The Century Of Famine

By Peter Goodchild


Humanity has struggled to survive through the millennia in terms of balancing population size with food supply. The same is true now, but population numbers have been soaring for over a century. The limiting factor has been hidden, but this factor – oil and natural gas, or petroleum – is close to or beyond its peak extraction. Without ample, free-flowing petroleum, it will not be possible to support a population of several billion for long.

‘Drought refugees from Oklahoma camping by the roadside. They hope to work in the cotton fields. The official at the border (California-Arizona) inspection service said that on this day, August 17, 1936, twenty-three car loads and truck loads of migrant families out of the drought counties of Oklahoma and Arkansas had passed through that station entering California up to 3 o’clock in the afternoon.’

Famine caused by petroleum supply failure alone will result in about 2.5 billion above-normal deaths before the year 2050; lost and averted births will amount to roughly an equal number.

In terms of its effects on daily human life, the most significant aspect of fossil-fuel depletion will be the lack of food. ‘Peak oil’ is basically ‘peak food’. Modern agriculture is highly dependent on fossil fuels for fertilizers (the Haber Bosch process combines natural gas with atmospheric nitrogen to produce nitrogen fertilizer), pesticides, and the operation of machines for irrigation, harvesting, processing, and transportation.

Without fossil fuels, modern methods of food production will disappear, and crop yields will be far less than at present. Crop yields are far lower in societies that do not have fossil fuels or modern machinery. We should therefore have no illusions that several billion humans can be fed by ‘organic gardening’ or anything else of that nature.

The Green Revolution involved, among other things, the development of higher-yielding crops. These new varieties, however, could be grown only with large inputs of fertilizer and pesticides, all of which required fossil fuels. In essence, the Green Revolution was little more than the invention of a way to turn petroleum into food.

Over the next few decades, therefore, there will be famine on a scale many times larger than ever before in human history. It is possible, of course, that warfare and plague will take their toll to a large extent before famine claims its victims. The distinctions, in any case, can never be absolute: often ‘war + drought = famine’3, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, but there are several other combinations of factors.

Although, when discussing theories of famine, economists generally use the term ‘neo-malthusian’ in a derogatory manner, the coming famine will be very much a case of an imbalance between population and resources. The overwhelming cause of the imbalance and famine will be fossil-fuel depletion, not government policy (as in the days of Stalin or Mao), warfare, ethnic discrimination, bad weather, poor methods of distribution, inadequate transportation, livestock diseases, or any of the other variables that have often turned mere hunger into genuine starvation.

The increase in the world’s population has followed a simple curve: from about 1.7 billion in 1900 to about 6.1 billion in 2000. A quick glance at a chart of world population growth, on a broader time scale, shows a line that runs almost horizontally for thousands of years, and then makes an almost vertical ascent as it approaches the present. That is not just an amusing curiosity. It is a shocking fact that should have awakened humanity to the realization that something is dreadfully wrong.

Graph Courtesy: Paul Chefurka, May 2007

Courtesy: Paul Chefurka, May 2007

Mankind is always prey to its own ‘exuberance’, to use Catton’s term2. That has certainly been true of population growth. In many cultures, ‘Do you have any children?’ or, ‘How many children do you have?’ is a form of greeting or civility almost equivalent to ‘How do you do?’ or, ‘Nice to meet you’. World population growth, nevertheless, has always been ecologically hazardous. The destruction of the environment reaches back into the invisible past, and the ruination of land, sea, and sky has been well described if not well heeded. But what is even less frequently noted is that with every increase in human numbers we are only barely able to keep up with the demand: providing all those people with food and water has not been easy. We are always pushing ourselves to the limits of Earth’s ability to hold us.

Even that is an understatement. No matter how much we depleted our resources, there was always the sense that we could somehow ‘get by’. But in the late twentieth century we stopped getting by. It is important to differentiate between production in an ‘absolute’ sense and production ‘per capita’. Although oil production, in ‘absolute’ numbers, kept climbing — only to decline in the early twenty-first century — what was ignored was that although that ‘absolute’ production was climbing, the production ‘per capita’ reached its peak in 19791.

The unequal distribution of resources plays a part, of course. The average inhabitant of the United States consumes far more than the average inhabitant of India or China. Nevertheless, if all the world’s resources were evenly distributed, the result would only be universal poverty. It is the totals and the averages of resources that we must deal with in order to determine the totals and averages of results. For example, if all of the world’s arable land were distributed evenly, in the absence of mechanized agriculture each person on the planet would have an inadequate amount of farmland for survival: distribution would have accomplished very little.

We were always scraping the edges of the earth, but we are now entering a far more dangerous era. The main point to keep in mind, however, is that throughout the twentieth century, oil production and human population were so closely integrated that every barrel of oil had an effect on human numbers. While population has been going up, so has oil production.

Future excess mortality can therefore be determined ― at least in a rough-and-ready manner ― by the fact that in modern industrial society it is oil supply that determines how many people can be fed. An increase in oil production leads to an increase in population, and a decrease in oil production leads to a decrease in population.

In round numbers, global oil production in the year 2008 was 30 billion barrels, and the population was 7 billion. The consensus is that in the year 2050 oil production will be about 2 billion barrels. The same amount of oil production occurred in the year 1930, when the population was 2 billion. The population in 2050 will therefore be about the same as in 1930: 2 billion. The difference between 7 billion people and 2 billion is 5 billion, which will therefore be the total number of famine deaths and lost or averted births for that period.

Passers-by and the corpse of a starved man on a street in Kharkiv during the famine in Ukraine, 1932.

Passers-by and the corpse of a starved man on a street in Kharkiv during the famine in Ukraine, 1932.

We can also determine the annual number of famine deaths and lost or averted births. From 2008 to 2050 is 42 years. The average annual difference in population is therefore 5 billion divided by 42, which is about 120 million.

It is quite possible, however, that the decline in population will not exactly parallel the decline in oil. In other words, the peak of the population curve may well be a few years later than the peak of the oil curve. People might simply live with less oil per capita for a few decades, i.e. they will just sink further into poverty, with greater problems of malnutrition. In fact, as long ago as 1972, the first edition of The Limits to Growth in its Figure 35, ‘World Model Standard Run’, showed a 40-year gap between the peak production of food per capita and the peak of population7.

Many of those annual 120 million will not actually be deaths; famine will cause a lowering of the birth rate. This will sometimes happen voluntarily, as people realize they lack the resources to raise children, or it will happen involuntarily when famine and general ill health result in infertility4. In most famines the number of deaths from starvation or from starvation-induced disease is very roughly the same as the number of lost or averted births3,4. In Ireland’s nineteenth-century famine, for example, the number of famine deaths was 1.3 million, whereas the number of lost births was 0.4 million. The number of famine deaths during China’s Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) was perhaps 30 million, and the number of lost births was perhaps 33 million.

The ‘normal’, non-famine-related, birth and death rates are not incorporated into the above future population figures, since for most of pre-industrial human history the sum of the two — i.e. the growth rate — has been nearly zero. If not for the problem of resource-depletion, in other words, the future birth rate and death rate would be nearly identical, as they were in pre-industrial times. And there is no question that the future will mean a return to the ‘pre-industrial’.

Nevertheless, it will often be hard to separate ‘famine deaths’ from a rather broad category of ‘other excess deaths’. War, disease, global warming, topsoil deterioration, and other factors will have unforeseeable effects of their own. Considering the unusual duration of the coming famine, and with Leningrad5 as one of many precursors, cannibalism may be significant; to what extent should this be included in a calculation of ‘famine deaths’? It is probably safe to say, however, that an unusually large decline in the population of a country will be the most significant indicator that this predicted famine has in fact arrived.

These figures obliterate all previous estimates of future population growth. Instead of a steady rise over the course of this century, as generally predicted, there will be a clash of the two giant forces of overpopulation and oil depletion, followed by a precipitous ride into the unknown future.

If the above figures are fairly accurate, we are ill-prepared for the next few years. The problem of oil depletion turns out to be something other than a bit of macabre speculation for people of the distant future to deal with, but rather a sudden catastrophe that will only be studied dispassionately long after the event itself has occurred. Doomsday will be upon us before we have time to look at it carefully.

In modern industrial society it is oil supply that determines how many people can be fed.

The world has certainly known some terrible famines in the past, of course. In recent centuries, one of the worst was that of North China in 1876-79, when between 9 and 13 million died, but India had a famine at the same time, with perhaps 5 million deaths. The Soviet Union had famine deaths of about 5 million in 1932-34, purely because of political policies. The worst famine in history was that of China’s Great Leap Forward, 1958-61, when perhaps 30 million died, as mentioned above.

A close analogy to ‘petroleum famine’ may be Ireland’s potato famine of the 1840s, since — like petroleum — it was a single commodity that caused such devastation6. The response of the British government at the time can be summarized as a jumble of incompetence, frustration, and indecision, if not outright genocide. ‘There is such a tendency to exaggeration and inaccuracy in Irish reports that delay in acting on them is always desirable’, wrote Sir Robert Peel in 1845. By 1847 the description had changed: ‘Bodies half-eaten by rats were an ordinary sight; “two dogs were shot while tearing a body to pieces.” ’

The news of the coming famine might not be announced with sufficient clarity. Famines tend to be back-page news nowadays, perhaps for the very reason that they are too common to be worth mentioning. Although Ó Gráda speaks of ‘making famine history’6, the reality is that between 70 and 80 million people died of famine in the twentieth century, far more than in any previous century4.

The above predictions can be nothing more than approximate, of course, but even the most elaborate mathematics will not entirely help us to deal with the great number of interacting factors. We need to swing toward a more pessimistic figure for humanity’s future if we include the effects of war, disease, and so on. The most serious negative factor will be largely sociological: To what extent can the oil industry maintain the advanced technology required for drilling ever-deeper wells in ever-more-remote places, when that industry will be struggling to survive in a milieu of social chaos? Intricate division of labor, large-scale government, and high-level education will no longer exist.

On the other hand, there are elements of optimism that may need to be plugged in. For one thing, there is what might be called the ‘inertia factor’: the planet Earth is so big that even the most catastrophic events take time for their ripples to finish spreading. An asteroid fragment 10 kilometers wide hit eastern Mexico 65 million years ago, but enough of our distant ancestors survived that we ourselves are alive today to tell the story.

Somewhat related, among optimistic factors, is the sheer tenacity of the human species: we are intelligent social creatures living at the top of the food chain, in the manner of wolves, yet we outnumber wolves worldwide by about a million to one; we are as populous as rats or mice. We can outrace a horse over long distances. Even with Stone-Age technology, we can inhabit almost every environment on Earth, even if most of the required survival skills have been forgotten.

Specifically, we must consider the fact that neither geography nor population is homogeneous. All over the world, there are forgotten pockets of habitable land, much of it abandoned in the modern transition to urbanization, for the ironic reason that city dwellers regarded rural life as too difficult, as they traded their peasant smocks for factory overalls. There are still areas of the planet’s surface that are sparsely occupied although they are habitable or could be made so, to the extent that many rural areas have had a decline in population that is absolute, i.e. not merely relative to another place or time. By careful calculation, therefore, there will be survivors. Over the next few years, human ingenuity must be devoted to an understanding of these geographic and demographic matters, so that at least a few can escape the tribulation. Neither the present nor future generations should have to say, ‘We were never warned’.


Peter Goodchild is the author of ‘Survival Skills of the North American Indians’, published by Chicago Review Press. His email address is:

1. BP Global Statistical Review of World Energy. Annual.
2. Catton, William R., Jr. Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1982.
3. Devereux, Stephen. “Famine in the Twentieth Century.” IDS Working Paper 105.
4. Ó Gráda, Cormac. “Making Famine History.” Journal of Economic Literature, March 2007.
5. Salisbury, Harrison E. The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press, 2003.
6. Woodham-Smith, Cecil. The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849. New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, 1962.
7. Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, Dennis L. Meadows and William W. Behrens III. The Limits to Growth. New York: Universe Books, 1972.




Potato Can Relieve World Hunger


As wheat and rice prices surge, the humble potato – long derided as a boring tuber prone to making you fat – is being rediscovered as a nutritious crop that could cheaply feed an increasingly hungry world.

Potatoes has come a long way from its original cultivation in the Peruvian Andes several thousand years ago. Now, about 350 million tons are grown each year, making potatoes the world’s third most-important food crop after wheat and rice.

With the world population expected to grow to 10 billion by 2050 and with most of that growth in the developing world, the need for a nutritious and fast-growing food is more critical than ever. A good source of nutrients like vitamin C and potassium and virtually fat free, the potato is also smart.

‘It’s one of the most efficient ways to convert seed, land, and water into nutrients for human consumption’, says Lee Frankel, president of the United Potato Growers of America.

‘The potato is a good barometer of developing economies’, says Daniel Gustafson of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization. In Europe, potato production has fallen by 1 percent every year for the past two decades, while the developing world – led by India and China – has been increasing production by some 5 percent a year over the same time.

India has told food experts it wants to double potato production in the next five to 10 years. China, a huge rice consumer that historically has suffered devastating famines, has become the world’s top potato grower. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the potato is expanding more than any other crop right now.

Peru’s leaders, frustrated by a doubling of wheat prices, have started a program encouraging bakers to use potato flour to make bread. Potato bread is being given to school children, prisoners and the military, in the hope the trend will catch on.

Some consumers are switching to potatoes. In the Baltic country of Latvia, sharp price rises caused bread sales to drop by 10-15 percent, as consumers bought 20 percent more potatoes, food producers have said.

The developing world is where most new potato crops are being planted, and as consumption rises poor farmers have a chance to earn more money.

As populations become more urbanized and countries more developed, the demand for fresh potatoes declines and the demand for processed potatoes (chips, french fries, and frozen foods) increases. That means more money for potato crops.

‘The potato allows countries to get more value out of their land, their water, and the time spent cultivating because it can be used in so many ways’, says Gustafson.

Potatoes can be grown at almost any elevation or climate: from the barren, frigid slopes of the Andes Mountains to the tropical flatlands of Asia. They require very little water, mature in as little as 50 days, and can yield between 2 and 4 times more food per hectare than wheat or rice.

‘The shocks to the food supply are very real and that means we could potentially be moving into a reality where there is not enough food to feed the world’, said Pamela Anderson, director of the International Potato Center in Lima, a non-profit scientific group researching the potato family to promote food security.

Like others, she says the potato is part of the solution.

The potato has potential as an antidote to hunger caused by higher food prices, a population that is growing by one billion people each decade, climbing costs for fertilizer and diesel, and more cropland being sown for biofuel production.

Potatoes are a great source of complex carbohydrates, which release their energy slowly, and – so long as they are not smothered with butter – have only five percent of the fat content of wheat.

They also have one-fourth of the calories of bread and, when boiled, have more protein than corn and nearly twice the calcium, according to the Potato Center. They contain vitamin C, iron, potassium and zinc.

Genetically modified potatoes that resist ‘late blight’ are being developed by German chemicals group BASF. The disease led to famine in Ireland during the 19th century and still causes about 20 percent of potato harvest losses in the world, the company says.

Scientists say farmers who use clean, virus-free seeds can boost yields by 30 percent and be cleared for export. That would generate more income for farmers and encourage more production as companies could sell specialty potatoes abroad, instead of just as frozen french fries or potato chips.

For developing countries, potato is an excellent option for both food security and also income generation.




We Can Feed EVERY Hungry Person On Earth If We Want To

There is no tragedy greater than the horror of little children literally starving to death because there is nobody to feed them just a few morsels of bread. The photo of a toddler, crouched in the final pangs of starvation, and waiting to be devoured by a vulture that has sensed his impending death, was so shocking that it moved the whole world.

Photograph by Kevin Carter (13 September 1960 – 27 July 1994). Carter was an award-winning South African photojournalist. He was the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for his photograph depicting the 1993 famine in Sudan. He committed suicide at the age of 33. Portions of Carter’s suicide note read: ‘I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain…of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners’.

Yet this was only one image. Similar images in other circumstances – of children screaming in unbearable pain of hunger – go unnoticed and unknown to the rest of the world. I wish everyone could hear the groans of starving children and their pleas for a mouthful of food, as I have heard in my travels to countries where innumerable kids in each city go to sleep every night on hungry stomachs. Just to cite one encounter of the uncountable many I have had, I was on my way to board a train in a small city. As I passed by the entrance to the station, I heard the loud wailings of a child, and turning to look, saw a 6 or 7 year old child lying on his mother’s lap. She was sitting on the pavement of the entrance. I stopped and went over to them, and asked the mother why the child was crying.

‘He is asking for food’, the mother said, with a smile of hopelessness.

Normally, in such situations in the past, I had purchased food and handed it to the hungry ones, instead of giving them money. But I had to catch my train, and I gave the mother some money enough to buy food for both. I did the best I could in my jobless situation in those days, but the memory of this encounter still grieves me, 30 years later, and whenever the image of the wailing child comes to mind, I wonder if the mother was able to feed her child with daily bread until he was old enough to get his own food.

I have had too many such heart-excruciating encounters, and these experiences has given me an acute awareness of the real state of this world’s afflicted ones, and a great longing to do something about it. This mission is a result of that great desire to do something to bring daily bread to the hopeless hungry people of the world.

If all the nations in the world had joined hands to fight global hunger, I would not have heard the wailing of a starving child in any of my travels. There would have been no Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of a dying toddler with a waiting vulture in the background. Because, if all the leaders in the world put their heart to it, they can have food to feed the world’s entire population one and a half times over!

Now, here are some eyeopening reports sourced from various media, about the world food situation:

‘Both of the world’s leading authorities on food distribution (the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] and the World Food Programme [WFP]) are very clear: there is more than enough food for everyone on the planet. The FAO neatly summarizes the problem of starvation, saying that “the world currently produces enough food for everybody, but many people do not have access to it.” ’
‘The depth of the global food crisis is best expressed by what poor people are eating to survive.
‘In Burundi, it is farine noir, a mixture of black flour and moldy cassava. In Somalia, a thin gruel made from mashed thorn-tree branches called jerrin. In Haiti, it is a biscuit made of yellow dirt. Food inflation has sparked protests in Egypt, Haiti, Mexico and elsewhere. Tens of thousands protested earlier this month in Mogadishu, as the price of a corn meal rose twofold in four months.
‘And while the crisis seemed to come out of nowhere, the reality of hunger is a regular feature of life for millions of people. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 854 million people worldwide are undernourished.
‘Hunger isn’t simply the result of unpredictable incidents like the cyclone that struck Myanmar. In most cases, millions teeter on the edge of survival long before the natural disasters hit. According to UN Millennium Project Web site, of the 300 million children who go to bed hungry every day, only “8 percent are victims of famine or other emergency situations. More than 90 percent are suffering longterm malnourishment and micronutrient deficiency.”
‘The technology and knowhow exist to make our capacity to produce food even greater – if this were made a priority.
‘The world’s wealthiest countries and their international loan organizations, like the World Bank, have cut money for agricultural research programs. According to the Post, “Adjusting for inflation and exchange rates, the wealthy countries, as a group, cut such donations roughly in half from 1980 to 2006, to $2.8 billion a year from $6 billion. The United States cut its support for agriculture in poor countries to $624 million from $2.3 billion in that period.”
‘International ‘aid’ is organized around the principle not of solving poverty but of making profits – and in the process, it usually leads to more suffering. In Ethiopia, the poverty ‘experts’ at the World Bank forced the country to devote good land not to food crops, but to export crops to sell on the world market. As a result, the famine of the 1980s were made even worse.
‘These crises aren’t aberrations, but are built into the system. A recent Time magazine article grudgingly commented, “The social theories of Karl Marx were long ago discarded as of little value, even to revolutionaries. But he did warn that capitalism had a tendency to generate its own crises.” The Time article was titled ‘How Hunger Could Topple Regimes’.
‘The current system and its warped priorities can’t possibly accomplish something as important as feeding the world’s people. It will take a society organized on a completely different basis to achieve this. If we could harness the resources wasted on the pursuit of profit – including the wars that our government funds around the globe – we could feed the world many times over.’
‘The food crisis appeared to explode overnight, reinforcing fears that there are just too many people in the world. But according to the FAO, with record grain harvests in 2007, there is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone – at least 1.5 times current demand. In fact, over the last 20 years, food production has risen steadily at over 2.0 percent a year, while the rate of population growth has dropped to 1.14 percent a year. Population is not outstripping food supply.’   Eric Holt-Giménez and Loren Peabody – Food First
Photo Courtesy:
‘There is enough food grown in the world for everyone. And yet we remain stuck in a food crisis. Half the world’s food is lost as waste and a billion people – one in every six of the world’s poorest – cannot access enough of the other half and so go hungry every day.
‘The Millennium Development Goal to halve hunger by 2015 will be missed without more action – and now a new pledge will be tabled to eradicate it totally by 2025.
‘To do so, leaders must concentrate on helping poor farmers who have been left to fend for themselves on the front-line of hunger, poverty and climate change. Three out of every four poor people depend on agriculture, so that is where global poverty must be tackled. In addition, small-scale farmers hold the key to increasing global food production in a sustainable way that could cope with climate change. The script is pretty straightforward.
‘All countries must invest more in small-scale agriculture, particularly to women who play a vital role in food security, yet who have less access to land and services and tend to lack political voice. Rich countries must increase their agricultural aid to at least $20 billion a year; it hovers now around 4 percent of overseas development assistance, just under $6 billion. Developing countries must commit more of their national budgets. African countries, for instance, have promised 10 percent of their budgets to agriculture. Vietnam invested heavily in its farming sector when it looked for economic growth and food security, and in 12 years turned itself from a country that had to import much of its food to be a major exporter. Last year poverty in Vietnam fell to below 15 per cent compared with 58 per cent in 1979.
‘This year’s G8 summit pledged $20 billion over three years to poor farmers and consumers. This sounds generous but it equates to just $2 per hungry person per year.
‘However, the problem of hunger and poverty in a climate-changing world will not be solved simply by throwing more money at fertilizer, higher-yielding seeds and big irrigation schemes. These things are important but are not always sustainable or what small-scale farmers actually need. We cannot maintain increased food productivity in a low-carbon and resource-scarce world simply by further intensifying today’s farming industry.
‘Agriculture needs to be rebuilt along entirely different lines and poor farmers and countries made central to that change. Countries must invest in farmer-driven extension schemes and social safety nets to help the poorest people to buy food locally from small-scale farmers and traders.
‘The World Food Summit must hold all governments to their promises. We need an International Public Register of Commitments to monitor every country’s commitments and what they have delivered.’   Oxfam International –

There is enough food grown in the world for everyone. And yet we remain stuck in a food crisis.

‘Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity. For the past two decades, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth. The world already produces more than 1½ times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. That’s enough to feed 10 billion people, the population peak we expect by 2050. But the people making less than $2 a day – most of whom are resource-poor farmers cultivating unviably small plots of land – can’t afford to buy this food.
‘In reality, the bulk of industrially-produced grain crops goes to biofuels and confined animal feedlots rather than food for the 1 billion hungry. The call to double food production by 2050 only applies if we continue to prioritize the growing population of livestock and automobiles over hungry people.
‘Agroecological methods that emphasize rich crop diversity in time and space conserve soils and water and have proven to produce the most rapid, recognizable and sustainable results. In areas in which soils have already been degraded by conventional agriculture’s chemical ‘packages’, agroecological methods can increase productivity by 100-300 percent.
‘This is why the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food released a report advocating for structural reforms and a shift to agroecology. It is why the 400 experts commissioned for the four-year International Assessment on Agriculture, Science and Knowledge for Development also concluded that agroecology and locally-based food economies (rather than the global market) where the best strategies for combating poverty and hunger.
‘Raising productivity for resource-poor farmers is one piece of ending hunger, but how this is done – and whether these farmers can gain access to more land – will make a big difference in combating poverty and ensuring sustainable livelihoods. The conventional methods already employed for decades by poor farmers have a poor track record in this regard.’   The Huffington Post –


Pappa Joseph




Bill Gates Urges World: ‘Spend More on Farming’


While most billionaires are engrossed in aggrandizing their empires, some are pausing and rethinking their priorities. Corporate empires and governments can exist only if the ordinary citizen can exist in basic contentment, especially with regard to the provision of daily food. But food is becoming scarcer each year, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the poorer citizens to nourish themselves with an adequate supply of daily food. Bill Gates, understanding this, declared, “We cannot tolerate a world in which 1 in 7 people is undernourished, stunted, and in danger of starving to death.”

In his annual letter posted on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation website, he wrote:

‘Right now, just over 1 billion people—about 15 percent of the people in the world—live in extreme poverty. On most days, they worry about whether their family will have enough food to eat. There is irony in this, since most of them live and work on farms. The problem is that their farms, which tend to be just a couple acres in size, don’t produce enough food for a family to live on…
‘Despite the rich world’s distance from farming, food-related issues are important for all of us. In the 1960s and 1970s, when I was in high school, people worried that we simply couldn’t grow enough food to feed everyone in the world. A popular book that came out in 1968, The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich, began with the statement: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…” Fortunately, due in large part to the Green Revolution, this dire prediction was wrong.
‘But the world’s success in warding off famine led to complacency. Over time, governments in both developed and developing countries focused less on agriculture. Agricultural aid fell from 17 percent of all aid from rich countries in 1987 to just 4 percent in 2006. In the past 10 years, the demand for food has gone up because of population growth and economic development—as people get richer, they tend to eat more meat, which indirectly raises demand for grain. Supply growth has not kept up, leading to higher prices. Meanwhile, the threat of climate change is becoming clearer. Preliminary studies show that the rise in global temperature alone could reduce the productivity of the main crops by over 25 percent. Climate change will also increase the number of droughts and floods that can wipe out an entire season of crops. More and more people are raising familiar alarms about whether the world will be able to support itself in the future, as the population heads toward a projected 9.7 billion by 2050…
‘We can help poor farmers sustainably increase their productivity so they can feed themselves and their families. By doing so, they will contribute to global food security. But that will happen only if we prioritize agricultural innovation…
‘Given the central role that food plays in human welfare and national stability, it is shocking – not to mention shortsighted and potentially dangerous – how little money is spent on agricultural research. In total, only $3 billion per year is spent on researching the seven most important crops. This includes $1.5 billion spent by countries, $1.2 billion by private companies, and $300 million by an agency called the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Even though the CGIAR money is only 10 percent of the spending, it is critical because it focuses on the needs of poor countries. Very little of the country and private spending goes toward the priorities of small farmers in Africa or South Asia…
‘We have the ability to accelerate this historic progress. We can be more innovative about delivering solutions that already exist to the farmers who need them. Knowledge about managing soil and tools like drip irrigation can help poor farmers grow more food today. We can also discover new approaches and create new tools to fundamentally transform farmers’ lives. But we won’t advance if we don’t continue to fund agricultural innovation, and I am very worried about where those funds will come from in the current economic and political climate.
‘The world faces a clear choice. If we invest relatively modest amounts, many more poor farmers will be able to feed their families. If we don’t, one in seven people will continue living needlessly on the edge of starvation. My annual letter this year is an argument for making the choice to keep on helping extremely poor people build self-sufficiency.
‘My concern is not only about farming; it applies to all the areas of global development and global health in which we work. Using the latest tools—seeds, vaccines, AIDS drugs, and contraceptives, for example—we have made impressive progress. However, if we don’t make these success stories widely known, we won’t generate the funding commitments needed to maintain progress and save lives. At stake are the future prospects of one billion human beings.’

To read the full letter, click HERE.


Pappa Joseph




You Can Buffer Yourself Against Future Pain

Heart to Heart
Personal from Pappa Joseph


Courtesy: Tiyo Prasetyo –

Men and women are born for trouble, as surely as sparks fly upwards, so says an ancient scripture. All the power of positive thinking a person has acquired so he can be in control of his emotional state, all the preparations and precautions he has taken to cushion himself against trouble in his life, all the how-to manuals he has read to be happy and successful – they all fail pathetically when a calamity strikes his life.

I believe that many of you who are reading this have experienced at least once in their life the level of pain or sorrow that nothing at that time could have comforted you or reduced your suffering. You just had to endure it alone until the passage of time softened or healed that deep emotional wound.

The loss of a member of the family, or betrayal by a spouse, or a disaster that wipes out all a person’s carefully laid out plans for life…what can the bereaved, the betrayed, and the victimized really do at such times? Nothing that can alleviate the pain.

Nothing can make a personal calamity go away or reduce its impact on your emotions, but there is certainly something you can do to endure the pain more courageously, which can also help you confront such troubles boldly in the future. That something is the realization that there are still many other things which you havent lost yet, and that you can start redeeming those blessings and opportunities from today on before they too are gone.

When a devastating trouble strikes a person, that person is never the same again for the rest of his or her life. The afflicted man or woman will either become a more understanding, a more patient, and a more appreciative person inside, or he or she becomes an embittered, disgruntled escapist – always fickle, always trying to elude reality by overindulgence in eating and drinking, promiscuity, excessive socializing, or even total seclusion from society.

How will your present trouble – if you are going through one – affect you in the long run?

Are there activities and pursuits in your life which appear so pressing and important today, but which, when a life-shaking disaster occurs, will expose their worthlessness? Does the loss of a job, or the problems at your workplace with some colleague, or an injury done to you by a relative, or the lack of money to do the things you have always wanted to do, cause you a lot of agitation and sleeplessness today?

In comparison, how about the loss of your spouse’s trust in you, or the loss of your child to drugs or to some lifelong debility? How about the death of a childhood friend, or the deprivation of one of your senses – perhaps your sight, or hearing, or mobility?

This may seem like a familiar anecdote, but I have actually whined in the past because I didn’t have an extra pair of shoes, until I actually met and befriended a happy man who couldn’t use his feet. I moaned because I couldn’t live where I wanted to live, until I met a man who hadn’t a place to lay his head down in peace until he was taken to a Cheshire home, where he lived contentedly till he died a few years ago. I fretted because I couldn’t get a better job in my younger days…so I left my kids mostly to themselves as I roamed around for a better opportunity in life…till my children grew up to adulthood without having their dad always near them because dad had crossed the ocean to look for a better job so he could come back home a rich man one day and finally spend some quality time with his kids and buy some quality stuff for them.

Oh, how inconsolable my remorse is, that I had sacrificed several years of my time with my family so I could climb several rungs higher in my profession. It was after my children had grown up and gone away from my nest that I realized my sacrifice was not worth it at all. The rungs on my ladder of success had only led me to a high chamber of heartbreak and regrets.

When all your accomplishments are done, all your dreams fulfilled, and all your energies finally spent, would you look back and remorse in great anguish that all those things which had seemed so important then for a happy life were but ephemeral desires which added nothing to the quality of your life or to your relationship with loved ones.

Or would you look back and rejoice that you had the prescience to know what was really important at all times…your time around your loved ones, your patience with those who exasperated you, your forgiveness for those who offended you, your unswerving commitment to every relationship that came your way – these are absolutely the only things that will stand you in good stead at the final count.

So when pain and sorrow come your way, there’s nothing really you can do to escape the suffering, but you can put them to great use as forceful reminders of your urgent need to focus your life on the remaining blessings in your life before they too pass from you.




The Two Categories of Achievers – You’re In One of Them

Heart to Heart
Personal from Pappa Joseph

Have you observed that all the people on earth who are qualified and skilled workers, and who have achieved a measure of success in their professions, can be placed in two categories?

The first category of people succeed in whatever is given to them to achieve. As long as they have someone to direct them and set work goals for them, and are given the opportunity to achieve them, they will keep on achieving, oftentimes to great levels of excellence. In this category you will find all types of people – professionals, executives, housewives, students.

The Two Kinds of Achievers_1

The second category of achievers comprise those professionals who are always coming up with new ways to perform a task, or with offbeat concepts that result in innovative products or services. They dare to think beyond the parameters set by their revered teachers, mentors, and managers. They are never bound by traditional systems, rules, or boundaries. Their eyes are constantly looking around for new shapes and fresh avenues, their minds are continually pondering an unusual phenomenon or a novel concept. Their ears are ever sensitive to catch a new sound. Their fingers never desist from handling a never-before handled objects. These are the kind of people who daily live by the motto stated by that great advertisement copy I once saw on tv: ‘When was the last time you did something for the first time in your life?’.

Such are the people who found new enterprises and keep them going from strength to strength through decade to decade with ever innovative products and fresher services. Among them you will find Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Herbert Kelleher, Lee Iacocca, Ralph Welsh, and even my fellow villager, Appu, who came up, in my young days, with a revolutionary way for yoked oxen to pull with less struggle a cartful of burdens.

Appu just placed a lining of rubber on the round surface of the wooden wheels of the ox carts. But what a awesome difference it made to the oxen in my land, and what a difference it made to the ox drivers who now could have a far less bumpy ride to the market and back; there’s now no need for them to use their whip as frequently as before on the poor creatures’ already-split hides – split by the merciless lashes they received when they just couldn’t climb the steep country roads steadily with a ton of race sacks bearing down on their napes!

For thousands of years, ox carts ricketied over earth’s rough terrains on wooden wheels. And even after rubber was discovered, wooden wheels continued to be standard equipment for hundreds of years. Nobody had stretched their imaginations far enough to device a way to make cargo transport in my land more convenient, until Appu.

I suppose most human workers fall under the first category. They are good achievers on someone else’s ideas and opportunities. But when it comes to their discovering something on their own, or creating their own ideas, or creating new opportunities where none existed before, they are stumped.

There are two achievers of the first type in my hometown in India. One of them is an excellent dressmaker with his own boutique. The other is a seller of excellent coffee powder.

Both of them were once excellent achievers in their fields, and they were aware of this fact. So the dressmaker gave his shop the name Expert Dressmakers. The coffeeseller went one step further. He named his four by four meter cubicle of a shop ‘All India Coffee Industries’. Not ‘Industry’, but ‘Industries’. And why not, his coffee was so good he saw no reason why he could not have a conglomeration of industries arising from his shack.

A month ago, when I went to my hometown, these two achievers who set up their businesses 40 years ago, were still doing their trade as diligently as ever. The dressmaker is aged, but he still has the same shop churning out expertly tailored dresses as he has been doing since my father’s days. He used to make the best suits in the town in those years. I just couldn’t forget the first suit that I wore proudly to the Gulf, a product of the expert craftsmanship of this mastertailor.

So, on this latest visit to my hometown, I bought expensive material for a couple of suits and gave it to this noted dressmaker. And he made them with the same excellent expertise and in the same style that he made one for me 25 years earlier.

Of course, I had to throw the suits in the garbage bin soon after trying them on once. The style was fashionable a generation ago, but today if I walk around in them, people would think that I had inherited the suits from my father.

Courtesy: Mohamed

Courtesy: Mohamed

As for the coffeeseller, his hair is grey now but he still sits in his four by four meter shack, selling coffee powder whose aroma is still as tantalizing as it was to my nostrils eons ago. And he still has the same signboard ‘All India Coffee Industries’ outside his shop.

You see, these two professionals in my hometown are simply victims of the loss of their most creative opportunities with their parents. They might have been good students at school, getting good grades in everything they learned from their teachers. They became skilled workers and experts with all the knowledge they were taught by someone else.

But once people stopped teaching and monitoring them, they stopped learning, and they stopped accomplishing anything new. They remained all their lives under the ceiling and within the parameters of what they were initially trained for. They did not know how to educate themselves beyond their taught ceilings. They couldn’t demolish the opportunity barriers erected around their imbibed knowledge boundaries and soar to new unexplored frontiers. They could think in new dimensions only if someone else’s thoughts blazed through old frontiers and took them there.

These excellent but constrained achievers are simply victims of the loss of their most creative opportunities with their teachers. They might have been excellent students at school, getting exemplary grades in everything they learned in the classrooms. They became skilled professionals and experts with all the knowledge they were taught by someone else. But when the times changed and with it the methods, these achievers continued to further hone their old skills.

Thomas J. Watson is the most famous name in IBM’s history. He was the chairman of IBM in the 1920s to the 50s, and the main architect of making IBM an international company.

The first thing anyone saw on entering his office was a plaque on the wall above the head of the IBM chief. It had just one word written on it: THINK.

The IBM chief explained that the greatest fault he found in talented executives was that they did not think for themselves. Said Thomas J. Watson:  ‘ “I didn’t think” has cost the world millions of dollars.’

Many companies started following the IBM chief’s example and put up THINK signboards for their employees to ponder over. Then in the 1970s, long after Thomas J. Watson was gone, THINK signboards were pulled down from IBM walls.

Thinking, you see, began to lose its appeal since the 70s decade. In fact, today the chic thing to do is not think too deeply. You cannot buy a THINK wall slab anymore, but you can purchase another one over the internet. Here is the image of that bestselling sign:

The Two Categories_3

The company that makes that signboard and sells it in millions has given a rationale for their signboard. This is what their advertisement says:

‘This magnetic board can remind you of all sorts of things, from the dull meaningless existence that is your work life to a large number of tasks you have to do. As the sign reminds you, you are not paid to THINK…anything that eases the burden on your brainpower is surely a welcome addition to any home or office.’

Though obviously intended to be facetious, what the sign says is nevertheless symptomatic of our present age.

There is a worldwide conspiracy to thwart men and women of exceptional caliber from exerting brainpower beyond the sheepfold. Don’t be swayed by any awesome phenomenon or product that could distract your mind from generating its own innovative thoughts – whether it is a latest gadget that could make obsolete or redundant your mental skills, or a sweeping corporate fad that belittles a timeless virtue, or an alluring doctrine from spiritual gurus that rationalizes an aberrant lifestyle.

Beware of teachers, preachers and researchers who ease your need to think your own ideas and generate your own original ways to make your life and other’s lives more productive, enjoyable and meaningful. When you are an original thinker, constantly applying newer and more effective methods to make work more rewarding for yourself and others, you are automatically ensuring the perpetual usefulness of your achievements.

So, if you want be an achiever whose work is always in demand, be constantly fresh and daring in your thoughts, and keep moving from one innovative level to a higher level. Think for yourself and you have already placed yourself on a future pinnacle of achievements where the usefulness of your work will last even beyond your generation.