Abundance Economics Truth or Fiction?
November 23, 2012 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Abundance or Scarcity: Is current global aggregate production of consumable 'necessities' sufficient for current global population? Or are food shortages and starvation due to insufficient aggregate production?

I see a lot of talk about how today there is actually enough foodstuff to support the current world population but that due to waste in supply chains and distribution issues there are still people without sufficient food.

Is this true and are there reliable sources to back this up?

By 'necessities' I mean vaguely say food of sufficient quantity and quality for an individual to live in reasonable health and say basic medicines (anti-biotics, paracetamol, generic drugs) for a healthy individual to stay alive in the course of average treatable accidents / illnesses.
posted by mary8nne to Society & Culture (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
On the question of medicine, I have no idea, but vast amounts of food are lost to spoilage. Just look outside grocery stores in first world countries after they receive new shipments of fresh food.
posted by dfriedman at 8:11 AM on November 23, 2012

It depends on how you look at it.

The world's agriculture generates plenty of food, enough that we often turn it into other products, like ethanol. Advances in food yield via both GMO and non-GMO technology have created buyer's markets with a overabundance of food to the point some farmers are paid not to till fields to keep price levels up.

The issue is getting the food from where it is grown to distant locations in the third world, distributing it to people, and providing food that is desired. In areas used to couscous and cassava as mainstays, simply dropping off sacks of rice and corn would be perplexing.

Solving those issues all costs money in some fashion. The question is often is it better to send food at a high cost or invest in localized farming instead. Again, not an easy question.

In short, yes enough food is generated, but getting it to places where people need food, is a complex, varied, and costly task.

Layer on top environmental concerns for sustainable farming and it is non-trivial issue. This Scientific American article from a few years ago is good, but it's behind a paywall.
posted by Argyle at 8:24 AM on November 23, 2012

FYI that Scientific American article is not behind a paywall...
posted by dfriedman at 8:28 AM on November 23, 2012

The Food and Agriculture Organization has some reports on this. Page 9 (by number, not the page in the PDF) of this 2002 report has some data. More vigorous research probably could find more.

Following back from some of the online FAQs that mention the myth of not having enough food got me to World Hunder: 12 Myths which you can preview on Amazon and which has references.

The answer to this also depends on what you consider "necessities" since producing meat is vastly less resource-efficient than just feeding everybody on rice and beans. You'd need some pretty heavy-handed government enforcement to get to that place though, since the general pattern seems to be that people demand more meat as they are more prosperous and able to do so.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:28 AM on November 23, 2012

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