Newspaper article International New York Times

Starving for Solutions: Causes of a World Crisis

Newspaper article International New York Times

Starving for Solutions: Causes of a World Crisis

Article excerpt

An examination of conventional wisdom about world hunger's causes, and its future.

The Reproach of Hunger.Food, Justice, and Money in the Twenty- First Century. By David Rieff.402 pages. Simon & Schuster. $27.

Hunger is probably the most salient consequence of poverty. This salience has some rationale: Hunger makes food a priority, and poor people spend about half of their income on it. But hunger is, nevertheless, a symptom of poverty, not a problem to be tackled in isolation -- the solution to hunger may not have much to do with the supply of food. In this rambling book, David Rieff never quite recognizes this fundamental point. Positing that the 2008 spike in global food prices marked the start of structurally higher prices, his discussion revolves around whether we should look for the solution of extra food production in technocratic philanthropy, global agribusiness or revolutionary politics. Arriving at an answer that none look promising, he asks, "Where does this leave us?"

If there is a "dim candle," he finds it "in the strengthening of the state and in the promise and the burden of democratic politics." He cites the success of Brazil's Zero Hunger program, which reduced malnutrition by framing the issue not as a technical one but as a political one, as "a matter of social justice and a state's obligations to its citizens." Barring this, he foresees mass hunger in many parts of the world.

If this is true, it won't be for the reasons Rieff provides. While spikes in food prices are likely to increase as a result of climate change, as he points out, the problem of hunger will continue not because food is too expensive (the current price of corn -- $3.80 a bushel -- has already dropped to half that of the price in 2012) but because incomes persist in being derisively low. The real challenge is to transform the incomes of poor people, enabling them to spend their way out of hunger and the other indignities of poverty. From his false premise, Rieff careers off into the swamps of agricultural debates that are passionate if rarely insightful. But if we were to reframe the challenge as how to raise incomes, the three touted solutions again present themselves, and Rieff's assessment of their limitations may well be right. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.