Feed the World | Viva!

Feed the World

In the hands of the rich

After extensive lobbying, the IMF and the World Bank set up the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) in 1996 with the apparent aim of alleviating debt burdens (24). Some bilateral lenders, like the UK government, have agreed to write off 100 per cent of the debts owed to them when the countries in question complete the Initiative. When countries get half way through (called the Decision Point), they receive partial relief on their annual debt service payments.

In order to receive debt relief through the HIPC initiative, developing countries have to get a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) agreed by the IMF and the World Bank.

PRSPs replace “Structural Adjustment Programmes” (SAPs), which were imposed on developing countries as part of their loan packages. These forced governments to reduce public spending and promote their export industries, in theory releasing more money for debt repayment. Unsurprisingly, a number of studies showed that SAPs made people poorer (24). The UNICEF-sponsored Adjustment with a Human Face, documented increases in stunting, underweight and low birth weight in the wake of structural adjustment policies in nine of 11 Latin American, African and Asian nations surveyed in the 1980s (23).

PRSPs set out governments’ strategies to reduce poverty and must include plans for how the money freed up by debt relief will be spent - e.g. on education and health care. The indebted countries also have to agree to implement economic reforms. (26). The WDM states, “As the IMF and the World Bank hold the veto, PRSPs are unsurprisingly turning out to be very similar to the Structural Adjustment Programmes they replaced” (26).


Much of the aid given to developing world countries has been 'tied aid' - this means that the countries who receive it have to buy goods and services from the countries who give it. In this way, most of the money is simply returned to those who gave it.

During the 1970s, the US only gave aid to Nicaragua in exchange for the production of beef, causing the loss of 1,000 km2 of rainforest per year. By 1979, Nicaragua was Latin America's biggest supplier of beef to the US.

Lobbying efforts by NGOs like Action Aid to “untie” aid mean that tied aid is now declining. In an unprecedented move, the UK government has now agreed to untie all its aid.

However, an increased proportion of aid is now granted as “technical cooperation”, which is excluded from the definition of tied aid. According to a World Bank report, “some 100,000 foreign technical experts are currently employed in Africa, tending to displace local experts... it has probably weakened capacity in Africa.” Action Aid says that technical cooperation, “ensures a steady supply of lucrative contracts for consultants in donor countries” (28). “Aid” to developing countries is often more concerned with providing financial support for the West.

Food aid is also excluded from the definition of tied aid. Action Aid says that, “the exclusion of food aid may encourage the provision of donor foodstuffs when locally available produce could be purchased” (47). Whilst food aid can be helpful in times of famine it does nothing to change the basic causes of hunger. As rich countries eat more meat, more land in poor countries will be turned over to produce animal feed.

Falling Harvests

At the 1996 United Nations World Food Summit, the American Agriculture Secretary, Dan Glickman, said that, “World grain stocks have dwindled to dangerously low levels, highlighting the fragility of food supplies” (29).

Reasons for falling grain harvests include poorer soil, lack of water and climate change but the message is clear - unless we change our diet to one not centred on animals we will force millions more people into starvation throughout the world.

Whilst grain harvests are falling, the demand for grain is rising. The Worldwatch Institute states that, “Grain production is unlikely to rise fast enough to satisfy projected demand for both food and feed” (30). If global grain production does not rise fast enough, there will not be enough grain to satisfy demand and grain prices will rise. But livestock farmers would still be able to sell their meat to the wealthy, and so would be able to outbid the poor in the market for scarce grain.

Human starvation will worsen whilst animals will continue to be fed so that rich people can continue to eat meat.

The Green Revolution

The “Green Revolution” of the late 1960s and early 1970s was billed as the solution to world hunger. Productivity was increased through farm machinery, pesticides and fertilisers, irrigation and the replacement of traditional crops with high-yielding varieties.

It failed to benefit those who needed it. This “revolution” focused on boosting the yields of a narrow base of cereals - corn, wheat and rice. The gains in cereal production often came at the expense of cultivation of more nutritious legumes, root crops and other grains. This resulted in reduced dietary diversity and contributed to widespread nutritional deficiencies as well as depletion of the soil and wildlife loss (23).

The “revolution” also favoured wealthier farmers because they were the ones who could afford to invest in the new technologies. The United Nations Population Fund states that, “Landlessness among former subsistence farmers and impoverishment have been unlooked-for consequences of the Green Revolution” (5).

The “Livestock Revolution”

Many countries in Asia and Africa have traditionally based their diets around rice, beans, pulses and vegetables, either following a wholly vegetarian diet or only including low amounts of meat and fish. This is exactly the type of nutritious diet that is now being promoted by health officials in the West in an attempt to combat diseases like obesity, heart disease and cancer - low in animal fats and high in fibre, vegetable protein and essential vitamins. Yet developing countries, keen to copy Western lifestyles, increasingly perceive meat-eating as a sign of wealth and progress. This shift towards meat consumption is being described as “The Livestock Revolution”.

The International Food Policy Research Institute projects that meat demand in the developing world will double between 1995 and 2020. Per capita demand for meat is projected to increase 40 per cent (5). Growth in livestock farming is primarily taking place in the intensive pig and poultry sectors (31).

Intensively farmed meat is billed as being a cheap source of protein whilst the global picture - the “grain drain” created by increased meat consumption - is ignored. Demand for cereals to feed to farmed animals is predicted to double in developing countries over the next generation (5). Demand for maize (corn) will increase the most, growing by 2.35 per cent over the next 20 years. Nearly two thirds will go towards feeding animals.
Meat consumption tends to rise as people migrate from rural areas to cities. The meat industry is naturally only too pleased by these new commercial opportunities. An article in the UK’s Meat Trades Journal states, “People living in rural areas are likely to have traditional eating habits while people living in towns aspire to Western eating habits, such as meat, and value the attribute of convenience more highly.” This creates,”a massive opportunity for satisfying the increased demand, with the major growth occurring in South and East Asia” (32).

The insanity of factory farming

This increase in factory farming is creating huge problems. In Bangladesh, for example, which is one of the world's poorest countries, battery hen systems have become widespread. The country has massive shortages of food, many unemployed people and very little money to spare. Factory farming needs money for equipment, creates hardly any jobs and uses up much valuable plant food that could be fed to people.

Factory farming does not meet the needs of these people but it does benefit people in Western countries where much of the equipment needed, such as tractors and building materials, is made. When developing countries buy them they then become dependent on the suppliers for spare parts and repairs.

Poultry World magazine highlighted “the great scope for expansion” in Africa. It emphasized how African countries are largely dependent on Western countries for breeding stock, feed and pharmaceuticals (33).

Poultry farming has grown so fast in India that they are producing more meat than their own people can afford to buy. Despite widespread hunger, they are exporting chicken to wealthy countries such as the Gulf States.

China has seen an enormous rise in pork production over the past decade and hence an enormous increase in its need for animal feed. The country has transformed from being an exporter of 8 million tonnes of grain in 1993 to becoming a net importer of 16 million tonnes by 1995 (34).

If developing countries look to consuming the same quantity of meat per head as the average American, food shortages will become desperate. Yet rather than switch to vegetarianism, livestock scientists advocate boosting the “feed efficiency” of animals. A modern intensively raised chicken will put on 3 kilograms from the same amount of feed that in 1957 only yielded 2 kilograms. US scientists have discovered that pigs can be made to grow 40 per cent faster on 25 per cent less feed if they are injected with DNA encoding a modified, long lasting releasing factor for growth hormones (30). In livestock science, animals are perceived as unfeeling, unthinking, protein-making machines who can be tweaked and manipulated for our own benefit.

Exporting factory farming means exporting the overuse of antibiotics and the increased risks of food poisoning and diseases such as cancer and heart disease which are associated with increased meat-eating. It also means exporting the environmental damage caused by intensive farming systems, including the overuse of water and land degradation to provide the massive amount of crops these poor creatures are fed (see Viva! Guides 2 - Stop Bugging Me; 7 - Your Health in Your Hands; 9 - Planet on a Plate). Is this really what the developing world needs in order to “develop”?

The predicted shift towards increased meat consumption is still in its infancy. Even in China, which is at the forefront of the “Livestock Revolution” and where per capita meat consumption doubled between 1983 and 1993, people eat on average just a quarter as much meat as the average American (30). If we act now, we could still stop this cycle of insanity and move towards agricultural systems which would genuinely feed the world.

Malnutrition and obesity

For the first time in history, we have reached a situation where the number of overweight people rivals the number who are underweight, both estimated at 
1.1 billion (35).

As countries grow wealthier, meat consumption tends to rise. Hunger problems are reduced but hospitals begin to see more cases involving illnesses such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer - all of which are linked to diets high in animal produce. China is at the forefront of the “livestock revolution”. The share of adults who are overweight jumped from 9 per cent to 15 per cent between 1989 and 1992. 
The number of diabetics worldwide whose condition results from overeating is projected to double between 1998 and 2025, with more than three quarters of this growth occurring in the developing world. Some countries will be battling hunger and obesity at the same time.

In a nutshell: countries whose people are starving are using their land to grow grain for export to feed the West’s farmed animals. Nutritionally valuable food is being fed to animals to produce meat, which Western countries are literally gorging themselves to death on. Now, we are exporting factory farming to the developing world. Meat consumption is rising and so are the associated health problems.

Send a cow

Charities have been set up in the UK with the specific aim of promoting livestock farming in the developing world - claiming they are working to alleviate poverty. Some projects receive funding from the Department for International Development (DFID).

“Send a Cow” was set up by a group of Christian farmers in 1988. Most of Uganda’s dairy cows had died during the civil war and the farmers literally began sending live cows from England to Africa. The charity has now set up a breeding programme within Africa (36).

“Farm Africa” also promotes livestock farming. Its promotional literature states, “The sort of poverty we see in the developing world is simply unacceptable. Our moral imperative must be to do everything in our power to overcome it” (37).

The point to be grasped is that whilst encouraging animal farming may temporarily alleviate the poverty of individual families, it can only contribute towards poverty in the long run. Promoting meat production can never be a solution to world hunger because it means promoting a diet which drains valuable grain stocks and devastates the environment.


A welcome antidote to these charities is Hippo - or Help International Plant Protein Organisation. It provides emergency relief for the hungry in the less developed world but just as importantly it encourages people to grow their own food - not meat or dairy but plant protein.

Hippo’s logic is simple: why wastefully feed millions of tons of soya to animals when it could feed far more people directly? It has nearly 50 per cent high quality protein, is rich in iron and calcium and all kinds of other vitamins and minerals, keeps without refrigeration, has low fat, no waste, no food poisoning bugs and doesn’t cause suffering to animals (38). Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) - made from soya - can feed 60 people from the same amount of land that would feed two people on meat - and much more healthily.

Currently, Hippo is supporting projects in various parts of Africa and one in Europe. At Keyevunze, they are supporting the training of 120 health workers who are showing people how to improve their diets by growing soya. Results are already beginning to show with a reduction in kwashiorkor - a disease of poor nutrition.

In Malawi, Hippo is working with the regional agricultural department to introduce soya as a crop to local villagers. They are helping to construct a small reservoir for irrigation and providing a soya mill to process the beans.

Hippo was set up by Neville Heath Fowler after a trip to Ethiopia in 1992. Says Fowler, “If only some of the cotton fields could be devoted to soya, we dreamed, and if people could learn to value it as the miracle of nutrition that it is. Then saplings such as those which the goats routinely destroyed could grow into spreading trees. Perhaps Ethiopia could then begin to recover the forests it had lost, climate change would be reversed and soil erosion arrested. And this could happen all over the world. If only we could deliver the antidote to the diseased Western idea that progress is synonymous with meat.” Hippo can be contacted at: Llangynog, Carmarthen SA33 5BS. 
E: hippocharity@aol.com

Fish Farming

Fish farming, or aquaculture, is the fastest growing sector of the world economy and has been growing at 11 per cent a year over the past decade (39). In 1990, 13 million tonnes of fish were produced but by 2002, this had risen to 39.8 million tonnes.

85 per cent of fish farming is in developing countries. China accounted for 27.7 million tonnes of the 39.8 million tonnes of world aquacultural output in 2002, and India 
2 million tonnes. Bangladesh, Indonesia and Thailand are also major players in the industry.

Breeding fish in captivity is billed as the way to protect ever-diminishing wild fish stocks. But paradoxically, carnivorous farmed fish are actually fed wild fish - further depleting the oceans. It takes 5 tons of fish caught from the sea to produce one ton of factory farmed salmon (39). Wild-caught fish are also fed to halibut, cod and trout.

Fishmeal is made from fish or fish parts for which there is said to be little or no human demand. But the huge need for wild-caught fish on fish farms still places much additional stress on our fragile, overfished oceans (40).

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, 69 per cent of the world’s commercial marine fish stocks are “fully exploited, overfished, depleted, or slowly recovering” (5).

Non-carnivorous farmed fish like carp and catfish are fed grain rather than wild-caught fish. Fish are said to convert grain more “efficiently” than cattle - they add a kilogram of weight with less than two kilograms of grain. But the global fixation with obtaining protein from animals means that the most efficient option of all - consuming the grain directly - is ignored (for the environmental impact of fish farming, see Viva! Guide 9, Planet on a Plate).

Global water shortage

The massive quantities of grain required to sustain a meat-based diet are not the only problem. The meat production process uses up vast quantities of water in a world where water is in short supply. It takes 1,000 litres to produce 1kg of wheat and 100,000 litres to produce 1kg of beef (41). About three quarters of the water we use goes on growing food (42) but vegetarians need less than a third as much water to sustain their diet as meat-eaters (13). See also Viva! Guide 9, Planet on a Plate.

Living in the West, it’s easy to imagine that our water supplies are unlimited but globally, our fresh water supplies are being used up so fast that almost half a billion people already depend on nonrenewable sources. (43) Seven per cent of the world’s population has not enough water and by 2050, this will be 70 per cent (42). The situation is so dire that battles over water supplies are predicted to become a major source of conflict.

Worldwatch Institute chairman Lester Brown states, “In consumption terms, 480 million of the world’s 6 billion people are being fed with food produced with the unsustainable use of water. We are already using up the water which belongs to our children” (43). The International Water Management Institute predicts that by 2025 about 2.7 billion people - a third of the world’s population - will live in regions faced by regular and severe water scarcity. Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will be hit the hardest (44).

It’s hard to imagine a scenario more sickening than a rich elite gorging itself on meat while the poorest third of the world’s population literally dehydrate. A shift away from meat consumption must become a global priority if we are to have a hope of meeting the basic needs of the world’s six billion inhabitants.

GM - the truth

Multinational companies promise us that there is a new solution to global poverty: genetically modified crops. Thanks to their life-saving research, we will soon be able to grow enough food to feed the world, they promise us. So what’s the real reason for their sudden altruism?

Don’t forget that there is already enough food to feed the world - on a vegetarian diet. What there is not enough of is animal feed - cereals to drive the predicted increase in meat consumption. The amount of productive land is diminishing through desertification and soil degradation, due largely - ironically - to intensive livestock agriculture. It will diminish even further with flooding from global warming. But the potential market for animal feed is huge.

The pharmaceutical giants who are pushing GMOs bank some $161 billion dollars between them every year. They walk hand in hand with agribusinesses and the livestock industry -  often they are one and the same company. Intensive livestock farming accounts for over 40 per cent of their income and it is these companies are responsible for producing the vast quantities of fodder consumed by farmed animals world-wide - as well as the cocktail of drugs, growth enhancers and pesticides which prop up intensive farming systems (45).

The driving need, therefore, is to make maximum use of existing land by destroying all weeds and wild plants which compete for nutrients, and to increase crop yields -  hence genetic modification. Companies promoting GMOs are more interested in boosting the production of animal feed and hence meat than in feeding the world. See Viva! Guide 8, Genetic Engineering.

The solution is in our hands

The fast growth of the world's population is a serious problem because it means there are more mouths to feed, resulting in more pressure on water, land, wildlife and so on. By 2050, the 49 least-developed countries will nearly triple in size, from 668 million to 1.86 billion people (2). By 2050, today’s developing countries will account for over 85 per cent of the world population (2).

However, although this makes the hunger problem worse, it does not actually cause it. It is the growth of incomes and demand for 'luxury' items in rich countries that have triggered the hunger crisis. The world is a much wealthier place today than it was 40 years ago and as wages have risen they have encouraged large-scale meat eating in richer countries, heightening the competition for cereals between animals and humans.

A huge “consumption gap” exists between industrialised and developing countries. The world’s richest countries, with 20 per cent of global population, account for 86 per cent of total private consumption, whereas the poorest 20 per cent of the world’s people account for just 1.3 per cent.

A child born today in an industrialised country will add more to consumption and pollution over his or her lifetime than 30 to 50 children born in developing countries. (5)
The decline in world fish stocks, the erosion of agricultural land and the limits of technology to boost grain yields mean we are fast approaching the limit of resources and the earth's carrying capacity. We need to rethink the way limited supplies of plant food are distributed and start feeding the world.

Eating meat is not the only reason for world hunger but it is a major cause. We must drastically change our eating habits if we are to feed the world adequately. People are going hungry while ever increasing numbers of animals are fed huge amounts of food in a hopelessly inefficient system.

By not using animals as meat producing machines, this food could be freed to help those that need it most. Vegetarianism, by using up far less of the world’s resources of food, land water and energy, is a positive step that we can all easily take to help feed people in poorer countries.

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