Hunger in times of plenty

Victims of natural disasters such as drought or of conflict and civil war make up the minority of people affected by hunger. The picture of hunger and misery painted by the media does not show the majority of those suffering from hunger: those who are unable to lead a normal life due to a chronic lack of food. Hungry people cannot grow, learn and work normally. They are also susceptible to infectious diseases and parasites.
Mothers and children in their first years of life are hit hardest by malnutrition. Nearly one third of all children in developing countries are born underweight.
More than one third of the 7.6 million children under five who died in 2010 could have survived with better nutrition.

Signs of hope

These enormous problems can be contrasted with thousands of encouraging examples which show how the situation in a village or entire region can undergo sustainable change within a very short space of time. These changes can occur through very simple means and under very adverse conditions.
Behind most of these success stories are determined individuals, both men and women, organising cooperation at the community level.
Self-determination is the key to success. The best results can be achieved if governments, public authorities and international relief organisations support the self-organisation of local groups and initiatives. Measures that are developed without taking local conditions and needs into account are far less sustainable. A robust level of food self-sufficiency and independent food production based on local means and possibilities have proven to be the most appropriate remedy for hunger. They also provide economic activity and prosperity for the whole community.

Misery and rural exodus

Over the past few decades, the situation of the rural poor in many regions of the world has deteriorated dramatically. The income of small-scale farmers has steadily decreased and their yields stagnated.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic has left millions of families and communities without their most active members, especially in Africa. In order to care for the sick and orphaned, these families have to shoulder the burden of additional costs and extra work.
It is mostly young men who look for work in the cities, leaving women, children and the elderly behind, often in precarious situations. Rather than building up reserves for crises or crop failures, they only manage to grow food that is essential for their survival.
Since families in the countryside only have their own labour at their disposal, it is almost impossible for them to break the vicious circle of disease, poverty and hunger.
Rural exodus also leads to increasing hunger in the slums and suburbs of the growing mega-cities. The explosion of food prices in 2008 caused hunger revolts in cities where thousands of people, whose livelihoods were threatened, took the streets.
Rural families have also been hit hard by the economic and financial crisis. They often depend on money that is sent home by migrant workers, but it is these workers who are the first to be dismissed when work is scarce (see also food sovereignty).
Maintaining and enhancing rural livelihoods is therefore the basis of any meaningful policy that aims to fight hunger and poverty.

A question of political will

In many of the hardest hit countries, fighting national hunger has not been a top priority for many weak governments. Humanitarian aid can become an important source of income for the powerful. In a sense they use the misery of their own people to their own advantage. This failure of governments to administer scarce resources, as well as emergency and development aid, is often aided by corruption, war and internal conflict. Urban elites, who are ignorant to and incompetent of managing rural development, present further problems. The erosion and collapse of state rule, especially in remote rural regions, often leads to local violence and exploitative structures in which human life is worth little.


Civil Society

  • Farmlandgrab Food Crisis and the global land grab - news about the rush to buy up or lease farmlands
  • FIAN Human Rights Organisation advocating for the right to food
  • Food First US-based NGO with the mission to eliminate the injustices that cause hunger
  • Stop the Hunger
  • ActionAid UK-based NGO whose aim is to fight hunger worldwide through work with small-scale farmers


Videos: Hunger in Times of Plenty

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  • UNEP Food LostUNEP Food Lost
  • UNEP 4 409 watermdghungerUNEP 4 409 watermdghunger
  • UNEP Dietary Changes 1964-2030UNEP Dietary Changes 1964-2030


Unterstützer von biovision Verlag der Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft e.V. Demeter Greenpeace Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung Eine Welt Stiftung Die Grünen, Europäische Freie Allianz Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst NABU - Naturschutzbund Deutschland e.V. Misereor Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft in der GLS Treuhand Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft in der GLS Treuhand
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