefore compounds the number of ill-fed people. If present levels of production are not improved in the newly emerging countries, at the turn of the century, the number of undernourished people will be, within our own lifetime, equal to the present world population. This is perhaps, far beyond the questions of Berlin and disarmament and the issues of colonialism and colour prejudice, the most demanding problem to face our generation.

The problem, moreover, is wider than that of stepping up primary production, and embraces the stumbling blocks of marketing and trade balances. It is worthless to build up the world rice supply, for instance, if those who would purchase have not the money to pay—they remain as hungry as if the rise didn't exist. We already know of the dangers of isolated over-production and are well aware of the destruction and dumping of food surpluses in recent years, from cacoa beans in Brazil to Canadian and U.S. prairie wheat and French butter. The successful efforts achieved within the United Nations to coordinate and control the disposal of these food surpluses through effective food supply programmes have made in-roads into this problem. There remain, however, more trenchant economic disparities. For technically advanced countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the average income per capita is about £556 per annum—at least Twelve times greater than that of 52 countries in the Afro-Asian region, where the average income is Less than £44 per year. In another group of 23 countries, including many in Central and South America, the average is between £44 and £89 a year, while in a third group of 25 countries including the Middle East and Near East the incomes ranged from £89 to £311. These figures, of course, are only a rough guide, but give a fair indication of relative living standards and, moreover, of the inability and lack of propensity of these countries to purchase from efficient primary producing countries such as New Zealand. Production, therefore, must be stepped up with in the underdeveloped countries themselves for malnutrition to be defeated.

It would seem from these remarks that those people who suffer from the diseases of malnutrition, wI are short-lived, illiterate and badly housed are not the exceptions—we, who escape these miseries, are the exception. For the majority of the world's people misery and impoverishment are to be accepted as the normal experiences of the human predicament. Our own freedom from hunger and want, moreover, in these circumstances can be neither a true nor a secure freedom until all men are free from these afflictions.

In response to the challenge, the 88-member nations of the Food and Agriculture Organisation have agreed to launch an all-out campaign. On 1st July, 1960, the five-year Freedom-From-Hunger programme was inaugurated in the endeavour to create a climate of informed public opinion which will make it possible to undertake a massive and sustained attack upon the problems of undernourishment and underproduction. Within this Campaign the student community has a valuable role to play in this country in the present year. About this you may have a number of ideas already, and these I should like to discuss in the article to follow.