On hunger, science, and well-known things that aren’t true

The following is a rather simplified/edited exerpt from the article Science means having to say “I’m Sorry” by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell.

Rights have been the most important elements in recent (and less recent) history. In most cases food was indeed available. Hunger and starvation were caused, not by low agricultural productivity or by a lack of food, but by a lack of sociopolitical rights or entitlements to food.

Nowhere is this perhaps more visible than Smith and Haddad’s landmark study, “Explaining Child Malnutrition in Developing Countries: A cross-country analysis,” which found that over half—54 percent—of the decrease in infant malnutrition in developing countries between 1970 and 1995 was due to improvements in women’s status and women’s education.

In short: the most powerful remedies to malnutrition and hidden hunger are and have been food sovereignty, and political sovereignty and equality more broadly. They are essential to get and to protect the right to a fair share of the food available in any society.

People have fought hunger and repression. Science and technology have been tools used to support—and to block—this fight. Without social movements, they are not enough—not nearly.

It is widely “known” that the Green Revolution, particularly the hybrid crop varieties and packages of “improved” seeds and fertilizers saved millions of people from starving. The calculations for this are simple: productivity went up, number of hungry went down. A (increased productivity) must have caused B (decreased hunger), right?

Well, um…no. This is not how science works—while this is by no means a SILLY conclusion to make , it is also not a proven one. The narrative about how the Green Revolution and Norman Borlaug Fed the World is over-simplistic and under-scientific. The issues we’re dealing with in the food system are complex and challenging. We need to go beyond the simple idea that increased food production = hunger reduction. We need to go beyond just focusing on technology and science, to get a moral, ethical and social movement-based understanding of how equality and improvements actually come about.

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