Air Date: February 18, 1997 Program 9707


Jacques Diouf, Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization
Muhammad Yunus, founder, Grameen Bank
Gurdev Singh Khush, International Rice Research Institute
Robert Havener, former President, Winrock International

(This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely
distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

MARY GRAY DAVIDSON, Senior Producer: This is Common Ground.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS, founder, Grameen Bank: If you study all the big famines in the world, you'll see that it's not shortage of food. There's plenty of food in the country, but still there's a lot of people are hungry.

DAVIDSON: This winter, the world's leaders held the second ever food summit in Rome. The first one, in 1974, vowed to end hunger in the world within a decade. That hasn't happened and the world's population will be nearly double that of 1974 early next century. How to ensure world food supplies meet the demand is the topic during this half hour of Common Ground. In addition, when we will be having three billion more people by the year 2030, we will need to increase by 75% the production to cater for their need.

Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It's produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Mary Gray Davidson. Eight hundred forty million people in the world are hungry and malnourished. A quarter of them are children. At this year's World Food Summit, the leaders did not go so far as to pledge to eliminate hunger; instead they aspired to cut the number in half. But even reaching that goal may be difficult given estimated population increases. Robert Havener is the former President of Winrock Institute for Agricultural Development.

ROBERT HAVENER, former President, Winrock International: I don't believe very many people, at least in America and other parts of the world where population pressures are not so great, understand the dimension of having another billion people join us each decade on planet Earth for the next three decades and where those next three billion people are going to live and work and earn their living and have all the other amenities of life. But the solution to that problem is economic development. We need to find better ways to get women educated, to get them ready for the labor market, to find them employment opportunities, to have better delivery of maternal and child health care to the rural areas and poor areas around the world and in the United States as well. And only by having better opportunities for women can we expect birth rates to drop naturally in a systematic way that will be benign to the society and effective in lowering birth rates.

DAVIDSON: Do you believe, as many subscribers to the Malthusian theory that we have actually reached the caring capacity in terms of population vs. the ability to produce enough food to feed everyone?

HAVENER: Certainly we've been on the Malthusian treadmill in the latter half of this century and it's one that we're going to continue to battle strongly during the first 50 years of the coming century. Whether, and at the intellectual level of course in some sense Dr. Malthus was right. Unless we get the population growth rate under control, eventually we will outstrip our food supply and certainly the quality of our environment that supports the life systems generally, not just food supply. I think that there's an opportunity to win that battle, but only if we're very aggressive in the next 35 years or so of expanding available food supplies at the same time we take the other steps necessary to reduce the rates of population growth even more and do it while we still have a chance to protect the fragile environments that are now not being used for agriculture production, but increasingly are brought into production to sustain life for poor people.

DAVIDSON: Do you know where, offhand, in the world we are seeing food problems now? Where do we need to be concerned about?

HAVENER: That still is a subject of some debate among many people that are very knowledgeable in the food front. There is no question but per capita availability of food supplies in sub-Saharan Africa have continued to decline for the last 20 years and in most African countries that's going to be a very, very difficult supply situation for the coming quarter of a century or more. There are those who believe that China, because of the increasing level of living in China and the increasing income in China, increasing demand for fruits and vegetables and most of all, most importantly, livestock products, that China is going to re-enter a period of food deficit, cereal deficit particularly, in the near future and of monumental proportions. If that prognostication is true, then it's going to have a strong and potentially devastating effect on the availability of cereal grains while there are other people in the world who also would like to consume more cereals and need to consume more cereals.

DAVIDSON: There is no doubt that world population is growing and will strain food supplies. Jacques Diouf is head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization which sponsored the food summit in Rome. He says in order to meet the increased demand, we have to look at increasing both the supply and people's access to the food.

JACQUES DIOUF, Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization: There are two issues. One is that today there is not enough food. The stocks are at 14-15% of annual consumption of cereal, while the minimum level for ensuring security of the supply is 17-18%. In addition, when we will be having three billion persons [more] on the earth by the year 2030, we will need an increase of 75% of production.

DAVIDSON: Three billion more people you're saying?

DIOUF: Three billion more people by the year 2030. We will need to increase by 75% the production to cater for their need. But at the same time we have observed during the last 20 years that there were periods where we had oversupply of food, where there are stocks, where some food was even being destroyed. Yet there were hundreds of millions of people who did not have adequate access to food. So the supply of food is a necessary condition. The production is a necessary condition; it is not a sufficient condition for those who are needy people to get access to food. So the two policies have to go hand in hand.

DAVIDSON: What is your view when you see a country like India exporting food when it actually has people who don't have adequate nourishment?

DIOUF: Well I believe that they have been successful in moving from a situation where they had 400 million people and they were using half of the food aid of the world and today they are in a position with the population that has doubled, to export. That is effective. But I think they have failed in devising the adequate policies for their rural poor and urban poor to get access to that food.

YUNUS: 1.3 billion people on this planet live with less than $1 a day income and they are the most vulnerable, most food insecure population.

DAVIDSON: This is Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh. The organization he founded, the Grameen Bank, works to get people the income they need in order to buy food which may be available but out of reach.

YUNUS: No matter how much food you produce in the world it will not reach 1.3 billion people on this planet. So unless we can overcome the economic situation, the poverty situation as it exists among them, the matchmaking between the food and the people will not be done. So we have to overcome the poverty situation. That's the real cause of hunger once you have the food produced. So how do you do that in order to get them out of the poverty situation? One way is to create self employment for them because if you look at the wage employment, wage employment requires early preparation and a lot of investment for each one job created. But self employment can be done in a kind of instantaneous way, provided financial institutions would lend money to those peoples. But unfortunately, our financial institutions are designed in such a way that they can only lend money to people who already have a lot of money. They cannot lend money to people who do not have money at all. So we designed Grameen Bank to just do that—to lend money to the poor who cannot offer collateral. And we have been doing it for the last 20 years and it works beautifully. The people pay back and they have a general income, they can gradually move out of their poverty situation.

Grameen Bank has 2.1 million borrowers right now, 94% of them are women, and all the studies done on Grameen show that one third of them have already crossed the poverty line in a way that they don't have to get back under the poverty line anytime. And there's another one third who are about to cross the poverty line. The remaining one third are at different levels of crossing the poverty line. So if that is so, all we are doing is lending money and people are creating their own situations by improving their own income situation. Some think if this is possible within Bangladesh, with the Grameen Bank, this can be replicated to reach out to the 1.3 billion people. And in order to do that we are inviting everybody—the government, NGOs, the financial institutions, multilateral financial institutions, development agencies, everybody—to talk about the effectiveness of micro credit and how we can organize micro credit so that we can reach the hundred million poorest families, preferably to the women in those families, with micro credit to create self employment by the year 2005. So if you can create that kind of environment our expectation is people will be gradually moving out of the poverty situation and we will be free from the hunger because after all, it is a lack of income which creates the hunger. Most likely that's what will happen in the near future or in all future years to come.

DAVIDSON: Every government, it seems, is trying to figure out how to create jobs for its population. Is self employment going to be the way of the future?

YUNUS: I would think this way. I would think self employment should be one of the options. People always have self employment. Ever since human beings came on this planet they created their own employment. They were not waiting around with folded hands to be hired by somebody. So the hiring idea came much later and I think it's a disservice...

DAVIDSON: When did that come?

YUNUS: This century perhaps. This century. Well people are given to believe that all you do, you prepare yourself and wait around to get hired by somebody. And since at times people are not hired by anybody, so the question of feeding them came and the welfare system developed. Still we didn't think about self employment that people can do, create their own employment opportunities and it's fine personally to create your own job and you do the things which you enjoy doing most. In the wait employment situation, you have very little choice. You may like music, but you end up doing a job in a bank or something else which you never expected to do. But self employment you base on your own aptitudes and on your own skill that you naturally have. So I'm saying that in the future what I see is a world where this will be all equal options. People will either choose self employment and be happy with whatever he or she got or go for wage employment and move into another direction. But the institutional arrangements will be such that you'll be supporting both kinds of employment. Today, because we have kind of banished the idea of self employment, we created an institutional environment where only wage employment is supported. Self employment question doesn't arise. So once you bring it to the mainstream of thinking, lots of institutions will be created where self employment will be supported and promoted.

DAVIDSON: Are governments and institutions beginning to embrace the idea of self employment and creating policies that support the self employment of people?

YUNUS: Some is happening, I can see that even in Germany when there is a problem of unemployment. Since we are talking about self employment and saying that this is German tradition of having self employed people. In welfare situation it is rightly acceptable because instead of having people sit around and the government giving them a check at the end of the month, government equally well offered them loan options that you can borrow money, you can create your own job and gradually get out of the welfare situation where you are in. But at the moment the way welfare legislations are made out, there is no talk if anybody could work out of welfare situation through borrowing money from a bank or an institution. So all the legislative arrangements are such as if earning money is something to be discouraged. So if you earn money in the welfare, your welfare check will have to be deducted by that amount, which is disincentive for a person to earn. I think people should be proud of earning money, not afraid of earning money, that somebody will chop off my welfare check and I'll be in trouble. Something like that. Or my neighbors will find out that I'm earning money. So those kind of things have to be reorganized so that once you are in welfare, you have all kinds of incentives to work out of welfare.

DAVIDSON: Is the idea that hunger is a product of poverty and lack of income widely accepted?

YUNUS: Has to be because there is no other explanation for it because famines do take place in years of plenty. So it's not the supply side, it's not the availability of food itself which can be blamed for causing hunger. It is the non availability of the purchasing power to go out in the market and buy the food that is the cause of the hunger. What everybody is eating, I cannot eat because I don't have the money to buy the food in the market, and the market is full of food. But I can't buy it.

DAVIDSON: I asked that question because the coverage of food issues is generally sporadic and you'll see an image of a famine and the immediate cause we'll hear about is maybe a drought or a civil war, but that's not the real underlying cause is what you're saying.

YUNUS: That's true. I mean drought and disasters do cause famine situations. But in a normal year, absolutely normal, nothing went wrong, no political turmoil, no disaster, no drought, no flood, still you have a famine because somehow people fail to earn money. There is no money income generated in the extreme?? and people cannot buy the food they need. So you have a famine on your hands. So this is the kind of situation, if you study all the big famines in the world, you'll see that it's not shortage of food. There's plenty of food in the country but still there's a lot of people who are hungry. Even in the United States today, if you look at the enormous amount of food available, you wouldn't believe that some people will go hungry, but there are. There are people who cannot have enough food to eat. And why? Because they don't have the income to go to the market and buy the food for themselves.

DAVIDSON: I'm curious about your views on the free market and will that allow people to feed themselves? Will people who are self employed be a part of this free market system that's being advocated?

YUNUS: Yes, free market is the most convenient thing for self employment. That's where I find my own market needs to sell my product or sell my service, whatever I have. If we didn't have free market, people wouldn't have that opportunity. So number one condition is of course free market situation that I can come and participate in the marketplace. So this is something where you are building capitalism at the very bottom so that people can become income earners. Once they are income earners they are also consumers. The more consumers you have, that's what capitalistic economy most keeps moving.

DAVIDSON: So they're entirely compatible?

YUNUS: Absolutely compatible.

DAVIDSON: We'll pause here for a short break. You're listening to Common Ground, a service of the Stanley Foundation. We're talking about the world food supply and the ability to feed eight billion people by the middle of the next century. The Stanley Foundation is a non profit, non partisan organization that conducts a wide range or programs meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs. Printed transcripts and audiocassettes of this program are available and at the end of the broadcast, I'll give you details on how to order.

Jacques Diouf, the head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, agrees that many of the world's hungry people have simply not had access to the food currently available. But there is no doubt that the world's population will grow from its current 5.6 billion to nearly 8 billion and agricultural production will have to be increased somehow.

DIOUF: Well population has to be analyzed in relation to natural resources, but has also to be analyzed in relation to the technology and the relation to the investment. If you combine those factors, you have no limit depending on what you put in technology and what you put in investment to the agriculture sector. If one looks at the knowledge that is available in lead farming communities, very modern farmers against what is happening in the same country to marginal farmers, the potential for increasing production and productivity is very huge but it would require the transfer of knowledge, it would require information, it would require more investment being made, it would require involving people through people's participation program. And in particular, women who in developing countries represent more than 60% of food production.

GURDEV SINGH KHUSH, International Rice Research Institute: I grew up on a wheat farm where the yields are extremely low and my folks were so poor. It was northern India in Punjab state.

DAVIDSON: Gurdev Singh Khush is one of the ag scientists working on the front lines of the battle to increase food production. Khush, of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, is co-recipient of the 1996 World Food Prize for revolutionizing Asian agriculture by breeding new strains of rice and thereby improving the diets of hundreds of millions of people. Rice, by the way, is the primary food source for more than one third of the world's population.

KHUSH: And the yield was less than one ton per hectare and so there were a lot of poverty. You know, people were not... their nutritional status was poor and everybody was poor in the countryside. So one of my motivations was really to do something so that we can improve the living conditions of the farmers, and there's no other way of doing that than developing the technology. And one of the technologies is developing the high yielding rice. Going back to Punjab now, when I go I am really marveled at the improvements which occurred. Instead of one ton of yield per hectare per year, we are getting ten tons, you know five tons of rice and five tons of wheat and there are...

DAVIDSON: And India has been able to export actually.

KHUSH: Export and meet the requirements of the doubled population. It was in the 50s, it was 450 million, now it's 950 million people. So in addition to feeding double the number of people, India is able to export wheat and rice.

DAVIDSON: Is it important to increase yields on a plot of land because there is no more arable land available that's not currently in production in these countries?

KHUSH: In most of the Asian countries, land frontiers have closed. There are only a couple of countries where there is still a possibility to expand the area under cultivation. Mynamar is one of them, Cambodia is another country where there is still a lot of land which can be brought under plow. But in most of the other Asian countries, there's no chance of increasing the land under cultivation.

DAVIDSON: Since there are parts of Asia in which there are projected large population increases and there is no arable land left to put into cultivation, do you foresee that there can be another increase in crop yields in order to meet the needs of the projected population increase?

KHUSH: I think in certain countries, there should be no problem in increasing the food production to feed the additional population by 2025.

DAVIDSON: And that's using current knowledge?

KHUSH: Current knowledge, but we have to make the improvements in management practices, develop new varieties which have higher yields. Just to give you an example, in India yield of rice is three tons per hectare. There is no reason why it cannot be raised to six tons. In China, already every yield is six tons. In Japan and Korea, seven tons. So there is a lot of still unexploited opportunity to raise the yield potential. This we call the yield gap. The maximum yield potential of rice varieties is 10 tons. The farmer's are still getting three tons. So if we can close that gap, that should give us quite a bit of additional food production.

DAVIDSON: Of the many Americans speaking out for a stronger US role in ensuring food security around the world is former Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara who says that when he was head of the World Bank, he learned that only by expanding people's productivity will we alleviate poverty, and the United States has a moral responsibility to work on this.

ROBERT MAC NAMARA: The United States has two responsibilities. One is to deal with its own problems. I think it's morally outrageous that in this country, the richest country in the world, we have millions of hungry people and that we're going to increase that. That's morally outrageous, that's an issue of political will. It doesn't have a darn thing to do with food production or for that matter, resources. We have the resources within this country to ensure access of all people to minimal quantities of food that they need to preserve their productive capacity. We're not doing it. That's an issue of political will. Beyond taking care of our own peoples, I believe that the United States again as the richest country in the world, has an obligation to help other people help themselves. I am a strong believer that every nation and every individual has a responsibility to help itself. That applies to the disadvantaged in our country; it applies to the disadvantaged abroad. But I also believe that we who are better off, either individually or as a nation, have an obligation—a moral obligation if you will—to help others who are less well off. In this country we're not doing it. Within the last two to three years, for example, USAID, the development organization, has reduced its assistance to international agricultural research very, very substantially. After having been one of the founders of the global program. There's no excuse for that. We're only talking about 20 million dollars a year additional that would be required. The USAID contribution to international agricultural research was one of the main foundations of the green revolution which we all know has been the basis for feeding the explosive growth in world population that occurred in the last 20-30 years. That's one respect.

Second respect, the United States two years ago at the Global Population Conference in Cairo, pledged that it would support the increase in financing of family planning, fertility reduction if you will, across the developing world. We failed. The Congress has, in effect, cut substantially and I fear may be eliminating, US support of that. The amounts of money involved are tiny, very, very tiny. So in all of these respects I think we as a nation, we as a people, we as a federal government, are failing in our responsibilities to ourselves and to the rest of the world.

DAVIDSON: That is former head of the World Bank and Secretary of Defense, Robert MacNamara. Also during this half hour of Common Ground, we heard from Jacques Diouf, the head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, Gurdev Singh Khush from the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank and Robert Havener, President Emeritus of the Winrock Institute for Agriculture Development in Mexico. For Common Ground, I'm Mary Gray Davidson.

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