• Question: is there away we can stop people starving in africa and other places

    Asked by mistymagic to Cassie, Greg, Karen, Sofia, Tommy on 18 Nov 2013. This question was also asked by stardust.
    • Photo: Karen Bacon

      Karen Bacon answered on 18 Nov 2013:

      This is a tough question because it’s not just about science. Food production is very complex and is getting more complex all of the time. As climate change progresses some crops may become more productive and others may become less productive; some areas that produce certain crops may no longer be able to do so because of changes in weather; rapidly increasing population also ads another dynamic as it becomes harder to properly feed more and more people. Aside from all of those problems (and lots more besides), there are major political problems. It is not up to scientists alone to solve the problems of people starving. Even if scientists found a way to feed everyone, politicians would have to agree how to use it. It’s pretty sad but there are already surpluses of food in parts of the world and politicians haven’t found a way to just send that off to people who don’t have enough food. It’s quite sad and upsetting to think about this in detail but these sort of problems require lots of political will to be addressed properly and in order for politicians to become motivated about an issue the people who vote for them need to care about it lots. This is one reason why it’s important (I think) for people to take an interest in politics because otherwise issues like food and climate can be forgotten about because they feel far away either in time or space to a lot of people, so the people who understand and care about these issues need to make politicians know, understand and care about them too (well, that’s my opinion anyway!). Sorry not to have a more upbeat answer for you!

    • Photo: Sofia Franco

      Sofia Franco answered on 18 Nov 2013:

      To be honest your question is really really complex and there is no way I could even get close to cover it fully, so I will tell you what I think is one of the best ideas so far: Microcredit! I will not talk about biology or food management, as we should think what is the real cause of the problem in here. It looks strange but microcredit had huge results in raising people about poverty line…in spite of all the other important factors, hunger is normally related to poverty – so this needs to be solved…in these countries a huge part of the population is considered to be below the poverty line and has much as we donate or try to help, nothing seems to actually lead to long lasting effects. Basically the concept of micorcredit comes from the idea that poor people don’t want to be poor, but just don’t have any choice in it and no way of fighting it, though they would be perfectly capable had they been given a chance. So, this professor of economics, Muhammad Yunus, came with the strange idea that if we lend very little amount of money to people in need (by creating a bank of the people – Grameen Bank) for them to create their own income, they would try their best not to remain poor and they would also pay the money back and ask for more to improve their life. As more people get in these scheme, more money can be used to help others, and people are assigned into groups (like families) to help eachother on trying not to be so poor. This looks very basic, but normally when loans are given, there is always something to be paid and sometimes the payment is so high that it does not really help….with this system just in Bangaldesh over 8 million people were raised above poverty line (with huge effects on hunger!!!) and this is being implemented in other countries. Results have been so fascinating, that Yunus was awarded with Nobel Peace Price! I really recommend his books if you want to learn more about it 😉

    • Photo: Thomas Doherty-Bone

      Thomas Doherty-Bone answered on 19 Nov 2013:

      Of course there is a way. There are many ways. A lot of starvation events are being managed. They have been for hundreds of years. This is not a new thing, and with the advent of technology, communications, political science, this is being tackled far more than in the past. There is this Western perception that Africans are starving all the time, but this is exceptional and extreme in many cases. Starvation isn’t the main problem, it is things like access to education and medical care. Infant mortality and prevalence of treatable diseases is a better measure of where problems lie. Other indicators can be amount of forest available, water quality, social mobility, governance, etc.

      I have spent a lot of time in Africa and it is not the refugee camps people see on TV here. I have seen certain places where there are signs of poor diet and parasite infection in children – not famine as they will have access to food, but not aware of the need for a balanced diet, and likely the presence of parasites. This can be fixed with education and treatment. And maybe a kick up the backside of governments.

      Of course there are still problems. Corruption in governments and companies which facilitate this means that help isn’t given to people who need it or community’s resources are managed in a way that leads to unsustainable (i.e. famine) conditions. Water, soil and forest management are frontlines for this management and science is needed to direct this management. With climate change on the horizon, these problems are likely to get worst, especially in areas bordering deserts.

      Academics do point out and report corruption. Efforts are still being made to plant more trees, make reserves so seeds can be sourced, stop cutting trees and farming near water. People in poorer countries are often given training on sustainable resource management, but there could be a lot more done. Persuading governments to enact good environmental management is also important, and they are best persuaded using good science!

      What can we do right now sat in front of our computers? Buy Fair Trade products, give the odd donation to a trusted charity, pay taxes (our government does send aid), pay attention to whats going on around us….make ourselves useful but don’t be naive either!

    • Photo: Cassandra Raby

      Cassandra Raby answered on 20 Nov 2013:

      It’s great that you’re asking this question! It is so important to try and think about how we can help the world and try and make it a better place – so it’s awesome that you’re interested in this!

      Everyone has made really good points in answer to this question – and we all seem to agree that this is a really complex issue. I think if I were to sum it all up I would say that this issue is more of a political and economic problem than it is a science issue. It is about how money is distributed around the world.
      Did you know we actually produce enough food to feed everyone?! And if we all ate less meat we’d have even more!

      Science has made loads of contributions to understanding how to improve food production. And we also have to be aware how this food production affects our natural environment as we need to keep that safe too (that’s where us ecologists come in!). We know what nutrients are best for plants, how to manage pests, how to modify crops to be more effective at growing and defense against disease.
      We also need to be aware of other environmental features – loads of bees are dying at the moment, and we rely on those for crop production. Climate change is possibly making droughts and storms more frequent which causes many problems for people trying to access food, and food production.

      But really science has done a lot of work on this and come up with some amazing ways to make our food production more efficient.
      This is a really good example of how it is important that research is understood by the government and people so we can make the world a better place!