Challenge: feeding 6 billion

Given current trends, a global food crisis more serious than the energy crisis appears likely in the next 20 years. One out of eight people on Earth -- between 500 million and 1 billion -- suffers a debilitating form of malnutrition. Over three-quarter live on the Indian subcontinent, in Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. Many others live in Latin America, the Middle East, and pockets in the United States.

World population is growing at a rate of 70 million to 80 million a year -- 86 percent of the increase in developing nations. If present trends continue, today's 4.2 billion population will rise to at least 6 billion by the year 2000.

Since there is no global system of grain reserves, two consecutive bad harvests in any major grain-producing area (the US, USSR, India, China) could severely strain the world food system. The US harvests more than half the grain crossing international borders. Its support is indispensible if world grain reserves are to be set up.

Third-world economic growth has spurred enormous increases in consumption of both local and imported food. Third-world imports of US food rose from $2 billion to $10 billion in the past decade. Even if developing nations increase their own food production, US export benefits are expected to rise further.

At the present rate of increase, world grain production will be 2.1 billion tons by the end of the century. That is enough to meet projected commercial demand for food, but not the needs of hundreds of millions of people too poor to buy food. An additional 32 million tons of grain in food aid per year would be needed.

If world hunger is to be overcome, unprecedented increases in food production must be achieved in developing nations themselves, supported by international political and economic cooperation.

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