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More going hungry in the world than ever before

Thoughts of Thanksgiving often include family gatherings, a turkey roasting in the oven, and a much-needed break from classes.

But for many, Thanksgiving is no different than any other day of the year. Many people in this country and around the world won't have a special meal, and many won't even have enough to eat. Perhaps this week, Hunger Awareness Week at MIT, is an appropriate time to think of those who won't be celebrating.

Hunger is not as visible as a few years ago, but for many, it is a daily fact. Even though it is not prevalent in the media, there are more hungry people today than ever before. Approximately 730 million people in the world are chronically malnourished. That's more than one out of every eight people, or almost three times the population of the United States.

Though many people identify famines and floods with world hunger, these are not the main causes. War, debt, policies governing large aid projects, and international agribusiness are often the triggers of poverty and malnutrition. When combined with natural disasters, the results can be even more dramatic, even news-worthy.

But hunger need not exist in the world at all. In fact:

O+ enough cereal grain is produced to feed every single person in the world more than 3000 calories per day, though relatively few people in the world consume nearly that much;

O+ more than half of the grain is grown in the Third World;

O+ just two-tenths of a percent of the world's grain could nourish all those who die of hunger and related causes.

So where does all this food go? One need only look in the local supermarket. While many in developing countries are hungry, the food they produce is being exported to the big consumer countries such as the United States. It's likely that the sugar and pineapple you eat come from the Philippines, the soybeans from Brazil, and the peanuts (and oil) from Senegal in West Africa. Unfortunately, the farm workers there do not benefit from this profitable business. Many are forced by large multinational agribusiness corporations to convert their farms once used to feed their families into large plantations to feed people like us.

Take a typical farmer in the Philippines who once grew staple crops, such as corn and beans, on his land. Now the land is part of a sugar plantation. He once could feed his family. Now his daily pay of 35 cents cannot even buy the food he used to produce himself.

Agribusiness is only one of the problems, which are many and interwoven. They can seem overwhelming and finding a place to start is often difficult. What can be comforting, however, is that in the solutions to world hunger, smaller is better.

Large scale donations in the form of money or food are no more than a temporary and sometimes damaging solution. Large aid projects often reach only the rich land owners and multinational corporations. Those that do reach the small farmers sometimes result in increased dependency on expensive farming methods (including fertilizers, pesticides, and machinery).

What can reach the masses in these countries are long-term, grassroots development projects, such as seeds and tools, wells, irrigation systems and clean drinking water, training in agricultural methods and literacy.

Oxfam America, a non-profit organization, funds projects such as these that help the people help themselves. Through this empowerment, these people can become self-sufficient.

This Thursday is Oxfam's 16th Annual Fast for World Harvest. Through this combination of education, awareness, and fundraising, Oxfam collects more than 10 percent of its annual budget. By fasting for a meal or a day and giving what you would have spent to Oxfam, you can not only identify with the hungry, but you can also support projects "... so that others may eat."

This is certainly not the only thing you can do, but it's a start.

who

David Carroll, a junior in the Department of Biology, is chairman of the MIT Hunger Action Group.

Approximately 730 million people in the world are chronically malnourished. That's almost three times the population of the United States.

What can reach the masses in these countries are long-term, grassroots development projects, such as seeds and tools, wells, irrigation systems and clean drinking water, and training in agricultural methods and literacy.