Hunger, the great pandemic

Hunger, the great pandemic

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For half the world to stock containers with out-of-date food while the other half starve is a supreme form of disgrace. But also a serious attack on our natural resources.

«To produce those 1,300 million foods that no one is going to eat, we are using 1,400 million hectares of land, that is, 28 times the surface of our country if all of Spain were fertile, a quarter of the planet's fresh water and 300 million of barrels of oil. And we emit 12% of greenhouse gases. How fair, efficient and sustainable is the agri-food system?”Reflects José Esquinas Alcázar.

About 821 million people - one in nine on the planet - go to bed and wake up on an empty stomach. They suffer from what technicians call chronic hunger. Lack of access to food kills a human being every two seconds somewhere on the planet. Those who died from starvation will be 40,000 today. If all these deaths occurred in Europe, after a year we would bury the equivalent of the inhabitants of London, Paris and Madrid. For comparison, in five months of coronavirus, more than half a million people have died in the world. There is no greater pandemic in the world or more lethal than that of hunger. It is not contagious, so it spreads without states of alarm.

Last year 135 million citizens had to face severe food crises in 55 countries due to drastic weather events, conflicts, economic recessions, forced migration or all of this at the same time. No other more shocking figures are known. In South Sudan, 61% of the population is without food on a regular basis, and in Zimbabwe and the Central American Republic, 35%. In Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Haiti or Venezuela the absence of food continues to fatten a legion of malnourished, dying and invisible men, women and children.

The prognosis that the coronavirus brings for them and for many others is devastating. In a recent report, the World Food Program (WFP), a humanitarian agency of the United Nations (UN), warns that the economic impact of Covid-19 during 2020 will lead to malnutrition twice as many people as the previous year , about 265 million people. WFP Executive Director David Beasley has sounded the alarm. “In a few months, broad sections of the population will face multiple famines of biblical proportions. We are not only facing a global health pandemic, but also a global humanitarian catastrophe. '

How is this scourge eradicated? Why do not you do? How much would it cost? Does it depend solely on political will? Why are international organizations dedicated to fighting it failing miserably in their mission? We transferred these and other questions to José Equinas Alcázar (Ciudad Real, 1945), scientist, humanist and the greatest expert on hunger in Spain. No one like him, a leading member of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for three decades, in which he visited 120 countries, knows his answers. Aware of the laziness with which the West looks at this problem, it draws out a battery of data and comparisons that are as illustrative as they are scandalous.

«According to data from the UN itself, with 2 or 3% of what OECD members have spent on saving banks in the last 15 years, world hunger could have been eliminated. I can tell you another way, every day we spend $ 4 billion on weapons, enough to feed all those who died of malnutrition for 150 years. FAO is tackling this pandemic with a two-year regular budget equal to what the United States and Canada spend in a week on cat and dog food.».

Before entering the caked flour in which the perverse circle of hunger and the agri-food industry are kneaded, Esquinas Alcázar slides another piece of information that expands the panel of those responsible for the ignominy. «Since the last century the number of citizens without access to food has hardly changed. Until 2005, the number of obese was much lower. From there they are equalized. Today overweight people double those who suffer from chronic hunger. They are estimated to be 1.6 billion. We are putting a lot of unnecessary food in our mouths».

The following question emerges by itself. Is there food shortage to feed all mouths or is it left over? «The multinationals argue that much more food is needed to avoid hunger. For this they sell transgenics, improved seeds, pesticides ... However, the UN has verified that we produce 60% more food than we need. What happens is that a third part, 1.3 billion metric tons, is lost along the way. In underdeveloped countries, due to poor infrastructure and the lack of refrigeration and adequate transportation. In developed ones, a lot ends up in the trash. We buy more and in the case of Spain, up to 30% of the food that is thrown away is packaged. We had expired».

4,000 kilometers to the mouth

For half the world to stock containers with out-of-date food while the other half starve is a supreme form of disgrace. «To produce those 1,300 million foods that nobody is going to eat, we are using 1,400 million hectares of land, that is, 28 times the surface of our country if all of Spain were fertile, a quarter of the planet's fresh water and 300 million barrels of oil. And we emit 12% of greenhouse gases. How fair, efficient and sustainable is the agri-food system? Look, the average food that reaches our mouths in Spain has traveled between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometers before. Lambs from New Zealand, pipes from China, soybeans from the United States ... What's the point of this?», Asks the expert.

The son of farmers, trained as an Agronomist in Spain and a PhD in Genetics in California, Esquinas Alcázar is clear about the reasons why the Earth is an increasingly hungry planet. «When I was little and I dropped a piece of bread on the ground, my family always told me, "Take it, kiss it and eat it." So, food was sacred. Today it has become a commodity. Therefore, it does not matter if it pollutes the environment, if it affects health or if it does not reach the mouth of the hungry. Three large consortia control 75% of the world's commercial seeds and 63% of the agrochemicals. They have control of the world's food and think in terms of profit».

"Consuming is a political act"

There is no magic and homogeneous solution to end hunger. Each country has different climatic and ecological situations, and different development conditions, political regimes and cultural heritages. But there is a maxim applicable to all: «The closer to the consumer it is produced and the more we shorten the chains, the better. Transportation is avoided, along with preservatives, and therefore the article becomes less expensive and we reduce the ecological footprint», The scientist prescribes. «Without food sovereignty, without the ability of peoples to produce food, there can never be world peace or security», Affirms categorically.

But it is not enough to produce locally. «A few years ago, FAO did a study to find out who feeds the world. It turned out that 76% of the food that did reach consumers' stomachs came from family farming. That is said to be more expensive. However, it has been shown that for every euro we spend on agribusiness items, we have to pay two more euros to alleviate the negative effects that producing that food has had on the environment and human health. What if that same item sold for three euros? That it would turn out that agroecology is profitable», Resolves.

New Yorkers search for food in the carts with expired products that a supermarket has left on the street, during the coronavirus crisis. The former president of the FAO Committee on Ethics in Food and Agriculture advocates turning this tortilla upside down. Instead of paying to clean up the mess through "hidden subsidies," he proposes paying to "keep the water crystal clear, the air clean and the landscape green." «If I buy an apple, I not only have to pay the price of producing it but also of conserving the natural resources that will allow my grandchildren to continue starting apples.».

Eliminating poverty requires, in his opinion, at least other measures: diversifying crops and races - «of the 10,000 species that humans have used throughout history, today only 150 are used commercially, which leaves us more unprotected against climate change '- and, in parallel, revive international cooperation. «Of the 0.8% that was allocated in 2008 to this concept, we now only dedicate 0.1% of the national budget in our country and in many others. We are not helping».

Esquinas Alcázar does not refer only to governments. «Our power as consumers in a consumer society is greater than that of political parties. We must transform our shopping carts into battle tanks. Consuming is a political act that encourages or disincentives certain productions».

Video: Feeding America Tackles Hunger During the COVID-19 Pandemic (January 2023).