Many analysts have come to the common conclusion that although the world has enough food produced for its population of 7 billion, the scandal is that almost 1 billion remain hungry. Although it is a problem with several contributing factors, the main moral question is why the hungry are continually denied access to the surpluses that might otherwise feed them. Such problems are aggravated where the gap between the rich and the poor increases remembering that wealthy households in the same community are much less at risk of food deprivation. In 2006 for example according to the MSNBC the world had more than one billion who were overweight and an estimated 800 million who were undernourished. In India 46% of children are underweight. According to the FAO 852 million people are currently hungry due to extreme poverty and an estimated 2 billion lack food security due to varying degrees of poverty.
Globalisation of trade opens up global opportunities to make profit from agriculture but unfortunately the corollary is that the wealthy nations can readily access agricultural supply and gain control of land outside historical limits. One obvious example is the multinational annexing of previous local food supply areas for the production of bio-fuels such as palm oil. There is also unequal competition for what is produced. The purchasing access to finite markets means a corresponding difficulty of access to those without wealth. Another emerging problem is the more subtle influence of economic development because wealth also brings its own pressures. When, for example, a nation like China has a typical annual growth of its economy of up to 9% per annum, those who are becoming wealthier change their pattern of consumption, shifting from staples like rice and wheat to the much more land hungry options like meat. Competition for diminishing stocks of basic foods causes a great escalation in price. The farmers also have incentive to produce more lucrative food options which are then further out of reach of the poor.
Mass production of single crops is more economic for production but also more risky in terms of potential wide scale crop failure and for the likely depletion of essential trace elements in the soil. The subsequent need for fertilizers can cause run-off into lakes and rivers destroying whole ecosystems. Fluctuations in climate tend to have differential effects on different crops so traditional mixed subsistence farming is less likely to be affected than single crop in a vast area.
The journal Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food began publishing in 2009. It shows in developing countries, often 70% or more of the population lives in rural areas. As long as that is safeguarded agricultural development among smallholder farmers and landless people provides a livelihood for people allowing them the opportunity to stay in their communities. Yet the proportion of those allowed to stay in such areas is rapidly dropping. In increasing areas of the world, purchses into larger land holdings means that for many land ownership is no longer available, thus, people who want or need to farm to make a living have little incentive to improve the land. In places like the US, where this process is much better established there are approximately 2,000,000 farmers, less than 1% of the population.
That total food production is up is not in contention. There are even current indications that for the last two or three years at least the total number of starving has decreased. However what is far less obvious is whose responsibility is it to ensure that the widening gap between rich and poor is addressed in a meaningful way. Having seen recent signs that to do nothing leads to revolution eg Egypt to ignore it is to give credence to the maxim that we are sleepwalking to disaster.