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Geopolitics

Why World Hunger Won't Go Away

Two new books and a docudrama ask hard questions about how so many can still go hungry in a world of technological advancement and economic growth.

Dinner's served: Bruno Parmentier's "Zero Hunger, Ending Hunger In The World"
Dinner's served: Bruno Parmentier's "Zero Hunger, Ending Hunger In The World"
Philippe Arnaud

PARIS — José Graziano da Silva, director general of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently said that "hunger leads to conflict, and conflict exacerbates hunger."

Three very different new books examine the global agriculture situation, the reality of agribusiness, and the pressing need for new regulations of what can be called the "global food system."

Though the situation is slightly less critical than in 2008, a year that saw food prices soar, hunger still affects 850 million people around the world. Bruno Parmentier, author of Zero Hunger, Ending Hunger In The World, connects that number with another one, the 1.46 billion people who are overweight.

To this expert on agricultural affairs, hunger is neither a technical nor an economic problem, in the strict sense of the term. "Hunger is first of all political," he writes. "It has always been the consequence of ignorance, war and the absence of state, of conflicts to gain control of natural resources. And now it's also a by-product of globalization and the absence of public control over multinational companies."

But the essential message of Zero Hunger is optimistic. Yes, it is possible to eradicate hunger in the 21st century. The Zero Hunger Challenge launched by the United Nations in 2012 at the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development is "within our reach." There are solutions. They include defending small family agriculture, developing techniques of agroecological production, targeted support, etc. Parmentier advocates an "ecologically intensive" agriculture model that is more productive, sustainable and economical.

Some countries are moving in the right direction — for example, China, Vietnam and Brazil. India, however, is stagnating and others are actually regressing, such as sub-Saharan African countries. The book also describes the overconsumption of meat as one of the most formidable challenges. Between 1980 and 2012, annual Chinese consumption of meat rose from 14 to 60 kilograms. In France, it is over 80 kilograms.

Concrete solutions

How to End Hunger in Times of Crisesisa book written by two FAO economists — Ignacio Trueba, professor emeritus at the Technical University of Madrid, and Andrew MacMillan, a specialist in in tropical agriculture. They write that mentalities must change. "We maintain that one of the main reasons why so many people are undernourished is that most people think it's difficult to end hunger," they write. "And yet, it's one of the easiest things we could do together to make the world a better place for its inhabitants."


This slim, accessible volume offers several concrete solutions. Some go against the tide of the status quo. They include a tax on overconsumption to reduce waste, especially on products with a large ecological footprint, favoring rising prices to improve farmers' revenues and therefore investments, or developing education approaches that will translate to lasting changes in how we live and eat.

The book also contains precise figures. For example, one billion global inhabitants lack about 250 calories per day, which represents less than 2% of the world's food production. Meanwhile in Europe, each person throws away an average of about 100 kilos of food every year.

The two economists believe the important thing is to reduce the future growth of overconsumption. They underline a point that we too often forget: Our intensive agricultural system depends too much on the use of fossil fuels, making it unviable in the long term.

Finally, after the "docudrama" format used on History television networks and Bernard-Henri Lévy's 2003 "investigative novel" Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, comes a published economic documentary theater play. In Seeds, Annabel Soutar, a Canadian playwright, tells the famous story of the lawsuit filed by Monsanto against a farmer in Saskatchewan, in western Canada. In 1998, the company sued Percy Schmeiser for violating its patent on genetically modified canola seeds, the Roundup Ready Canola. The trial lasted six years, and the verdict went nobody's way. The court ruled in favor of Monsanto, but Percy Schmeiser didn't pay any damages. In the meantime, "the man who stood up to Monsanto" became a global figure.



According to the author, much of the play's dialogue come from transcripts of court proceedings but also interviews and excerpts from newspaper articles. It's a difficult topic to tackle, touching on the ethics of science but also on multinational companies' thirst for profit. The point of view is not Manichaean. The play is not a new version of David vs. Goliath. It was created in Montreal and got very good reviews, but only time will tell whether economic docudramas are here to stay.

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Geopolitics

Women, Life, Freedom: Iranian Protesters Find Their Voice

In the aftermath of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the morality police mid-September for not wearing her hijab properly, many Iranians have taken the streets in nationwide protests. Independent Egyptian media Mada Masr spoke to one of the protesters.

Students of Amirkabir University in Tehran protest against the Islamic Republic in September 2022.

Lina Attalah

On September 16, protests erupted across Iran when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in custody after being arrested and beaten by morality police for her supposedly unsuitable attire. The protests, witnesses recount, have touched on all aspects of rights in Iran, civil, political, personal, social and economic.

Mada Masr spoke to a protester who was in the prime of her youth during the 2009 Green Movement protests. Speaking on condition of anonymity due to possible security retaliation, she walked us through what she has seen over the past week in the heart of Tehran, and how she sees the legacy of resistance street politics in Iran across history.

MADA MASR: Describe to us what you are seeing these days on the streets of Tehran.

ANONYMOUS PROTESTER: People like me, we are emotional because we remember 2009. The location of the protests is the same: Keshavarz Boulevard in the middle of Tehran. The last time Tehranis took to these streets was in 2009, one of the last protests of the Green Movement. Since then, the center of Tehran hasn’t seen any mass protests, and most of these streets have changed, with new urban planning meant to make them more controllable.

Remembering 2009 triggers many things, such as street strategies, tactics and the way we could find each other in the middle of the chaos. But this is us now, almost at the back. Up front, there are many younger people, especially girls. They are extremely brave, fearless and smart.

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