A world without empty bellies


It might not be easy to achieve zero hunger, which is one of the goals of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as per the schedule.

According to the World Food Programme, another 83 million to 132 million people could be pushed into hunger because of COVID-19. Nevertheless, we still believe the goal of zero hunger can be realized, albeit only in 2040 or 2050.

From a historical perspective, nearly all people living before the Industrial Revolution were malnourished by today’s standard, while the rate of hunger stands at 9.9 percent even with the impact of the pandemic.

While eliminating hunger has proved to be an even more daunting challenge than before, that does not mean it is impossible. China’s successful practice in poverty alleviation — with the elimination of absolute poverty, and therefore hunger, announced last year — is an example for the world.

Hunger is usually associated with absolute poverty. Impoverished areas are often inaccessible because of substandard or inadequate transportation infrastructure. To change the situation in such areas, from 2013 to 2020 China sent 250,000 teams to offer on-the-ground support and dispatched over 3 million people as special commissioners to the countryside for poverty relief, 1,800 of whom lost their lives in the line of duty.

China’s experience has provided a viable pathway for humans to defeat hunger. There are three underlying principles in the approach to eliminating hunger.

First, it is unreasonable to believe that zero hunger can be achieved merely through fair distribution. 

The Industrial Revolution brought about a rapid growth in the productivity in society, which boosted agricultural productivity as well. In the 1960s, the crossbreeding revolution, represented by the introduction of hybrid rice and wheat, played an important role in raising agricultural productivity.

It should also be noted that modern agricultural development cannot be separated from social development at large. Without sufficient electricity, it would not be possible for farmers to easily acquire fertilizers and pesticides. In the same vein, agricultural production would be severely limited if irrigation is dependent on human or animal power.

Take China as an example. From 2000 to 2020, the country’s GDP jumped tenfold, up from 9.9 trillion yuan ($1.53 trillion) to 100 trillion yuan, while its power generation grew 4.5 times. During the same period, the nation’s crop output increased from 462 million metric tons to 669 tons, with per capita output rising from 366 kilograms to 475 kg, thus helping achieve food security and zero hunger.

Second, one who is lacking in motivation will starve. The success of China’s poverty-alleviation campaign is partly attributed to its emphasis on sustained poverty reduction by arousing the internal motivation of the impoverished people and stimulating their initiative and creativity. Despite favorable policies, a poverty-stricken household will not be able to get rid of poverty without making arduous efforts on their own. The same principle applies to a region or a society.

Food assistance always has two sides. On the one hand, without food assistance many economically vulnerable areas would be plunged into a humanitarian crisis. On the other hand, aid has a negative influence on recipient countries by depriving their farmers of the incentive to produce food, thus falling into the vicious circle of “more assistance, more hunger.” For such areas, the key is to increase the incomes of food producers and raise their agricultural productivity.

Given the current global agricultural output, achieving the goal of zero hunger does not seem difficult if food is distributed equally across countries and regions. Many people blame the global distribution system and the food market for the hunger problem. But what they are not aware of is that the hunger-stricken areas are not only unable to produce food, but also unable to offer other products. Therefore, egalitarianism that robs the rich to assist the poor is not viable in fighting hunger. It is crucial to create an inner driving force in areas plagued by hunger, which will also help promote the virtuous development of society.

An important reason for the Communist Party of China’s achievements over the past century is its adherence to the principle of “for the people, and by the people”. On top of food aid, an open market and more investment, the international community should create greater synergy in the collective endeavor to eliminate hunger.

Global food prices have trended downward over the years thanks to growing agricultural productivity over a long period, providing a foundation for winning the fight against hunger. But for various reasons, nearly 800 million people, or roughly 10 percent of the global population, still suffer from malnutrition. Despite this grim reality, we should be confident that the goal of zero hunger can be achieved.

On Oct 16, the world marked the 41st World Food Day, with the theme “Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life”. As for humankind, most people have only shaken off hunger physically, but not mentally. When we waste food at a banquet for the sake of “saving face”, when we throw away near-expired food for “health reasons” … we are exposing our inner sense of hunger and insecurity. In the future, when we achieve the goal of zero hunger physically, humanity will still have a long way to go to get rid of hunger mentally.

The author is a researcher of the Rural Development Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.