Monthly Archives: December 2008

Food Security and the Last Billion

atakpame-1983Yesterday, Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Administration, complained that this year, due to the global food crisis, an additional 40 million humans are joining the ranks of the chronically food insecure around the world, and the total for the seriously at-risk is now at least about 963 million. About 1 billion around the world are now at dire imminent risk of starvation and debilitating malnutrition. Needless to say, Afrikan countries, most run by anti-Afrikan, indeed anti-human kleptocrats and neo-colonialists, serve up some of the highest numbers. Likewise for India, China, and elsewhere in the third world.

Perhaps in the wake of the urgency with which Mr. Diouf testified to the UN’s food agency, now may be a time to muse about the implications of our individual eating habits on global ecology and food security. In what I’ve learned of agronomy, it seems vegetarianism is the most ecologically sustainable diet that human populations can pursue. Even in rural settings, runaway grazing eats up land and depletes its moisture carrying capacity far more quickly than even conventional mono-crop rearing. Eating fruits and using herbs from the forest – minimally invasive in practice – seems like the total opposite of grazing, factory farming, and other practices that have led to extreme deforestation and desertification, including the misguided steps being taken in Indonesia, Malaysia, and elsewhere to convert old-growth broad-leaf rainforest into vast groves of palm oil for bio-fuel export.

I think the Afrikan that moves away from meat is making a profound move. Not only is it in pursuit of the primal health colored folks will need to fight imperialism and neo-colonialism and establish a united Afrika serving and enriching the lives of Afrikans, but it is also an engagement with the carrying capacity of the Earth, and an acknowledgment of the delicate balance needed for the planet to replenish itself. It suggests we are willing to share and allow what the Earth can bountifully give to us, so long as we don’t take in excess and destroy the ecosystem in the process. It is well documented how much more water, land, food and fuel inputs are needed for even modest styles of animal husbandry to feed one individual, compared to inputs needed to feed one person through plant-based means only. At one extreme is factory farming and agribusiness that rapes the Earth without recourse to the least iota of moral restraint, and on the other, I think, the Afrikan moving towards serious raw veganism.

It is a move for the zealots, most will probably conclude. So be it. It tastes good and at least we know we are on Earth’s side, custodians of ecological sustainability and food security, because of our dietary choices. Already there is enough food to feed the world’s population, just that it’s concentrated in granaries in the West, and its potential to be utilized sensibly in Afrika is thwarted by cash-crop export economies, political instability, pollution, war, runaway urbanization, land privatization and land misuse. How much more could the ability to feed the world be expanded if less of us opt for the most wasteful land-use patterns by going for the meat, especially the factory-farmed meat?

Not that the millennium development goals are worth a damn beyond their pretty letters on conscience-appeasing paper, but if we want to take Mr. Diouff’s grievances seriously and consider how we can contribute to food security, even if rather indirectly, perhaps more of us should consider putting the meat down. This is just a microscopic baby-step into being a bit more mindful of the planet and all its resources we usurp to feed us, given the choices we make, even in diet. We haven’t even begun to discuss the fundamental problem of parasitic capitalism and its imposition of hunger, ignorance, land theft, and wretchedness on the “developing” world.

Don’t you get tired of it being the 21st century and black folks (and Asians, Indigenous folk and Latin Americans too) are still starving, still part of the last billion?