OpEd

Story published: 12-05-2012 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

A food-secure world for children

By Frances Lamberts

Her representations of tender family and mother-child emotional bonds came to be known and loved the world over.

The artist, Kathe Kollwitz, wife of a physician who served the most needy in the poorest section of their city (Berlin, Germany, 1920s), saw great human suffering around her.

She sketched homeless people under bridges and in municipal shelters, out-of-work breadwinners, and, especially, the children going hungry in far too many families.

Kollwitz sought to give a voice to the vulnerable young and the most down-and-out in society, while affirming her faith in a future in which human compassion would eradicate such suffering.

One of her posters for a food appeal shows four youngsters with stark, hollow-eyed faces beseechingly reaching up empty bowls.

Full Planet, Empty Plates, the title of a new book published by the Earth Policy Institute indicates the appeal’s stark relevance even today.

Lester Brown, the book’s author, presents much sobering information. There are solutions to make food production adequate and sustainable in the face of many challenges, old and new, but “war-time speed” in transforming the modern industrial economy is needed if unmanageable shortages, with more hunger and social instability in their wake, are to be avoided.

Just as Franklin Roosevelt successfully transformed to war-needs production the U.S. industrial economy, within months, Brown expresses confidence that the challenges to food security can be mastered.

The stakes now are even higher than they were in 1942, however, and the time window for corrective action is short.

While the number of chronically hungry people had been shrinking in the last century’s closing decades, it now is rapidly rising. Nearly one in four families in India have foodless days, as do similar numbers in other countries.

Millions of children are dangerously hungry, too weak to walk to school, physically and mentally stunted through lack of food.

Relentless population growth is the oldest contributory problem. “Today there will be 219,000 people at the dinner table who were not there last night, many with empty plates,” Brown notes, “[and] tomorrow night, and the next night, and so on.”

The worst recorded heat and drought in Russia shrank the wheat harvest there by 40 percent in 2010. Raging floodwaters in Pakistan that year covered a fifth of that country, drowning over a million livestock and destroying 6 million acres of crops.

The U.S. “Great Drought of 2012” has raised corn prices to the highest level in history ­— examples of what lies ahead if climate change, a new and arguably the most serious threat to food adequacy, is not curbed quickly.

Water tables are falling and irrigation wells going dry in at least 18 countries which, together, contain half of the world’s people. Yet a new competitor is claiming ever more grain: the automobile. In the United States last year, Brown notes, 31 percent of all grain harvested went to ethanol distilleries to fuel cars.

Empty plates and stunted minds for children — they shouldn’t and needn’t be.