Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Feeding Ourselves

The sidewalks of Bangkok. (SlapAyoda/Flickr)

The sidewalks of Bangkok. (SlapAyoda/Flickr)

The next thing that I wanted to talk about is the neoclassical economic system and I am going to go quickly. The first thing I want to talk about is the market. There are some problems with relying on just the market to solve our problems globally. That's the invisible hand. That's the market, that beautiful market that's so elegant and works so well, except for two things. There are two market failures according to the ecological economists who are evolving our economic system to include the ecological system as the big banana within which the economic system is a subsystem. The two market failures are the fact that the market was not designed to take care of public goods--the common good, in other words--and it was not designed to take care of externalities. We do not include all the costs of doing business in the price you pay at the store. Most of the costs of doing business are externalized. Who pays for those costs? Somebody's paying for them. It's not the person at the store and it's not the manufacturer, it's the rest of society, so we have to look at that.

The other thing we need to look at is--how are we measuring? What are the indicators we're using to measure success? We see--does anybody remember very quickly what the GDP measures? What does the GDP measure, gross domestic product?

Inaudible Answer from the Audience

Jaimie Cloud

Sorry? Goods and services. Economic activity. Is it good activity or bad activity, or do you know from the GDP?

Inaudible Answer from the Audience

Jaimie Cloud

Right. It's not qualified. The GDP just measures activity. Oil spills, disasters, crime, all good for the GDP, because it generates--you need more locks, you need more security guards, anything that increases economic activity is good for the GDP, not necessarily good for us. And you can see here that this is the gross domestic product versus the genuine progress indicator. The GDP goes up. If you include volunteer labor, cost of crime, family breakdown, underemployment, ozone depletion or the loss of old growth forests in your measurements, the indicators are different. Since I have to wrap up here pretty soon, there are three other wonderful indicators, alternative indicators to the GDP that you should keep your eyes on: the index for sustainable economic welfare, the measure of economic welfare, and then there's another one, the economic aspects of welfare. If you deduct half of the advertising cost, deduct pollution control costs, deduct an estimate of air pollution damage, health costs and natural resource depletion, you can see how it's different. GDP goes up, all those things go down. So, again, you just want to think about, what are the indicators? How are we measuring success or poverty and where is it going?

Lastly, I just wanted to explain something about the rules. You have to know what you're working with, what the rules are. If you want to develop a sustainable plan for the future, you need to know what the rules are. This is from The Natural Step. It's a scientific framework, and it helps us to “prescind”--this is a wonderful word. You should write it down. “Prescind”: P-R-E-S-C-I-N-D. It means, “to be able to focus on something while at the same time keeping the big picture in mind.” This is what we always have to do in this world. We live in a world of systems, interdependent systems and unless you understand system dynamics, you cannot solve any problem. You cannot solve a problem here and create three more over there without eventually messing up the problem you just solved.

So these are just some of the rules and I'll end with this. Very quickly, you cannot take out from the earth's crust more than the earth's ability to reabsorb it. I'm going to paraphrase for you. The second one is that we cannot create human compounds that cannot be broken down by nature. If they don't come from nature and they don't appear in nature, it's very difficult for nature to break them down and they just pile up. The physical basis of productivity, we have to leave enough ecosystem services--enough green space, basically--to produce all the things we need to live on this planet. And we have to have justice and equity, not only for the moral and ethical reasons you'd think, but because without equity you cannot have sustainability. If people have to eat their seeds to survive and with that kind of footprint disparity, you cannot have sustainability. If everybody wants to live like the U.S., American, we'd need four planets and we have one. I think I'll end there. Thank you.

Brian Halweil

Thank you very much, Ms. Cloud. I just wanted to quickly open up the room for questions and discussion and I might say, because it's been longest since Mr. Desai's presentation, if there were questions specifically for him, if I could ask if those might come first.

Question and Answer Session

Question from the Audience

Mr. Desai, you said that most of the increases or decreases of world hunger or in Asia happened in the 1980s as opposed to the 1990s. Can you give an explanation as to why you think that was?

Nitin Desai

Part of the explanation is productivity growth in agriculture was more substantial in the '80s than in the '90s. There is some evidence for the slowing down of the green revolution in Asia during the '90s. This is one possible explanation. Second, I think there possibly has been a significant stagnation of rural incomes during this period in Asia which could have had an impact. And it's very likely that, although we don't know enough, that maybe some new problems of urban poverty and urban malnutrition are coming in with the demographic changes which have been taking place in Asia. I don't have a full answer as to why this is true, but my guess is most probably because of the slowing down of the cereal production growth during this period in Asia. As I said, for the first time in the year 2000, we actually had a decline in per capita food production. Not because of weather, just simply straightforward--the trend line basically declined.

Question from the Audience

Jaimie, in light of what Roy Prosterman described about a plot, I think in China, how can you say that family size or population is irrelevant to hunger?

Jaimie Cloud

There is no evidence that--for every Bangladesh, for example, which is densely populated and hungry--we find Nigeria, Brazil or Bolivia, where abundant food resources coexist with hunger. So again, it's not the only issue. There's enough food in the world for the population of the world we have. So it's not about, there are too many people and not enough food. That's just not the problem and it's not that we're not producing enough food. So in certain places, the population can put a strain on it, but there's no evidence that that's the problem. In the future, it could be a problem, but not right now.

Brian Halweil

Professor Prosterman, maybe you might like to add something.

Roy Prosterman

Just this thought, that perhaps this is a place where action is possible. The head of the Indian Family Planning Program once told me development is the best contraceptive and if you look at the countries that have succeeded in family planning, succeeded in reducing population growth to 1% or less per year, they are all, or virtually all, countries that have carried out grassroots development. The land reform societies that I referred to are all also societies that drastically cut their rural birthrates in the wake of land reform, first because land ownership gives old age security with less need for multiple kids to provide that security. Secondly, because it leads to better nourished, better-fed kids who don't die in infancy and childhood, so you no longer need insurance births, so there is an important link between these key rural reforms and success in family planning.

Brian Halweil

So the relationship is much more complex. At times the presence of malnutrition may actually encourage additional childbearing.

Jaimie Cloud

And it's also connected to consumption patterns. Again, you can have low population with extremely high consumption patterns and still have hungry people, such as in this country.

Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya

Hi, my name is Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya. I'm a public health physician. I'm always disturbed at talks like this, because during my whole training I would sit and watch how we would analyze, how we would “prescind,” as you used the term, and I wonder how we can strategize to do things from within to extend to what is without ourselves. By that, I mean that it has to start at home. There's an expression that says that change starts within our own selves and within our own home before we can extend out into the world. I wonder how many of us here in our privileged places would be willing to give up what we have in order for others to receive. Now, I know we all do that on some level if we're working in public health or in various parts of society, but I think creating those changes is very difficult and I'm wondering if you have actually thought about what we can actually do at home, specifically examples such as when we go to conferences and waste ourselves. I've gone to a lot of hotels where we waste food. To eat everything on our plate is considered to be rude, so we have to waste food. We leave the lights on in our hotel rooms. We waste resources. We take cabs instead of carpooling. These kind of things are waste and we are propagating waste in everything that we do in the corporate and nonprofit world. What kind of strategies do you see us trying to do at home so that we can extend out into the world?

Jaimie Cloud

Who are you addressing?

Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya

Anybody.

Malcolm Bale

I'm sure everybody on the panel has a view on that and I'm going to give my answer, which looks at a rather larger level than yours and speak about U.S. foreign aid. If you look at the--apparently there are a lot of people who aren't very interested in giving very much, but in the U.S., when you look at foreign aid, there's a very interesting difference between what people think they're giving in the U.S. and what they're actually giving. Surveys have shown that the U.S. population thinks that a just amount that the U.S. should be giving for developing countries for official development assistance is somewhere around 5%. The U.S. in fact gives something like 0.1%. If the U.S. gives about $12 billion in official development assistance a year, whereas people think it should be maybe ten times that amount, they don't realize they're giving that little. Just to give you an idea of what $12 billion looks like, the U.S. at the same time gives in direct payments $28 billion to about 150,000 U.S. farmers.

Jaimie Cloud

My colleagues here in the city who work on this issue would say as much as possible by regionally, by seasonally. It reduces the transportation costs, in encourages integrated, smaller farms. We want to maintain, especially in this region--we lose about 1,000 small farms a year, just in New York State alone, and you lose a lot when you lose a small farm, and so they would say, “Find out what grows here. If it grows here, eat it.”

Nitin Desai

First, I think changes in attitudes do have to take place, as the very sharp change in attitude to tobacco, which has come about in one generation, basically. It is a very sharp change in attitude to tobacco. Big changes in attitudes in certain other areas of diet. Much more attention--I believe people pay attention to recycling in many countries, not simply because the municipality insists that you do, but out of a genuine sense of concern. So things are changing. Yes, the changes are sharpest when people sense a threat to their own health or to their immediate community. Can we make them start doing the same things for a broader community, which is the world as a whole?

I think in some ways what is happening and what has happened over the past 150 years does mark some sense of moral progression. It started with the abolition of slavery. People said slavery is wrong, not just in their own country, but wherever it was and we're ready to give up things for it. Now, I think we have progressed. People do accept an obligation to help children in distress, to help people in situations of famine, to help innocent victims of war. There is a sense in which there is a moral progression of the human race and I have always felt that the most important role of the United Nations is to find and make it possible for people to come together in such expressions of shared concern, shared values, and I believe that we have managed to move the envelope. There's not going to be a dramatic change. It's not going to happen overnight, but I do sense that there is some forward movement, and perhaps for the first time in history we really actually think of ourselves as one community at the global level. It's just never happened before.

Brian Halweil

I think there's a question over there, and perhaps since we're getting towards the end, we might take a few questions all at once and then we could respond.

Question from the Audience

I don't want to get into a debate, because the panelists have agreed or decided, I think, beforehand, not to tackle the population relationship, but I want to cite some facts. You talk about Asia, Asia has the most successful population programs and they have shown, the East Asian countries, that they have pursued the policy, along with economic development and population programs. Although we cannot ignore the population facts of life--I'm not saying the relationship is academic--but the facts of life are that we are living in unusual countries and countries have to import food in relation to their population size. If the population size is less, of course they will import less or consume less. The facts cannot be ignored. Not the academic debate whether population growth produces more production of food or less production of food. That's a technology debate, a debate of investment. But we cannot ignore population data and the population history of Asian countries, which have been very successful. Asian countries have had very successful population policies, particularly in the Asian countries. I don't think we should ignore that data or body of literature or body of knowledge which is evident and available. I don't want to debate now, but you cannot ignore that fact that population does make a difference in poverty. The way you define poverty, of course, is a question, because somebody defined poverty as lower levels of infant mortality. Infant mortality is not just a product of food nutrition. Repeated pregnancies can also have a high infant mortality. It's a question of how you relate, but population facts cannot be and, in my opinion, should not be ignored in this kind of a debate.

Brian Halweil

Maybe we'll take a few more questions before--or comments.

Question from the Audience

We've heard from a number of the panelists about looking at women and children as the victims of food insecurity and I just wanted to make the comment that in most of Asia, as well as around the world, women aren't just the victims of food insecurity, but they are the primary producers. In Asia, I believe it's about 60% of the agriculture production is done by women, so they're also the ones responsible for all of the family--primarily for education, for health, for really addressing all the key issues that are ending hunger in their communities. So I just wanted to see if anyone could look at the issue of how to support women, not as victims, but as producers and as the change agents that are making a difference in this issue.

Jaimie Cloud

One of the paradoxes we have on the planet is the hungry farmer. That's all I have to say about that.

Brian Halweil

We can take one more question.

Question from the Audience

Land reform was mentioned from a couple of different angles, and I was wondering, one, with regard to the example of Japan and Taiwan and South Korea, at what stage land reform occurred? Was that a key ingredient in their subsequent economic progress or was it more an aftereffect of economic progress that they'd already made? Separately from that, it sounds very intuitive that land reform would be quite powerful and beneficial to people that are living below the poverty line, but has anyone come up with a reasonably viable model, given the fact that landed interests are so politically powerful that you can turn to a country like India or Pakistan or Bangladesh and say that this is a feasible mechanism for you to implement on a widespread basis?

Brian Halweil

Professor Prosterman, if you'd like to address the land reform question first.

Roy Prosterman

The land reforms in Taiwan and South Korea were carried out at the very start. There are some quite good studies on the initiating effects of the land reform. What you had was the bulk of the population turning from tenant farmers into owner-operators. Income increased fourfold within the first 15 years. Production doubled. Farmers with much greater income not only could feed themselves much better, they also were able to buy a wide range of goods and services, so the stimulation of the whole rural economy ensued, and all of that really happened before there was substantial export growth.

In large societies like China or India, where there's a huge internal market, much of which is too poor to buy most anything that's produced by commerce or industry--China much less so, now, but India and Bangladesh and Pakistan very notably--land reform, I think from past experience, can have a significant transformative impact. I, just very briefly at the end of my comments, talked about the idea of garden plots or microplots and there are new approaches to land reform. Hopefully all the copies haven't been taken, but one of the RDI reports, entitled "A New Vision of Land Reform for the 21st Century," was on the back table. If those are all gone, let me know, and we'll be sure to send a copy to anyone. But there are new approaches to land reform needed, different than the ones that were undertaken, in many respects different from the ones that were undertaken after World War II.

Brian Halweil

Mr. Desai, did you have some closing remarks on these questions?

Nitin Desai

May I just comment on the population? I think you're right, that you cannot ignore that, but more precisely, to the very first question which was asked. Yes, I think population, the family size, does have an impact on health status and nutrition status, perhaps most immediately by what it does to the intra-family distribution. The more children there are, the chances are--the greater there is likely to be undernourishment, et cetera, amongst children. And certainly, the number of pregnancies has a big effect on a woman's health, so I think it would be completely misleading to say that health and nutrition status do not depend on family size at the household level.

I think the thing we need to avoid is to move from this to a macro argument, to say that densely populated countries are somehow more prone to hunger than others. That I don't think necessarily follows, because applied at the individual household size level, where I think it is very true--it does affect nutrition. The more children there are, the worse off the family is in some real sense. Possibly population growth, as distinct from population density, may be a more significant factor. But I still prefer to think of population policy as part of a framework of health care where you are obliged to provide people with what they want. We have to provide family planning services because women want them, and it doesn't matter if there is a problem of numbers or not. If women want them, we are to provide them. End of story. It has nothing to do with whether it's good or bad. This is the change that we had in Cairo. I just thought I would interject at this point, yes, I agree with you, but it's probably most important at the household level.

Brian Halweil

We're actually running over time and I just wanted to give our other panelists a chance to respond. I'm sure they would all be happy to stay here for questions afterwards, but on the three questions related to women as nutritional gatekeepers, the population issue and also land reform, some closing remarks.

Jaimie Cloud

Just a couple of things on population. I think Under-Secretary Desai, that's exactly what I was trying to say, but he did it so very, very well. On women, it's so true that most of the farmers are women in this world, and it is quite a paradox that we have hungry farmers. It's a strange statistic. When we did our materials we found that out. That, of course, is largely due to the fact that they don't make enough money to buy the crops that they grow, nor do they make enough to buy the crops that they actually need to eat, which is often not the crops they're growing. So how do we help the women? We help them by helping the communities to rethink the cash cropping and so forth. Once there's enough for everyone, then sometimes the excess can certainly be exported and generate additional income. You had asked me a question before about what can we do as individuals, and so for globally, please try and buy food that's fairly traded and other items.

Malcolm Bale

Just a couple of quick answers. On the women issue, you're quite right that women are in large part in large areas of the world the producers of food, but they're not necessarily the consumers. They are first mothers, and as mothers, they inevitable sacrifice for the good of their family. They almost inevitably eat last, and if there's anyone hungry at the family level, it is the mother. So that's just a fact that we notice, and therefore something we may want to address.

On the land issue, there may be some interesting examples from Latin America, which has the worst land distribution of anywhere in the world, and someone asked, “What can we do? What do we do differently?” One of the things we have to address is the reasons for the maldistributed land and one of them in Latin America is land is seen as a store of value. Land is seen as a store of value, because in times of inflation, it maintains its value. So one of the ways is if we stop inflation. It ameliorates the need to hold land in order to protect your wealth, so the large landholders may be more willing to sell than they are during a time of inflation.

Also, we at the World Bank are doing a lot of work on what is called market-driven land reform, where we are putting together a whole series of landless people who individually cannot purchase land, but collectively can go to large landholders who are not using the land. In Latin America you find that a farmer--an owner will be holding huge areas of land, farming a quarter of it, maybe a half of it, but he's holding it for this wealth preservation. So if he's presented with an opportunity to sell it to a group that has some sort of government guarantee, he's more likely to do that. I think the days of taking land over the way it was done in 1970s by eminent domain and then dividing it, with or without compensation--it's difficult to see that happening in this day and age. The other thing -- in fact, I leave from here to go to the airport to go to Brazil to look at what is called “land condominiums.” These are just like a condominium in New York, only they involve land, and it's putting together parcels of land for landless peasants and renting it, as it were, in a block in a condominium arrangement for small--for landless people. This is a pilot, and it involves writing new laws and so on, and that's another idea that may be useful in other parts of the world.

Mahnaz Ispahani

Thank you. Thank you, Brian, for moderating so excellently. Why don't I propose that we take the rest of our questions and thoughts to the Asia Society, where the exhibition is opening and to a reception where we can continue this discussion, which I think has been very provocative and thoughtful. I want to thank Mr. Desai in particular for opening up the conversation and leading us into some of the most important themes, and our panelists and Brian for amplifying on them and disagreeing on some very critical points. On a personal note, I wanted to say that I was very glad to see that women are not invisible in this issue at all, and that I hope we will continue to place them at the center, both--as one of the questioners asked in the audience--not only as victims, but also as the producers of food. Thank you very much.