News of a supposed "Worldwide Food Glut" has made headlines. Some think the danger of a population explosion is past! Others say the population bomb is still relentlessly ticking away. Is the world on the way to self-sufficiency? The answer is in this article.
THERE is no starvation in India at all," announced the Indian Ambassador to the United States, Nawab Ali Yavar Jung. "There is no such thing as starvation in India," he continued. "Scarcity is an old-fashioned word because of our agricultural progress." Ambassador Jung said his country expects to be self-sufficient in food production within a maximum of three years and to be exporting grain within five years. Journalists who follow Ambassador Jung's thinking speak of a "global food glut" and "soaring surpluses."
A Different Story
At the same time, equally important officials of the Indian government say the opposite: India's President Dr. Zakir Husain said, "I would like to caution against too much talk of an agricultural revolution. We are not free from the vagaries of monsoons. There are too many imponderables." The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported in 1968 that "it would be a mistake... to jump to the conclusion that the world's food problem has been solved, either temporarily or permanently." Why the controversy? It is time we looked at the facts!
The 1969 Wheat Crop
When scientists speak of the "food glut" they refer mainly to grain crops, and most commonly wheat, corn, and rice. Corn, or maize, is largely fed to livestock. Rice is usually consumed in the country where it is grown. So it is wheat that is usually the focal point of trade and commerce of food. In 1967, 1968, and 1969, wheat crops were very good, especially in Western nations. The wheat crops of 1969 were very high in the United States, Russia, Australia, and Canada, but low in South America (especially the key nation of Argentina), in Asia, and Africa. Asia's crop dropped by a million tons. Africa's crop increased slightly but produced only one-fourteenth as much as the Soviet Union alone! (These production statistics come from the FAO. They refer to 1969 spring harvest and the 1968 fall harvest) The worldwide total for 1968-69 was an increase of 13 percent in wheat. According to early reports, the 1969 fall harvest of wheat is down only 7 percent from the 1968 fall total (Journal of Commerce, August 5, 1969). Thus we can look upon 1968-69 as a very good year for wheat. Maize and "miracle-rice" also had good years of production. This is very good news. But unfortunately, the good news ends here. The problem is that the "food glut" is not getting to the mouths of starving Africans, Asians, and South Americans. There are six problems generated by the "Global Food Glut."
I. The "Food Glut" Causes Price Wars
Almost by definition, the food glut is a price war. Over-supply pushes food prices downward so that farmers cannot sell at a profit. Producing nations are locked in a price war, as they fight to get rid of their one-year over-supply. For instance, wheat price per bushel has descended from $1.83 in 1967 to about $1.50 in 1969 in the United States. Some grades of wheat in the U.S. Southwest are bringing only $1.20. This cuts the farmer's profit margin to very little or nothing. The farmer then pushes for government support of the price. Most governments cannot afford this, and underdeveloped countries are not rich enough to buy at even the low price. Thus the farmers or governments hold on to the wheat and hope that the glut will go away the next year. Meanwhile the wheat sits idly in storage. And while the food lies in storage, mildew, rats, and other infestations ruin one pound in every five. While the rats get fat, Asians and Africans starve. This brings us to problem number two.
II. "Food Glut" Isn't Feeding the Hungry
In all the plethora of articles on the food glut, you'll never read one about the "glutted" nations feeding the starving nations. The United States is the main country which has shipped a large tonnage of surplus to the hungry at low prices. And even that has declined recently. The food is going to storage, while thousands starve. As one newspaper headline said, "Too Much Wheat — but Many Millions are Going Hungry." Canada and Australia have surpluses, but they don't usually have large tonnages of surplus to sell at a loss or give away. Russia, who grows more wheat than all North America, South America, Africa, and Australia combined, could easily feed India. Their surplus could feed the equivalent of three loaves of bread every week to every Indian — but they don't. If nations can't get their profit, they'll keep the wheat. Meanwhile, very few Asians and Africans are being glutted by the "Food Glut."
III. STARCH, not PROTEIN
The constant reference to food surpluses usually dwells on wheat, corn, and rice. What most people don't realize is that the average Indian eats more calories of grain per day than the average American! Unfortunately, most of it is rice. Proteins are a different story. According to the U.N. F.A.O. Production Yearbook, the average Indian eats 6 calories of meat per day, while the average American eats 600! The same Indian eats 1 calorie of eggs and 4 calories of fish, while the same American eats 70 and 25 calories, respectively. An American drinks three glasses of milk (about 400 calories) to the Indian's half-a-glass (about 80 calories) each day. Thus, the American's animal protein intake is 1000% to 1200% greater than the Indian's. The average Indian consumes 6 pounds of meat a year, while many Americans eat that much in a week. Grains make up 60 percent of the Indian diet (1150 calories), while they make up only 20 percent of the American diet (650 calories). Thus, even if the grain glut reached Asia, it would help their nutritional level very little; the starving millions need more complete proteins available only through meat or animal products. It is easy to say India leads the world in livestock population. It is easy to say that the Indian Ocean is one of the richest fishing grounds in the world. But it is not easy to convince an Indian to alter his sincere religious beliefs to tap these protein rich sources.
IV. Crops Depend Heavily on WEATHER
The bumper crops of the last three years are unanimously attributed to exceptional weather: "The increase in food production [in 1968) was largely due to good weather." (The Daily Telegraph, September 13, 1968) "A major reason for the glut is bumper crops resulting from good weather" (Time, Sept. 12, 1969, p. 90). Weather is the major reason why nobody can predict famines or surpluses. Because one year or three years are blessed with good weather doesn't mean the following year will be good. Because monsoons may have been favorable for three years doesn't mean they cease their history of unpredictability. Many scientists and authors have predicted the middle 1970's as the target date for famines. Among these are William and Paul Paddock, authors of Famine 1975 and Hungry Nations. In an interview with Rotarian Magazine, they admitted that weather is the key factor in predicting these dates. "Luckily," they said, "these last two years have seen exceptionally fine weather throughout most of the agricultural world. As a result we may have a couple of years of extra grace before our prediction comes true. "Of course, when crops are good," they added, "government officials take the credit by pointing to their excellent planning in providing fertilizer, improved seeds, financing, etc. When crops are poor, the same officials blame the low yields on bad weather. "No, the big increase is due to the excellent weather God has given.... The fundamental problems on which we based our predictions remain unsolved. Although these advances may delay the day of reckoning, the real problem remains: the population explosion." (Rotarian Magazine, June, 1969, p. 17, emphasis ours)
V. Population vs. Food Production
The true problem is the population explosion. Because of social, economic and political situations prevailing in some hunger-plagued nations, there is at present no way for the masses to increase food production enough to keep pace with population growth. No matter how fast food grows, it increases arithmetically (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.). But population increases geometrically (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, etc.). Percentages of population growth are rising (from about 1.8% per year in 1950 to about 2.1% per year today), while food increases are declining. One, two, or even three good years do not erase the trend of two decades. There have always been good and bad years, but long-range trends are the important statistics to watch. Right after World War II the widespread use of fertilizers and pesticides began. Reserve acres of land were brought under cultivation. This brought many years of excellent increases, but those years had to come to an end. The land can be "fertilized" and "pesticided" just so much, and the number of reserve acres is limited. That turning point came in the middle 1960's. From 1950 to 1955 food was up 20%, from 1955 to 1960, it was up 15%, from 1960 to 1965, it was up 11 %. Each recent five-year percentage has dropped about one-fourth off the growth rate. Meanwhile population rises 11% each five years! This makes world per-capita food production less each year on a long-term basis. World yields per acre only grew an average of one percent per year between 1961 and 1965. Meanwhile, population grew a full two percent per year. Many lands are nearly "worn out," and could begin failing the farmer any year. Reserve arable land is now at a premium. The only major "escape valve" left open to man is to plant the pasture lands, and this requires mass slaughtering of livestock. Depleted livestock numbers mean much fewer calories and less protein for future years.
VI. Surpluses Won't Last Long
The vaunted surpluses resulting from three consecutive bumper crops are not as much as one may think. A recent government study revealed that the United States has only 40 days of processed food available in case of famine: 9 days' supply on housewives' shelves; 15 days' supply with retailers; and 16 days' supply with wholesalers and factories. In addition, the raw grain surplus and the entire national supply of livestock would provide food for about one year! Knowing the food riots that historically result from a famine situation, this supply could disappear in much less than one year. And this is the United States — one of the best fed countries in the world! How much harder would a famine year strike a country with little or no food reserve — which includes most of the world! But articles about today's "food glut" express confidence this won't happen: "The world supply of wheat has grown so large that even a serious drought in one or two countries would not wipe out the global surplus" (Time, September 12, 1969, p. 90). That sounds reassuring. But it is a hollow reassurance when one analyzes it. The world is safe if there is drought in only one or two wheat-producing countries for one year. But how about three or four of the big producers? How about for two years? Or seven? The world would survive a worldwide drought for only a matter of a very few months. It would take years, maybe decades, of excellent weather and incredible production in every crop to work up to a safe surplus.
Telling It Like It Is
Now, we can see the warnings of world-famous scientists in better perspective: Dr. Binay Sen, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, warned, "If the rate of food production cannot be significantly increased, we must be prepared for the four horsemen of the apocalypse." Dr. Sen added, "The next thirty-five years... will be a most critical period in man's history. Either we take the fullest measures to raise productivity and to stabilize population growth, or we will face disaster of an unprecedented magnitude." Dr. Sen is intimately familiar with the problem and deals with it every day. Another authority on the threat posed by a burgeoning population is Dr. Paul R. Ehrlich of Stanford University's Department of Biological Sciences. He predicts bluntly: "Sometime between 1970 and 1985 the United States and the rest of the world will undergo vast famines — hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death. "That is, they will starve to death unless plague, thermonuclear war, or some other agent kills them first. Many will starve to death in spite of any crash programs we might embark on now. And we in the U.S. are not embarking on any crash program. Nor is any other nation. These are the harsh realities we face." Dr. Raymond Ewell, vice-president of the State University of New York warned, "The food-population problem seems likely to reach such enormous proportions, even by 1975, that it will dwarf and overshadow all the problems and anxieties that now occupy our attention, such as the threat of nuclear war, communism, the space race..." Professor John McMillan, president of the Australian Freedom from Hunger campaign, said that unless humankind "roused itself" the most terrible famine known to man could engulf the world within a short ten years! "The relentless ticking of the overpopulation time bomb grows ominously louder with each passing day," wrote Irving S. Bengelsdorf of the Los Angeles Times. Thomas M. Ware, head of the Freedom from Hunger Foundation in the United States: "The catastrophe is not something that may happen; on the contrary, it is a mathematical certainty that it will happen." Dr. Earl L. Butz, Dean of Agriculture at Purdue University: "The world is on a collision course. When the massive force of an exploding world population meets the much more stable trend line of world food production, something must give. Unless we give 'increased attention to the softening of the impending collision, many parts of the world within a decade will be skirting a disaster of such proportions as to threaten the peace and stability of the Western world." Asserted Dr. Robert H. White-Stevens, nutritionist, biochemist, Assistant to the Director of Research and Development, Agricultural Division, American Cyanamid Corporation, "The last third of the 20th century will prove to be of unparalleled gravity for civilization as it is now organized. The perils of the Dark Ages, the strife of the Hundred Years' War and the desolation of all the marauding armies of history combined will not match the devastation and loss of human life that will occur between now and the year 2000." Dr. 'White-Stevens had more to say. "Famine can be expected to emerge as the paramount force in the world socio-politico economy by 1975 and continue to a point now totally unpredictable where human society could fragment into total chaos on a global basis." Humanity has a rendezvous with FAMINE.
The world as a whole seeks escape by ignoring the problem, hiding its eyes from reality, sweeping the whole crisis under a mental rug! But what about you? Warned Dr. Borgstrom, "The prevailing escapism is of such dimensions that it is bordering on insanity. We enjoy a leisurely existence in a world of illusion created by our words and fanciful concepts. When somebody reminds us of reality, we talk ourselves out of it — as do the insane." He continues, "If we continue as hitherto, we are heading for inevitable disaster" (Too Many, pp. 454-455). Is it really sound-mindedness for nations to spend billions launching rockets toward the moon — but to spend trifling amounts on the most crucial, most urgent problems here on earth? Is it sane to waste billions on smoking, excess alcohol, excess drugs, excess cosmetics, excess leisure, and excess of nearly everything else... and ignore impending DISASTER? Have you been hypnotized by glorious "space adventures"? Have you been lulled asleep by the siren song that "everything is all right"? Or are you ready to face up to reality? Now turn the page for a special interview — Most scientists agree that massive famines are inevitable.