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Food Production: The World Can Feed Us All

The main function of food is to provide the human body with energy. This it does in chemical form. This chemical energy is converted into mechanical work and into heat (to maintain body temperature). What a human being needs can be worked out in energy terms and the unit generally used to measure this is the "calorie" (or, more correctly, the kilocalorie). Many people don't realise that this is a unit of energy, equally applicable in physics as in biology.

Depending on his age, sex, work and climate a person's calorie needs can be worked out. If he is not getting these calories then he is underfed and can properly be regarded as "starving".

But calories are not all that a person's food must give him. It must also provide the various substances the body needs to develop and function properly especially proteins, vitamins and various minerals (like iron, calcium, iodine).

The bulk of people's food is taken in the form of carbohydrates (starches, sugars) and fats. The carbohydrates, which come from corn, rice, potatoes, are cheap. Which is one reason why they are the staple diet of most people. The fats provide more calories and come from eating meats and some vegetables.

They say that you could in theory live without carbohydrates and fats; the same does not go for proteins, however. Protein-foods also provide calories (which is why they could replace carbohydrates and fats) but their main role is in supplying certain essential ingredients to the body to grow and to renew itself. The trouble is that proteins are found in the more expensive foods. Thus malnutrition arising from protein deficiency is fairly widespread. Malnutrition can also be caused by a deficiency of vitamins and minerals.

You often hear it said that "two-thirds of the world are starving". That all depends on what you mean by starving. The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates "that up to half of the population of the world continues to suffer from under-nutrition and malnutrition in varying decrees" (1963). But is malnutrition, as opposed to under-nutrition, properly called "starvation"? To most people starvation means not getting enough food, being almost at death's door. If two-thirds of the world were starving in this sense then the world's population ought to be going down as they die off. It is safer to say that up to half the world's population is either underfed and/or badly fed. Estimates of those actually underfed put the figure at about 10 to 15 per cent; the half being made up by cases of malnutrition mainly from protein deficiency.

Faced with these terrible figures people say its the result of ignorance or of too many people or of not enough land to grow food on. In fact this problem is caused by none of these. All this human suffering is unnecessary and could be rapidly ended given the necessary changes in the structure of society.

That the natural resources of the earth and the knowledge and machines of its people are sufficient to provide an abundance of foodstuffs is a well-established fact. Listen to Professor Clark, formerly of the Agricultural Economics Research Institute of Oxford University:

“The purpose of this article is to consider whether the earth's resources, if properly developed, would yield material goods sufficient to provide, a satisfactory livelihood for the whole human race. Although it is not usual to state one's conclusion at the beginning, in this case it can be stated without qualification. The material resources of the world would easily suffice to make such provision, not only for the whole human race as it now is, but also for any conceivable expansion of our numbers which is likely to occur for a very long time. Whatever was the case in the past, we can certainly say now that, with modern scientific and technical knowledge, the fact that so many people fall short of satisfactory livelihood must be blamed entirely upon human shortcomings, not upon the inadequacies of nature” ("The Earth Can Feed its People", Christian Responsibility and World Poverty. A Catholic Viewpoint).

Prof. Clark is a Catholic and an opponent of birth control, but even supporters of birth control as one way to solve capitalism's current food problems agree on this. N. W. Pirie, of the Rothamsted Experimental Station, writes in his recent book Resources: Conventional and Novel (reviewed, SOCIALIST STANDARD, September, 1969) of the possibilities of increasing food production by the further application of conventional agriculture:

“At many points there is great scope for further research, but the vigorous application of existing knowledge on a worldwide scale could increase immensely the amount of food produced. The extent of the possible increase is a matter of opinion. But only a very cautious prophet would predict less than a doubling.”

In 1963 the F.A.O. published Possibilities of Increasing World Food Production, a region-by-region survey of food producing potential, and declared that "it is clear that world potentials for increasing food production are very substantial indeed". This conclusion is all the more impressive since the FAO openly assumes that food will continue to be produced for sale and traded on the world market (a great restriction on production).

It is perhaps worth running through what are these conventional methods that could be vigorously applied: (1) Cultivating more land; (2) Irrigation; (3) Better varieties of crops; (4) Use of fertilizers; (5) Use of weed killers and pesticides.

All these techniques could be further applied as soon as Socialism were established in order to increase food production immediately by a substantial amount.

Developments in agriculture are not the only ones that can allow food production to be increased. It is often said that although the food can be produced in America, Europe, Australia, the facilities for transporting it to the people who need it either don't exist or are quite inadequate. The ports of India are said to be so overcrowded that it would be physically impossible to transport more food there. There are said to be no roads to the places where people are starving so that the food would have to be carried by porters over long distances. This may well be true but there are transportation techniques which are also not vigorously applied. When there is a war on, the logistics sections of the armed forces overcome such problems and the Indo-China war has shown that the USAF can build temporary air fields in the middle of the jungle in a very short time.

Besides the more vigorous application of conventional methods of agriculture, further research could lead to the discovery of new methods by which food production could be increased.

Food, as we saw, is energy in chemical form and, if really necessary, essential foodstuffs could be produced synthetically toy industrial processes. In the last world war, Germany had a factory producing artificial fats. Vitamins and minerals are already produced industrially. Research into ways of manufacturing proteins is also going on, as newspaper stories about food from oil and coal show.

Then there is the sea, a vast source of untapped food potential, especially of protein-rich foods. As far as obtaining food from the sea is concerned mankind is still largely in the hunting and gathering stage from which on land we developed millions of years ago. Very little farming of the sea is done as yet. Two scientists, writing in the April 1969 issue of World Health (WHO), estimate:

“If the sea's resources were used rationally, an acre of its surface could produce twice as much protein-rich food as an acre of high-class pasture. . . . According to estimates made by the oceanographer Professor L. Zenkevitch of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, the productive capacity of the sea is more than a thousand times that of the arable land area.”

Half the world is inadequately fed despite the existence of the resources to provide the food they need in abundance, not because of overpopulation nor because of nature but because of the capitalist system of production for profit on the basis of the class ownership of the means of production.