Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Feeding Ourselves

The sidewalks of Bangkok. (SlapAyoda/Flickr)

The sidewalks of Bangkok. (SlapAyoda/Flickr)

Brian Halweil

Our next speaker is Roy Prosterman. He's President of the Rural Development Institute (RDI), a Seattle-based organization working on land reform and land rights. He's also a professor at the University of Washington School of Law. For more than 30 years, he's conducted field research, provided technical assistance in over 30 developing countries. The work has focused on drafting legislation that secures land rights for the rural landless. The work of Prosterman and his group has brought land ownership or owner-like rights to more than 400 million of the world's rural poor. Professor Prosterman has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize. Mr. Prosterman.

Roy Prosterman

Thank you very much. I've been told that I should try to keep this to about ten minutes, so I'm going to deal with some highlights I've done over the years, village field work in most of the major Asian societies where hunger is an issue currently. The Rural Development Institute is very active in the three most populous Asian societies--China, India and Indonesia--among others. I am always struck by the fact, when I go to the villages, that very small farmers can feed themselves. They can farm with sufficient intensity. They can apply labor for which often there is a zero opportunity cost. There is no other place to apply the labor in such a way that even from a holding of a hectare--two and a half acres--or less, they can feed their family and create a surplus sufficient to buy a motorcycle, a color television set, build a brick house, put decent furniture into it. We saw precisely this happen, of course, in a series of major land reforms supported with foreign aid; I might say, from the developed countries, foreign aid which is now sadly lacking in amount. But we supported, very successfully, land reforms in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, which essentially ended hunger in the rural sectors of those countries. One of the best measures, perhaps, because it's an absolute end result, is the death of infants and children. Are they surviving or are they dying? The evidence is that 60 to 70% of infant deaths can be attributed directly or substantially to lack of nutrition.

If you gather the data for principal Asian societies today, looking first at the land reformed societies--it's very interesting. Japan now has an infant mortality rate under 4 per 1,000 live births, considerably lower than that, indeed, in the U.S. or most of Western Europe. But not only Japan, South Korea is at 11 per 1,000 live births, essentially at Western European and U.S. levels. Taiwan is at 7 per 1,000 live births. Vietnam is not too far behind, about where the U.S. was in the late '50s or early '60s. They're at 31 per 1,000 live births. China also has had major land reform, including decollectivization. It was the first of the centrally planned economies to decollectivize completely in the early '80s, with consequences I'll talk about in a moment. But you contrast with that the infant mortality rates, let's say, in South Asia, in countries which unfortunately have not addressed the issue of land and access to land and security on the land. Bangladesh is 82 per 1,000. Pakistan, 91 per 1,000, and India, 72 per 1,000. Even the lowest of those, India, has an infant mortality rate largely hunger related, which is 2.5 times that of China, which is the highest among the land-reformed societies.

For the farmers that we have visited in the villages who have produced sufficient food even on half a hectare, even on less than that, to feed themselves and to make at least a materially minimally sufficient life for the household, all share one characteristic in common. That is that they all have ownership or owner-like rights with respect to the land that they farm. Putting it another way, there is no landlord or landlord-like figure in the picture for them. Another way to look at it is simply to look at yields and land, of course, is the really scarce input through most of Asia. Capital is also scarce. Labor is generally plentiful. You look at the intensity of production on land in terms of the last three years of average grain yields, first in the land reformed societies, South Korea at 6.5 tons of grain per hectare, Japan at 6 tons of grain per hectare, Taiwan at 5.25 tons of grain per hectare, and China at 4.85 tons per hectare. Contrast that with the production in the societies where land tenure remains a severe issue. Pakistan, just over two tons per hectare was the lowest of the figures I have just been giving. India at 2.2 tons per hectare. Bangladesh at 2.7 tons per hectare. The Philippines, by the way, another country that has ignored the issue, at 2 and a third tons per hectare, and interestingly, North Korea, the People's Democratic Republic of Korea, where land remains collectivized, at 2.25 tons per hectare. Which leads me to briefly note that there are really two different kinds of land reform which are needed in Asia, depending on history and circumstances. One is decollectivization, making it possible for farmers to leave their collective with their share of land and farm individually. When we talk to Chinese farmers after they had broken up the collectives in the early '80s--we talked with them in '87 and '88, initially, after about five years of experience with decollectivization--overall productivity had gone up by then nearly 60% per hectare. Farmers described to us their family nutrition. Before, under the collective, a bowl of thin rice gruel at each meal. Afterwards, now, farming land essentially of their own--although there are some tenure issues I'll mention in a moment--they would say to us: “We can have rice, not just gruel. We can eat as many bowls as we want and, indeed, we have meat twice a week or three times a week, whereas previously meat was reserved for times like the Chinese New Year.”

But China didn't go all the way at that point. Farmers still had insecure rights to their individual farms because the local cadre could shift them around on new pieces of land in the name of readjustment for demographic change and in 80% of Chinese villages, that happened every three to five years. Now China's going the next major step, implementing a 1998 land-management law, which gives farmers not full, private ownership in a Western sense, but what the farmers regard as very adequate rights: 30-year use rights embodied in formal, written contracts. China has now gotten those formal contracts to 60% of its population, 60% of 200 million agricultural households, one of the largest administrative development tasks in history, about which, by the way, not a word has been written anywhere in the Western press. It simply seems that these issues are not regarded as ones of sufficient interest, but it is a program having a huge impact.The other kind of land reform is the more traditional land reform in developing countries, where landlords or plantation owners have some, at least, of their land redistributed to those who are completely landless or those who are tenant farmers.

What we've seen in recent work in both Indonesia and India is that you don't even have to get a full-size--quote, “full-size”--farm of a hectare or half a hectare. Even with a few hundred square meters as a garden plot, you can put a house on it, so you don't have to live in the landlord's house and be tied to work for him for 60 cents a day instead of a dollar a day, and you can produce enough grain or vegetables, either to sell in the market or to consume yourself on a parcel typically of about 300 to 400 square meters, 4,000 square feet--that's about 1/10th of an acre. You can meet 30 to 50% of the nutritional needs of a family of four if you intensively farm with high motivation that kind of small, owned parcel and I suspect that the direction of land reform as we move into the new century is going to reflect, increasingly, that kind of redistribution which will involve small amounts of land so that it can be done mandatorily, to be sure, but essentially as an eminent domain proceeding, not as a confiscation proceeding in which a reasonable price is paid for the land. That's affordable in India. It's affordable in Indonesia, in Bangladesh and Pakistan. It could go very far indeed towards making people not only nutritionally self-sufficient, but giving them dignity and empowerment, as well, which is one of the key results of land reform. Thank you.

Brian Halweil

Our final panelist is Jaimie Cloud. Miss Cloud is the Founder and the Director of the Sustainability Education Center at the American Forum for Global Education in New York City. The mission of the Center is to promote the concept and the process of sustainability in educational environments through collaborative programs, research, professional development and materials dissemination. Miss Cloud has written several curricula materials on sustainability, most recently and most relevantly, “From Global Hunger to Sustainable Food Systems.” Miss Cloud.

Jaimie Cloud

Okay, so as the formal educator in the group, let's review. I have to do that. What is the essential question for tonight? Can Asia feed itself? Okay, that's the essential question. What do we need to know in order to address that question? I've decided to address four areas. Is anybody feeding themselves on this planet? Is any country or any region feeding themselves? Why are people hungry? What are the rules? What do we need to know in order to solve the problems? And what might some of the options be, given those first three areas. So let's look for a moment at, “Is anybody feeding themselves in this world?” Now, first of all I would like to ask any of you who can see this, if you'll see, the lightest colors are the least amount of hunger on the map and then as it gets darker and darker you have a higher percentage of global hunger. So first of all, what's missing? And now you can answer this question. I'm not going to always answer my own questions. What's missing?

Inaudible comment from the Audience

Jaimie Cloud

Yes, what's going on in the North, there? The answer is “comparable data not available.” Do not think that there are not hungry people in that northern part of the map. We could not find a map anywhere. We just published a book. If any of you have a map of the real hunger statistics in the North, please give it to us. We checked every source. I find it very interesting that we couldn't find it anywhere and we know where to look. But obviously, if anyone here has one, tell me later. So we don't really know, but we do know that hunger is on the rise in the U.S. and in many, many northern countries, so let's be clear about that. And then you can see clearly in other areas, hopefully, that other than the North, which we really can't determine, there's a problem of hunger everywhere. It's not only in Asia. Okay?

Now, let's review again in terms of what the reasons for hunger are. Can any of you give me some of the reasons that you think, whether you've heard it here or you already came knowing what the reasons were, what are some of the reasons for why people are hungry?

Answer from Audience

Distribution

Jaimie Cloud

Poor distribution. Okay. What else?

Answer from Audience

Population.

Jaimie Cloud

Population. That's a myth. Actually, there's absolutely no correlation between population and hunger, so that's one of the myths. There are a lot of myths. That's why I like to ask this question right up front. And there's all kinds of data that I can help with on all of the myths. There are lots of them. I have it with me, so afterwards, if you need details--but as they go through and look at population, in almost every country where there's hunger, there's no correlation. For every country that's very highly populated and hungry, you can find five or six more that have a lot of people and they're not as--their statistics are much better in terms of hunger. What are some other reasons?

Answer from Audience

Political Agendas

Jaimie Cloud

Political agendas, uh-huh. What else?

Answer from Audience

Water scarcity

Jaimie Cloud

Water scarcity. Yes, ma'am, uh-huh. What else?

Answer from Audience

War and conflict.

Jaimie Cloud War and conflict never helps. Okay, what else?

Answer from Audience

Lack of money.

Jaimie Cloud

Lack of money, right. Poverty. Malcolm mentioned that. All of those are true, and again, there are a lot of myths. It's not true--nobody said there's just not enough food produced on the planet. That's great, because a lot of people used to say, “Well, there just isn't enough food to go around.” We all know now obviously that's not true. So, unfair distribution, that's correct. A lot of times, countries are cash cropping and doing monoculture for export and not diversifying their crops, not leaving enough income to--and that's where the redistribution doesn't happen in a country. So they might be good for the GDP, but the money is not staying in the countries and the land is not being used for diversified crops to feed the people. So we have to ask ourselves, “Where's that money going?” We will do that in a minute.

Overproduction in some places and not enough production in others. Again, the distribution problem. Waste is a huge problem, waste in every aspect. Waste in certain kinds of agricultural practices, waste in production, waste in consumption. The statistics here in New York City--and a lot of my colleagues who work in this field are here, so they can correct me if I'm wrong--but I believe that the amount of food waste just in New York City alone could feed the amount of hungry and homeless people that are here in this city. If you just looked at the numbers, that's crazy. Just by not wasting, that's something. You also mentioned war. Also, I would give some credit to some of our neoclassical economic assumptions, and we're going to talk a little bit about that. What's going on there that needs to be evolved? Of course, we all know that economics is not a science. You know that, right? It's a set of assumptions that's constantly changing and evolving. Some people think it's a science. I always have to tell people about that. So I'm just going to--since there are all kinds of reasons for hunger, I'm going to just look at two of them tonight: the unfair distribution and the neoclassical economics.

Is anybody here familiar with the concept of the ecological footprint? The ecological footprint, I know this looks daunting, but let me explain what it is. An ecological footprint is the measure of how much space your lifestyle takes up, how much physical space your lifestyle takes up. That's in terms of biological capacity sources and sinks--how much land you need for all the things you eat, for all your transportation needs, for your housing, your furniture, everything about your lifestyle. I've got these statistics because I was here with a distinguished panel. I won't go through all of these, but in a nutshell, if you divided up the planet just among human beings--forget about sharing it with the rest of the species, which you know we have to do--and everyone were to get exactly the same amount of space on the planet for sources and sinks, we'd all end up with about 4.5 acres to work with. Sources and sinks. It doesn't mean you'd live on 4.5 acres, but you'd have that to work with. It's a good amount.

Most U.S. Americans use 27 acres, and most people in the two-thirds world use less than 0.5, sometimes up to 1 or 1.5 acres. So in terms of distribution, there's a major problem worldwide, and this is the footprint of nations. I actually have Asian footprints. In the U.S., food makes up about 20% of our ecological footprint. It's different in every country, so I can't say that in every Asian country 20% of the footprint is food, and they didn't have--this is done at Redefining Progress. You can find wonderful, wonderful statistics there, and this ecological footprint is the invention of Mathis Wackernagel who is the director of indicators there at Redefining Progress. So you can see--now this is all done in hectares. Let me pull up the Asian one. You see that I've ticked off two countries here: Indonesia and Malaysia. There are, globally, nine countries so far who are not exceeding their ecological capacity. In other words, all but nine countries on this planet are using more than they have in their own countries to use. Now, that's all told in terms of their ecological footprint, including their food footprint. Now, what do I mean by that? I mean they're borrowing from somebody else, and when you're in a world on borrowed time, borrowed money and borrowed land, where are you borrowing from? In some cases, those that are not exceeding their biological capacity, it just means that there's more land than people. It doesn't necessarily mean that they're living any more responsibly. It just means they haven't hit their capacity yet, so you have to look at their consumption patterns and all the rest.

So in terms of distribution, you can see here, some countries don't have any. Poor Hong Kong doesn't have any ecological capacity. So whether any region of the world can actually feed itself without the support of any other country in the world, there are some questions about that globally. The Northeast of the United States cannot support the Northeast of the United States. We cannot support ourselves right now. We don't grow grain anymore. We could over time if we actually wanted to do that, but we have to look--this is a global set of global systems, so feeding people in a particular region and people being able to feed themselves is connected to so many other systems globally and regionally, so that's something to think about in terms of unfair distribution. Whenever we talk about population, we always talk about consumption because you can see, relatively speaking, the U.S. has a small population but is using more than our fair share of resources.