An End to World Hunger?

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By Michael Mickler, Professor of Church History, UTS

Michael_MicklerJesus said the poor will always be with us. He didn’t say they had to starve. Ending world hunger was one of Rev. Moon’s consuming passions. “Feeding others” was a deeply-rooted tradition in his family of origin and a persistent theme throughout his life and ministry.

In his autobiography, As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen (2010), Rev. Moon devotes several sections to the problem of hunger. In an early section, “The Joy of Giving Food to Others,”  he states:

By the time I was born and was growing up, much of the wealth that my great-grandfather had accumulated was gone, and our family had just enough to get by. The family tradition of feeding others was still alive, however, and we would feed others even if it meant there wouldn’t be enough to feed our family members. The first thing I learned after I learned to walk was how to serve food to others.

A later section titled, “A Grain of Rice is Greater Than the Earth,” describes his experience of hunger, in fact near-starvation, in a North Korean labor camp.

Rev. Moon’s upbringing and experiences led him to conclude, “True peace will not come as long as long as humanity does not solve the problem of hunger.”

He addressed the problem directly in two of his autobiography’s concluding sections. In the first, “Solution to Poverty and Hunger,” he took the position that “Simply distributing food supplies by itself will not resolve hunger.” He instead advocated a two-step approach: “The first is to provide ample supplies of food at low cost, and the second is to share technology that people can use to overcome hunger on their own.”

In the next section, “Going Beyond Charity to End Hunger,” Rev. Moon voiced a more internal perspective. He asserted, “The important point is concern for our neighbors. We first need to develop the heart that, when we are eating enough to fill our own stomachs, we think of others who are going hungry and consider how we can help them.”

In his view, “To solve the problem of hunger we must have a patient heart that is willing to plant seeds.”  As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen highlights a number of his initiatives. These included the purchase of trucks to be used for the distribution of food to the poor in the United States; projects to process and store large quantities of fish; research into high-protein fish powder; a model farm project in the outback of Brazil; and support for technical schools and light industrial factories.

He also noted the charitable and relief work undertaken by the Unification movement’s International Relief and Friendship Foundation (IRFF), the Aewon (“Garden of Love”) Volunteer Service Foundation, and the Women’s Federation for World Peace (WFWP).

Still, these are embryonic, seed-level efforts, particularly in the face of massive needs. Unificationists need to develop and expand upon Rev. Moon’s ideas and initiatives to become change-agents in the elimination of world hunger.

How can Unificationists do this?

The first step is to become better informed. World hunger facts and statistics are well-established. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that nearly 870 million people, or one in eight people in the world, suffered from chronic undernourishment in 2010-12. Almost all of them (852 million) live in developing countries. However, there are 16 million people chronically undernourished in developed countries.

The number of undernourished people decreased nearly 30% in Asia and the Pacific, from 739 million to 563 million, largely due to socio-economic progress. Latin America also made progress, dropping from 65 million hungry in 1990-92 to 49 million in 2010-12. However, the number of hungry grew in Africa over the same period, from 175 million to 239 million, with nearly 20 million added in the last few years. Nearly one in four are hungry. Every ten seconds, a child somewhere in the world is lost to hunger, more than HIV/AIDs, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

There is a consensus as to the principal cause of world hunger. India-born Amartya Sen won a Nobel Prize in Economics for demonstrating that hunger in modern times is not typically the product of a lack of food, i.e., production. In fact, world agriculture produces 17% more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70% population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day according to the FAO’s most recent estimate.

The single most significant factor contributing to world hunger is not war or climate change but poverty. The number of refugees and internally-displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing conflict zones amounts to 36 million people worldwide, far short of the 870 million chronically undernourished. World poverty figures correlate much more directly. Harmful economic and political systems are the chief cause of poverty and world hunger. In short, the problem is distribution.

The first UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG), ratified by all 189 United Nations member states in 2000, set as a target to “Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.” In 1990, the percentage of undernourished people globally was 19% of the world’s population. In 2012, the percentage stood at 12%. Accomplishment of that target by 2015 is within reach.

Yet formidable challenges remain. Attaining the Millennium Development Goal target still leaves hundreds of millions hungry. Spikes in food prices, the continual growth of world population (expected to increase by 2.5 billion people in the next 40 years), booming middle classes in China and India consuming more food, and the conversion of cultivated areas from food production to biofuel crops will exert pressure for the foreseeable future.

As a second step, Unificationists can seek out direct exposure to the chronically undernourished and even the experience of hunger. As Rev. Moon put it, “If you are never hungry, you cannot know God.” Exposure to poverty and deprivation was decisive in awakening his consciousness to the plight of the underfed. Unificationists can experience this vicariously through photographs, video downloads, televised appeals, and written accounts. They can experience it directly though service projects, missionary work, or even travel to areas of malnutrition and acute need. The point is to develop a heart of compassion toward one’s fellow human beings. The earlier this occurs in one’s life, as it did for Rev. Moon, the better.

The third step Unificationists can and should take is to act. This can be as simple as effecting lifestyle changes. Pope Francis recently launched a stinging attack on “the culture of waste” in today’s society. He said, “Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry.” According to the FAO, “Around 1.3 billion tons of food, or one third of what is produced for human consumption, get lost or wasted every year.”

Americans waste a reported 9% of the meals they buy, partly because of a trend to super-size everything from cheeseburgers to soft drinks. Not surprisingly, food waste is the largest source of waste entering American landfills. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced a Food Waste Challenge in part focused on recovering wholesome food for human consumption. However, responsible food stewardship can begin in the home.

World hunger is not only a massive but an urgent problem. Rev. Moon wrote in his autobiography, “Solving the food crisis cannot be put off for even a moment. Even now, some twenty thousand people around the world die of hunger-related causes every day.” In the face of such a daunting challenge, Unificationists may feel overwhelmed or even immobilized.

Here, the efforts of former Washington Times managing editor, Josette Sheeran, are instructive. Sheeran subsequently served as Deputy United States Trade Representative and Undersecretary of State for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs. From 2007-12, she was Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), the world’s largest humanitarian organization with 11,000 staff worldwide and a budget of $3 billion.

In a 2011 TED Talks, Josette Sheeran, then head of the UN’s World Food Program, talked about why, in a world with enough food for everyone, people still go hungry, die of starvation, and use food as a weapon of war.

As Executive Director, Sheeran worked on the frontline of global hunger, providing emergency food aid to the world’s hungry and addressing the causes of chronic undernourishment. She developed food assistance as opposed to food aid alone and utilized innovative food technologies. She also succeeded in making hunger a top priority for G8 meetings. Her 2011 TED Talks on “Ending Hunger Now” should be required viewing for every Unificationist. In it, she outlines the ways in which “we can, in our lifetime, win the battle against hunger.” Pictures of “children with swollen bellies,” she declares, “will be a thing of history.”

Jesus may have said the poor will always be with us, but he was likely referring to Deuteronomy 15:1, which reads, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” If that’s so, Unificationists will be justified in looking forward to the day in which those who “hunger and thirst” will be confined to those who “hunger and search for righteousness.”♦

Dr. Michael Mickler’s books include: Footprints of True Parents’ Providence: The United States of America (2013) and 40 Years in America: An Intimate History of the Unification Movement, 1959-1999 (2000)

2 thoughts on “An End to World Hunger?

  1. I agree that we Unificationists living in comfort should make more effort to connect with the very significant portion of our family in the world who exist in very different circumstances and it is a very healthy thing for a community to be proactive in down to earth, direct aid to the extremely disadvantaged.

    But I’m struck by the story of Prof. Nicholas Negroponte of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Laboratory. In 2005, he founded the “One Laptop per Child” project which sought to design and manufacture durable laptops for use in Third World countries and do so at the cost of $100 per laptop. Despite universal goodwill and massive media support, hardware component and software companies were reluctant to discount components and the laptops never got below a manufacturer’s cost of $200 per unit. The 50 or a 100 million flood of the machines into the hands of Third World children with hungry minds never happened. About 2.5 million laptops found their way into the hands of Third World children, usually paid for by the host countries or world charities and disappointed people bitterly accused greedy capitalist component makers for not playing ball.

    Around the same time, Steve Jobs, a billionaire tech leader with very little interest in charitable causes, decided that what the world needed was a great mobile phone and later a great tablet computer. Apple’s iPhones were mercilessly sold at a premium and so later were iPads. Then a very strange thing happened. The excellence of Job’s products generated worldwide demand. This resulted in mass production which drove down costs. Things became so cheap that Chinese and Indian companies developed tablets, using Google’s free Android OS that would sell for only $30 each.

    Ironically, when the greatest minds in the richest and most powerful country the world, along with the most benevolent governments to facilitate and even partially fund them, tried to make a not-for-profit $100 laptop for Third World children, the project failed. However, when engineers, designers and businessmen endeavoured to create the best product they could and tried to make as much money from it as possible in a free market, they flooded the second tier market of Third World customers/users with a large variety of computers at one seventh the cost of the charity approach.

    Bill Gates and Warren Buffett recently did a whistle stop tour of China to try to convince some of the nouveau riche in that country to also give away vast portions of their wealth and not surprisingly they returned to America with empty hands and their tails between their legs. On the other hand, the supposedly greedy Steve Jobs focused on what he does best and despite his scrooge-like image unlocked and unleashed unimaginable wealth and innovation upon the world.

    The lesson here is that capitalism is the unsung hero of humanitarian relief. It may not be perfect and it may get out of hand at times, but capitalist ventures in free markets have done more to improve the lives of those suffering from world poverty than any government or aid agency and by a very long way.

    It is good for the souls of those of us in the First World to contribute aid to those on the brink of death, but our relief efforts should focus on being effective. The computer example is repeated with food production, clothing, medicines, and many others. Conscientious capitalism, the desire of every person and every nation to improve their station, and acceptance of competition, investment, risks and rewards, is the driving principle behind the true war on poverty.

  2. I think the separation of the government and economic sphere is of primary importance. This might be “capitalism”, but so much capitalism is state capitalism and crony capitalism tied to government that I’d prefer not to use the term. We just produced an article in the International Journal on World Peace that looked at the long-term effects of U.S. food aid on the economies of poor nations. It showed how destructive U.S. food aid often is for the solution to poverty. Two points stuck out: (1) U.S. food aid competes with local agricultural systems and local agriculture is generally undercut and falls apart; (2) There is a rapid rise in birthrates because parents think that the U.S. will feed all of the children they have and they don’t have to worry. This undercuts personal responsibility. The conclusion is that dumping U.S. food on other countries might sound helpful in the short-term, but unless it is connected to a plan to get people self-sufficient, the long term situation will get worse.

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