World food distribution: an unsolved puzzle

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

It's still an uncertain race between world food supplies and world population. * The Soviet Union faces the third serious crop failure in a row, called by some a "grain disaster."

* India's harvest for its 648 million people is threatened, after achieving self-sufficiency for a number of years. It is likely to purchase extra ton of wheat, say

* The United States faces a grain glut so big that it has depressed prices, and American farmers complain of ruinours interest charges to carry any surplus.

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Once again at harvest time, crop distribution among a world population of 4 billion causes trouble -- the most basic physical problem facing humanity, some argue. It particularly threatens third-world countries.

"Population growth, the major determinant of demand for food," said US Department of Agriculture (USDA) ex perts in 1974, "is faster among the developing countries, where 70 percent of the world's people live. World population is growing at the rate of 70 billion people a year, with annual increase."

Meanwhile, new developments change world food picture. The U.S. and Soviet Union have to renew arms control talkd. This way make for Amercican to continue to export grain to the Sovit now that president Reagan has lifted the grain embargo imposed by President Center.

Simultaneously, demographers report that the world population increase is slowing, which could ease danger of famine. Rising world income and food competition are boosting prices for some countries. Increasing world dependence on the North American "bread basket) underlines the importance of U.S. soil consevaration. And for the first time in history, food and fuel in competition -- the possibility. $2 gasoline could mean massive diversion of farm resources to nonfood crops to produce gasohol.

The Senate, Sept. 18, passed a four-year bill that would give American farmers somewhat less than they want for price-support programs. It acted in response to a threatenced presidential veto. While nations fear hunger. US farmers are reluctant to sell crops at current low prices, and many will "roll over" (extend) debt at high interest rates. The USPA forecasts that net farm income in 1981 may only match last years' $20 billion, which was 40 percent below the 1979 figure. Next year may be onother

Bulging silos are America's problem; grain-short silos are Russia's.

Marshall I. Goldman of Wellesley College, student of soviet economic problems , writes in the New York Times that Russia "find itself with a disaster of unprecedented magnitude." It has had "three serious crop failures in a row." He estimates that the USSR will probably need to imports 40-million metric tons of grain -- 20 percent of its total grain needs. The figures: 1978 -- 235 million metrictons of grain, a record; 1979 -- 179 million; 1980 -- 189 million tons; this year -- around 175 million to 180 million tons.

For the Soviets the problem is to import enough grain to feed livestock and give dissatisfied citizens more meat. For developing countries, the problem is to get enough money to buy the grain that will keep the citizens fed.

In India, by one estimate, 300 million to 400 million do not have enough to eat because of family poverty. the UN estimates that in Pakistan 30 percent fall below minimum levels of nutrition.

The other great world food consumer is China, with a population estimated at around 985 million. But it has instituted rigorous birth-control measures that have helped ameliorate hunger. some estimate that in the worldhs overall population, about a quarter go to bed hungry at night and that one out of nine suffers serious malnutrition.

Some demographers feel the problem is not primarily lack of food but distribution of food income between rich and poor countries. Because of better seeds, fertilizers, and irrigation, global corn and wheat yields jumped 50 percent, and rice 30 percent, between 1960 and 1980 by one estimate. Global per capital food consumption by the late 1970s increased to 108 percent of the minimum essential for good health, according to the UN food and Agriculture Organization. The figure was slightly below 100 in the early 1960s.

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