The causes of hunger


Privatisation of development assistance

Insufficient support to agricultural development

The food and agricultural

policy paradox

Drivers of hunger


Last update:    August 2022

The causes of hunger

The process that keeps around one billion people in a situation of food insecurity and undernourishment is complex. There are a number of factors that help to explain why certain population groups find themselves in the intolerable situation of not being able to have access to adequate food [read].

Usually, in most statements made by international organizations or lead research institutions, causes for hunger and malnutrition are presented as resulting from the “weaknesses” of food systems. These  “weaknesses” are often limited to conflicts, climate variability and extremes, economic slowdowns and downturns, high income inequality, low productivity and inefficient food supply chains, unaffordability of healthy diets and are not presented while pointing at the fact that they are the consequences of underlying human decisions that are the real root causes of the persistence of these “weaknesses” over decades.

Conflicts are human made, climate change is due to the extraordinary boom of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions resulting from the massive use of fossil fuels by humans [read], and economic slowdowns and downturns are an effect of the rules and policy decisions that humans and their governments have made to manage the world economy, as are income inequality and poverty [read]. As for low productivity and inefficient food supply chains, they too are the consequence of technological and organisational choices made by mankind over the last century, that are everything but “natural” or “inescapable” [read].

It is essential to point at this here from the start, to avoid proposing solutions to hunger and malnutrition that will only scratch the surface of the problems to be solved and merely alleviate in part the negative effect of fundamental choices made.

Unfortunately, this is largely the case when advocating mitigating measures such as social protection to help families during conflicts, insurance and finance against extreme climatic events, cash support to vulnerable groups in case of crisis that either seem unfeasible because unrealistic (can social protection really be implemented when a conflict situation weakens the state apparatus?) or a relief that is evidently useful but does not address the true root-causes of the problem. Moreover, they are based on the dangerous belief that everything can be fixed with money, without modifying the real economy and its processes.

It is true that, some problems can be mitigated immediately through financial means without having to wait for the root causes to be resolved and for profound changes to be enacted [read]. This should then, of course, be done without delay. But it does not exempt the world from simultaneously designing deep reforms [read] and implement them to avoid having to mobilise emergency relief again and again, while the economy continues to generate suffering for hundreds of millions of people.

The COVID-19 crisis and the food crisis amplified by the Ukraine conflict [read] should be an opportunity for accelerating such changes and for propelling economic and food systems towards greater social, economic and environmental sustainability.

Below, links are provided to further articles dealing with the causes of hunger.

Materne Maetz

(July 2022)

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