Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
From March 25th to March 29th, a “Planet Under Pressure” conference was convened in London as a prelude to the Rio+20 convocation due to take place in June this year. The conference brought together scientists, economists, and policy experts to explore the formidable challenges we face as a global community. These challenges span multiple dimensions—scientific, social, economic, environmental, and educational—but they are intimately interconnected and the hub on which they all converge is the task that engages Buddhist Global Relief. This is the need to produce sufficient food to feed a global population that by mid-century is likely to hit nine billion people, and to do so on a planet going through cataclysmic changes.
Although at present the world produces a surplus of food, close to a billion people, mainly in the global South, struggle daily with the ordeal of chronic hunger and malnutrition. The industrialized North, in contrast, faces a problem of a different sort. Here, millions consume to excess foods loaded with fats, sugars, and salt. The result is high rates of chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. These conditions prevail most among the poor, for it is those who cannot afford nutritious food that are compelled to resort to cheap, calorie-laden substitutes detrimental to their health.
The problem we must solve, and solve with utmost urgency, is increasing agricultural productivity while at the same time ensuring greater equity in the distribution of food, especially for those at risk. If, despite a surplus of food production, a billion people still go hungry today, our task will be so much more difficult in 2050, when there are two billion more bellies to feed. Not only will the numbers of people rise, but the planet will also continue to heat up, resulting in diminished agricultural yields. To shift the arc away from crushing malnutrition will require drastic changes in the prevailing food system, which is currently geared more toward profits than toward health and food justice.