World hunger is often seen as a natural phenomenon, the result of crop failures and weather fluctuations. However, more and more, global inequality and the demands of consumers in developed nations are affecting food supplies in the rest of the world. One example of this is the burgeoning corn market.
Corn is grown in huge amounts in the United States, on over 90 million acres of land. Modern farming methods and intensive land treatment have also increased the average yield per acre, from 39.4 bushels in 1954 to 167.4 in 2014, giving more than four times the amount of corn from the same amount of land.
Even including high-fructose corn syrup, which many nutritional researchers suggest is not a useful food because of its negative effects on the human metabolism, only 5 percent of this massive crop is used in food for humans. It is mainly used to create ethanol and animal feed. This means that it is heavily processed and extra energy is put into the process at every stage, mainly from fossil fuels.
Meat production using the products of corn is inefficient in terms of calories out versus calories in. One Cornell study found that animal protein production demands over eight times more energy than that of plant protein. Rather than creating a much higher quality food with this energy, animal protein is only slightly more nutritious—about 1.4 times when compared to plant protein.
It is also inefficient because raising animals requires additional space, human investment, time, and machinery as compared to handling plant foods. Animals also produce additional pollution in the form of greenhouse gases and bodily wastes.
The vast amount of land dedicated to growing produce that is not eaten by humans is there because as communities and individuals become better off, they tend to choose to buy more meat. Psychologically, it signifies success, and despite the availability of excellent vegetable-based diets for most people, there is a reluctance to eschew cheap meat.
If the land that is used for animal feed, including the vast swathes of corn, was turned over to vegetable production, there would be more than enough acreage to feed the global population, according to Bruce Babcock, who is an economics professor at Iowa State University. This is the case even taking into account the population growth predicted by the United Nations that states that the world population in 2100 is likely to be over 10 billion.
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Food production and logistics are now sufficiently developed that world hunger could be a thing of the past. Sadly, the economic drive to make it happen is not so accessible.
One eighth of the people currently living in the world are affected by chronic hunger. This is not a natural result of farming issues and insufficient land, but rather a deliberate choice on the part of producers to eschew meeting food needs and focus on short-term monetary goals.