Number of hungry people in the world increases to 923 million

Hunger is the deadliest weapon
of the war called capitalism


A recent report1 by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations revealed that despite the proliferation of grand declarations, costly forums and heavily-guarded summits, the number of hungry people continues to grow, reaching a total of 923 million in 2007. FAO -which usually takes part in these high-profile events and statements- blames the international rise in food prices for the severity of the situation, but says nothing about how the world’s sources of nourishment are increasingly concentrated in a tiny handful of transnational corporations.




FAO summarizes the conclusions of its ninth progress report on world hunger in six key points:


1- World hunger is increasing. The World Food Summit’s (WFS) goal of halving the number of undernourished people in the world by 2015 is becoming more difficult to reach for many countries. FAO’s most recent estimates put the number of hungry people in the world at 923 million in 2007, an increase of more than 80 million since the 1990–92 base period. Long-term estimates (available up to 2003–05) show that some countries were well on track towards reaching the WFS and Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets before the period of high food prices, but now even these countries may have suffered setbacks.


2- High food prices share much of the blame. The most rapid increase in chronic hunger experienced in recent years occurred between 2003-05 and 2007. FAO’s provisional estimates show that, in 2007, 75 million more people were added to the total number of undernourished relative to 2003–05.


While several factors are responsible, high food prices are driving millions of people into food insecurity, worsening conditions for many who were already food-insecure, and threatening long-term global food security.


3- The poorest, landless and female-headed households are the hardest hit. The vast majority of urban and rural households in the developing world rely on food purchases to cover most of their food needs and stand to lose from high food prices, at least in the short-term. High food prices reduce real income and worsen the prevalence of food insecurity and malnutrition among the poor by reducing the quantity and quality of food consumed.


4-  Initial governmental policy responses have had a limited effect. To contain the negative effects of high food prices, governments have introduced various measures, such as price controls and export restrictions. While understandable from an immediate social welfare perspective, many of these actions have been ad hoc and are likely to be ineffective and unsustainable. Some have had damaging effects on world price levels and stability.


5-  High food prices are also an opportunity. In the long run, high food prices represent an opportunity for agriculture (including smallholder farmers) throughout the developing world, but they will have to be accompanied by the provision of essential public goods. Smallholder gains could fuel broader economic and rural development. Farming households can see immediate gains; other rural households may benefit in the longer run if higher prices turn into opportunities for increasing output and creating employment.


6- A comprehensive twin-track approach is required. Governments, donors, the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations, civil society and the private sector must immediately combine their efforts in a strategic, twin-track approach to address the impact of high food prices on hunger. This should include: (i) measures to enable the agriculture sector, especially smallholders in developing countries, to respond to the high prices; and (ii) carefully targeted safety nets and social protection programs for the most food-insecure and vulnerable. This is a global challenge requiring a global response.


In the Foreword, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf recognizes almost in passing that “Hunger has increased as the world has grown richer and produced more food than ever in the last decade.”

Apparently in Rome -where FAO has its headquarters- two plus two does not equal four


Apparently in Rome -where FAO has its headquarters- two plus two does not equal four. Only that could explain why after establishing that world hunger is not caused by food shortages, or unproductive lands, or inadequate knowledge to produce food, or natural disasters, or ethnic wars, FAO does not naturally conclude that a few increase their wealth precisely because poverty, destitution, hunger and death increase for the many. This conclusion, which is both logical and backed by solid evidence, has not found its way into the minds of FAO analysts.


So in the eyes of the master, the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, the children, pregnant women and lactating mothers of developing countries who are identified as the most severely hit by hunger, are in fact merely victims of fate.


In 2003-05, Asia and Africa together accounted for 89 percent of the hungry people in the world, totaling almost 750 million people. By 2007, Asia had added another 41 million and Africa another 24 million to the ranks of the hungry. Africa is also home to 15 of the 16 countries where the prevalence of hunger exceeds 35 percent of the population.


The same upward trend is seen in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the number of hungry people from both urban and rural areas has grown by 5 million.


A different perspective

In 2003-05, Asia and Africa together accounted for 89 percent of the hungry people in the world, almost 750 million people. By 2007, Asia had added another 41 million and Africa another 24 million to the ranks of the hungry


From 1951 to 1955, the position of Council Chairman at FAO was held by the noted Brazilian physician and sociologist Josué de Castro, who among other essays and books wrote “Geography of Hunger,”2 initially published in the 1940s. Back then de Castro already saw world hunger as a consequence of the international economic and political (dis)order, and he distinguished between “physiological and absolute hunger” and “specific hunger,” which he described as the hunger that produces a lack of adequate and proper nutrients in populations that are forced by large agro-industrial and corporate interests to obtain their livelihood from a single-crop economy.


Refuting developmental economic theories, de Castro maintained that “Underdevelopment is not the lack of development, but rather a product of misuse of natural and human resources. Underdevelopment and hunger can only be eliminated from the face of the earth through a global development strategy which will mobilize production means in the interest of the community.”


When he stepped down from office at FAO, de Castro publicly regretted not having been more daring in his initiatives, while at the same time he deplored rich countries for having remained indifferent to the tragedy of world hunger. Brazil’s dictatorship condemned him to live in exile, where he remained until his death in 1973.


Cheaper but more inaccessible


Since Josué de Castro’s early warning the situation has become increasingly more severe. A chart included in FAO’s world insecurity report shows that while international food prices dropped steadily in real terms from the early 1960’s to 2004 -with the  exception of a price upsurge in 1975, immediately after the first “oil crisis”-, hunger has never stopped growing. What is more: at present, even with the last period of global increases, these prices are still considerably below 1960 levels, according to FAO’s own data. Hunger, however, is more widespread.



This is just further proof that the crucial, decisive and essential cause of world hunger is not food prices, because in spite of four decades of steadily dropping prices, the number of hungry people has never stopped growing.


Empirical data shows that there is no shortage of food -even taking into account the growth in the world’s population- and that prices are not the main obstacle preventing people from accessing food. World hunger is caused by the dramatic change in the way that human societies organize their activities and their place in the world. Traditionally, the social and economic order was guided by the desire to improve the quality of life. But in the 20th century this order was replaced by a new one governed by the pursuit of profit at all costs, the accumulation of capital, the unsustainable use of natural resources, and an increasingly concentrated ownership of international means of production and distribution.

Over the past three decades, a handful of companies has gained control of the one-quarter of the world’s annual biomass (crops, livestock, fisheries, etc.) that has been integrated into the world market economy


This process peaked with the application of economic, political and philosophical neoliberalism throughout the world.


According to a recent study3 by the Canadian ETC Group, “From thousands of seed companies and public breeding institutions [that existed] three decades ago, ten companies now control more than two-thirds of global proprietary seed sales. From dozens of pesticide companies three decades ago, ten now control almost 90% of agrochemical sales worldwide. From almost a thousand biotech startups 15 years ago, ten companies now have three-quarters of industry revenue. And, six of the leaders in seeds are also six of the leaders in pesticides and biotech. Over the past three decades, a handful of companies has gained control of that one-quarter of the world’s annual biomass (crops, livestock, fisheries, etc.) that has been integrated into the world market economy.


In order for this to happen the political establishment had to be put at the service of these global corporations, so that laws and regulations would be adapted to protect corporate investments and benefits, and they could secure increasing control over food, and also over hunger.


Hunger is not the fatal destiny of poor peoples who are incapable of producing their own food, but rather a political weapon used as a structural means in a war called capitalism, in which a few can have practically everything while the vast majority is left with practically nothing. Hunger is also the worst form of terror that human beings can be subjected to, breaking even the strongest spirits.


Hunger, then, is an essential weapon used for capitalist accumulation and the most powerful tool for subjecting people around the world, people who -like de Castro taught us- are condemned not by underdevelopment but by the development of rich countries.


Carlos Amorín
December 15, 2008





1 - “The State of Food Insecurity in the World – 2008”

2 - In this book Josué de Castro examines the causes of hunger in Brazil. In 1951, with the publication of “Geopolitics of Hunger,” he expanded his analysis to the rest of the world.

3 - “Who Owns Nature? Corporate Power and the Final Frontier in the Commodification of Life.” November 2008. (


Illustration: Cartonclub


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