The Misframing of the World Hunger Debate

The Misframing of the World Hunger Debate

BrightSide Produce seeks to reduce food insecurity in cities in the United States by making fresh produce more available in stores in underserved communities. The lack of affordable produce in stores is not the result of a lack of food in the Twin Cities. Instead, it’s due to neighborhood poverty and a lack of an effective distribution system. This same understanding is not always applied to issues of global hunger. There are currently 815 million people suffering from chronic hunger – an increase in 35 million since 2015 (FAO 2017). Given the scale and severity of the problem, it is essential that the global community finds the most effective ways to deal with its true causes.

The problem of world hunger is often thought to be the result of a global food shortage, or rather, a food production issue. Framing world hunger as a food production issue inevitably leads to efforts to increase food production and crop yields (such as the development of genetically-modified crops). Indeed, we have been successful in these efforts: according to, “per capita food availability has risen from about 2220 kcal/person/day in the early 1960s to 2790 kcal/person/day in 2006-08”. However, research continues to reveal that global hunger is not caused by a shortage of food in the world, but rather widespread poverty that hinders millions of people’s access to the food they need to survive. In other words, it is a function of poverty and unequal distribution, not a food production issue (Duncan 2012).

The problem is made clear by a brief glance at the global food landscape. We currently produce enough food to feed a population of 10 billion - more than 1.5x the amount of food needed to feed our current population. For the past 30 years, the rate of food production has been increasing at a greater rate than the earth’s population (Holt-Giminez et al., 2012). Despite the dramatic rise in food production, disparities in global food access have actually been increasing during this same period. Countries in East and Southeast Asia, which have undergone rapid economic development in the last few decades, have seen a far greater reduction in food insecurity than slower developing sub-Saharan African countries. Efforts to address poverty disparities, for example by raising the living standards of the 10% of the global population currently living on less than $1.90 a day (World Bank 2016), will likely go much farther in addressing world hunger than any efforts to further increase food production.

Efforts to reduce food insecurity through anti-poverty programs have succeeded on a national scale in many countries. Brazil has been able to tackle hunger and poverty together through public policies such as an increased minimum wage and investments in small farms (Duncan 2012). While Brazil’s progress is under threat due to its current economic recession, between 2002 and 2014 Brazil saw a reduction in the number of undernourished Brazilians by 82.1% (Garcia-Ramos 2017), far exceeding the more meager 14.5% global reduction in hunger. Other countries such as Ghana also have experienced reductions in hunger following comprehensive anti-poverty programs.

However, despite the successes that countries such as Brazil have had in addressing hunger through anti-poverty measures, many developed countries continue to address the problem as if it were a food production issue. The Global Food Security Act (GFSA), passed by the United States Congress in 2016, falls short in putting forward a truly promising plan to combat world hunger as it continues to frame the issue as a food production challenge. While it is too early to judge the efficacy of these policies, ultimately it is difficult to imagine they will make a significant dent in world hunger given that hunger is still not being considered a symptom of poverty. Policies are not crafted in a vacuum, and it is always important to think critically about the stakeholders in any policy debate. In this case, who stands to gain from the framing of world hunger as a production issue? Perhaps in some cases it is the industries and corporations of developed nations that can profit from increased global food production, rather than the actual people these policies are meant to help.

While a closer examination of the intentions and power dynamics at play in global food policy may be warranted, what is most important is that we consider world hunger within its rightful context of global poverty and economic inequality. Only this will allow for effective and timely solutions to the problem. Addressing the root cause of hunger through anti-poverty programs and developmental assistance also creates the potential for direct intersectional benefits. Not only will improving the economic well-being of the world’s poorest allow them greater access to the food they need, it will also improve other quality of life outcomes such as access to healthcare and education. Indeed, Ghana and Brazil witnessed the actualization of many of these interlocking benefits through their respective efforts at addressing hunger through poverty (Garcia-Ramos 2017).

It should not be overlooked that our planet is currently faced with a serious ecological and climate crisis, and any policy focus that shifts away from increasing agricultural production will only help alleviate the strain we are putting on the earth’s resources. As with many global problems and injustices, adequate solutions to world hunger also have the potential to create a more peaceful and prosperous future for the entire global population, and this should serve as a sign of hope and motivation for those committed to social good.


FAO. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017: Building Resilience for Peace and Food Security Pbk. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.

"2016 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics.", 2016,

Garcia-Ramos, Alan. "Poverty and Hunger in Brazil at Risk of Rising Once Again." Borgen Magazine, August 7th, 2017.

Green, Duncan. "Ending World Hunger is Possible -- so Why Hasn'T it been done?" The Guardian, Feb 15, 2012,

"Poverty Overview.", The World Bank October, 2016,

"U.S. Government Global Food Security Strategy 2017-2021.", USAID, Oct 3, 2016,

Global Food Security Act of 2016. , 2016,

Holt-Giménez, Shattuck, Altieri, Herren, Gliessman. (2012). We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People … and Still Can't End Hunger. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture - J SUSTAINABLE AGR. 36. 595-598. 10.1080/10440046.2012.695331.

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