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AHS13 Alyssa Rhoden — Give Them Grains? Analyzing Approaches to World Hunger


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Feeding the world is a compelling problem that is expected to worsen. A proposed solution is to increase the number of available calories by diverting more crops from animal feed to direct human consumption. I analyze this approach, taking into account the types of food that can be produced. The results indicate that current crops are rather poor at delivering nutritious food and that repurposing grains is an unlikely solution to world hunger. I will discuss alternative methods by which we can maximize production of nutritious foods and the importance of the ancestral health community’s involvement in the sustainable agriculture movement.

Published in: Technology, Health & Medicine
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AHS13 Alyssa Rhoden — Give Them Grains? Analyzing Approaches to World Hunger

  1. 1. Give them grains – analyzing approaches to world hunger. Alyssa Rhoden, PhD AHS 2013 With special thanks to Tess McEnulty + Eric Huff
  2. 2. 850 million starving people, worldwide 2 billion suffer from malnutrition Malnutrition kills 2.6 million children each year; 1 in 4 are stunted 250 million preschool children are vitamin A deficient (Sources: FAO, GAIN, WHO)
  3. 3. How to feed the world Leading solution: • Produce more calories • Expand grain production • Divert grains (esp. corn) from animal feed to food What kind of food do we produce with this system? What are the trade-off between corn and other foods? Can we feed the world by eating more corn?
  4. 4. The US industrial corn crop • 83 million acres, harvested • 52% of the corn contributed zero calories to the US food supply • 37% produced calories indirectly though animal feed • “Food uses” of corn made up only 11% of the harvest Can we produce more calories if we use more corn to make “food”?
  5. 5. Estimated calories per acre of corn Yes, redirecting corn to “food” will provide more calories (e.g. Cassidy et al., 2013)
  6. 6. “Food” uses of the 2011 corn harvest Mainly corn oil
  7. 7. Vitamin A + Folate RDAs per acre of corn Based on vitamins in corn-fed chicken liver (best corn source)
  8. 8. The corn-based, all “food” diet • More corn calories, mainly as corn sugar, corn oil, and starch • Reduction of the (already small) micronutrient potential of corn With current use: • 3770 calories per person per day in the US • 70% of the avg. American’s calories come from refined grains, added sugar, and refined vegetable oils • 35.7% of adults are obese (‘09-’10) • >23 million have Type 2 diabetes, 79 million have pre-diabetes (Sources: FAO, USDA NHANE study, NIH) Is this really the diet to end world hunger?
  9. 9. What could we grow instead of corn? Organic produce: • More sustainable and provides essential micronutrients • 2011 crop yields determined from USDA production survey • 118,000 harvested acres of organic vegetables and melons Tomatoes Lettuce Potatoes Carrots Onions Sweet corn Sw. potatoes Broccoli Squash Spinach Celery Peas Snap beans Cantaloupe Cabbage Watermelon Herbs Cauliflower Bell peppers Garlic Honeydew Artichokes How does this compare to the caloric and nutritional yield of corn?
  10. 10. Caloric yields of the top 22 organic crops Total = 3.0 million calories per acre
  11. 11. Vitamin A + Folate RDAs per acre 742,207 Corn-fed chickens
  12. 12. Corn vs. vegetables Corn delivers: • More calories, but in a form that is not independent food • Minimal essential micronutrients from animals fed with corn “Food” calories from corn do not compose a diet that sustains human life Requires vast natural resources, chemical inputs, and money Organic agriculture delivers: • About half the calories of corn (all ”food”) • Prodigious micronutrients • Directly edible food More environmentally sustainable May produce more food/calories in marginal environments Requires labor and knowledge
  13. 13. Hunger and calories • We produce >2700 per person per day (FAO, 2002) • Even in the countries with the highest percentages of hunger, all but two have enough calories (Rhoden & McEnulty, AHS 2012) • Chronic hunger + malnutrition caused by: – Inequality + poverty – Political instability – Lack of infrastructure Simply producing more calories is unlikely to end world hunger Producing corn will not provide essential micronutrients Organic agriculture is likely worth the trade-off in potential calories
  14. 14. The meat of the matter Feeding animals may be the best use for corn, but has many downsides: • Corn and CAFOs are resource-intensive (land, water, fuel, antibiotics) • Many negative outputs (animal waste, chemical runoff, GHGs) • Environmentally unsustainable (soil degradation, loss of species diversity) • Stressful and unhealthy for the animals • Steep loss in calories when animals are fed grains Pasture-raised animals provide food using solar power + inedible material
  15. 15. Fixing the food system to feed the world • Support nutrition-based decision making for domestic + world policy – Focusing solely on calories provides an incomplete picture • Redirecting corn can supply more calories but eliminates micronutrients • Organic veggies can produce massive amounts of micronutrients and 57% of the max possible calories from corn (per acre) – What is the right balance of produce, meat, and grains/legumes? • Support agroecological research – What is the true potential for organic-style agriculture + polyculture? – How can we optimize food output and sustainability? – How can we tailor practices to regional conditions? • Support farm regulation reform – Need price supports, not grain subsidies – Allow commodity (i.e. grain) farmers to grow fruits and veggies • Speak up against industrial agriculture + factory farms