The United Nations' World Food Summit, scheduled for mid-November, can't be lightly dismissed. Hunger remains a serious problem in 82 nations, according to a newly released report.
But unless the world is prepared to recognize the root cause of this hunger - which has everything to do with technology, education and free, stable governments, and nothing to do with overpopulation - the problem will continue. A quick read through the list of nations containing the vast majority of the world's hungry is eye opening. It sounds like a who's who of instability, human-rights abuse and primitive farming methods.In Africa, the continent with the most starving residents, the list includes Somalia, Rwanda, Liberia and Nigeria - nations torn either by war or internal strife. The same can be said for the vast majority of the rest of the nations on the list, regardless of continent. In the free nations of the world, the places where education is allowed to flourish, such problems rarely exist, even in times of drought.
So-called experts have been predicting worldwide food shortages for years when, in reality, more food than ever is being produced. The world's feed grain stocks now total more than 650 million tons - a monumental figure considering requirements for helping nations in need of emergency aid never has totaled more than 40 million tons in a year.
Well-run farms now enjoy crop yields that are three times what was produced 30 years ago. So much is produced that fully 40 percent of the world's grain now goes toward producing meat, milk and eggs. Demand for rice, a staple in many of the world's most densely populated countries, is increasing at a rate of up to 5 million tons per year. But production is keeping pace, and surpluses are several times what is needed. The same can be said for wheat. These figures were made public recently by Dennis Avery, director of global food issues for the Hudson Institute of Indianapolis.
This is lost on some of the people preparing for the summit. Reports indicate a raging behind-the-scenes battle. The main point of contention, to no one's surprise, is family planning and population control - issues that always seem to surface but that have as much to do with world hunger as the average size of a grocery cart. Poor nations need high-yield farming technology and peaceful governments, not contraceptives and abortions.
Some in the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization understand this. They want to focus attention on increased food production and civil strife. That is the only proper place to attack the problem. Even worldwide hunger relief efforts are futile if local governments are too corrupt to allow for proper food distribution.
It may be relevant to question what role the United Nations realistically can play in overcoming these problems, especially in view of some of its recent dismal failures in nations wracked by civil strife. But wealthy nations with healthy surpluses and modern farming techniques have a responsibility and obligation to help in any way they can.
In 1974 the last World Food Conference pledged to wipe out world hunger within 10 years. The world's nations didn't come close. Now the goal is to cut the problem in half by 2010.
That may not happen as long as dictators and despots ignore help from others. But the goal is a noble one and the effort, as long as it is properly directed, is worthwhile.