World hunger vs. food sovereignty

February 16, 2014 Edited by  
Filed under Malnutrition

Of the approximately seven billion people inhabiting our planet today, 842 million live in (or die of) hunger every day (United Nations World Food Programme). This, despite the fact that there is more than enough food to go around. What gives?

It’s not about production

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, there are 2700 calories available worldwide per person per day. To put that in perspective, the average American consumes approximately 2500 calories per day (Centers for Disease Control). Therefore, the problem of world hunger is not a shortage of food production. We already produce enough food. The problem of world hunger is inadequate food distribution… Or is it?

It’s not about distribution

Before we attempt to solve world hunger by producing even more food or shipping food long distances at great expense to the environment, it would be a good idea take a step back and a holistic look forward. Case in point: the United States. Here in a country with notable rates of obesity and a strong food distribution infrastructure, six percent of the population experiences “very low food security”. Meaning that roughly seven million households go hungry every day (Feeding America). This goes to show that hunger – nationwide or worldwide – is not simply about food production or distribution. It’s about a multitude of factors, including economics, education, compassion, empowerment, and, ultimately, food sovereignty.

It’s about food sovereignty

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for the day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” If you understand the basis of this quote then you understand, in part, the concept of food sovereignty. As defined by the 2007 Declaration of Nyéléni, food sovereignty is the right of all people to “healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”

Though complex, food sovereignty has several basic premises. It focuses on food for people by putting the right to sufficient, healthy, and culturally appropriate food for all at the center of food and agriculture policies. It values food providers by respecting all those who grow, harvest, and process food. It localizes food systems by bringing food providers and consumers closer together so they can make joint decisions on that benefit and protect all. It respects the right of food providers to have control over their land, seeds, and water and rejects the privatization of natural resources. It builds knowledge and skills by sharing local knowledge and skills that have been passed down over generations. Lastly, food sovereignty works with nature by focusing on production and harvesting methods that add to environmental health rather than detract from it. For more information, visit the website of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance.

Food for thought

World hunger is not due to a simple shortage of food production or inadequate distribution. It’s due to a lack of food sovereignty. Can you think of any additional factors not mentioned in the previous paragraph that contribute to food sovereignty? More importantly, what steps do you think need to be taken – at both a local and global level – to achieve a more food sovereign world?


Centers for Disease Control:

Feeding America:

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Agriculture and Food Security:

United Nations World Food Programme:

United States Food Sovereignty Alliance:

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