If we want to make sure it doesn’t go much beyond 9 billion, that it doesn’t reach 10 or 11 billion, what we need to do is not say, “How do we stop them from having children?”, but say, “How do we stop poverty?” “How do we support people to make the decisions they want to make around their family sizes?” And as we do that, you’ll often hear people ask this question, “Well, there’s not going to be enough food if there are 9 billion people.” And, often implied in that, is that if they keep having all these poor people with so many children, maybe it’ll be easier if we let just a few of them die.
Now, I don’t think that’s ethically acceptable, I don’t think that’s kind, in fact, I don’t also think it’s true. Because we know from all the data, that’s being collected by groups like the Food and Agricultural Organization, there’s more than enough food to feed the world. The problem is not a supply one. It’s a distribution problem. And a useful way of thinking about this is instead of thinking about, “Where is all the food?”, is to ask, “What do we do with the food?” Because this year, the World Food Program, the UN agency charged with feeding the roughly 925 million people who go to bed hungry tonight, has a budget of about 3 billion pounds a year. That’s about a third of the food that British households will throw out, you know, the food at the back of the fridge, gets a bit smelly. The leftovers we never get quite around to eating. That 420 pounds per household, all the households across the country, about 10 billion pounds worth a year.
Because actually, when we start asking questions around things like food and hunger, the challenge isn’t whether or not there’s enough food, it’s where we choose to send it. And a useful way of thinking about that is by looking at the balance 30% of people in sub-Saharan Africa are classified by the World Health Organization as malnourished — they’re not getting enough or not getting enough of the right food. The obesity rate in the UK is 26%. What we need to be thinking about is not, “How do we stop more people from existing,” but “How do we make sure that everyone can get access to decent, affordable food in their local area?” And given that we, in the UK, throw out 40% of the food between the farm and our houses, there’s a huge amount we can be doing about that.
Now, the final two things I’d like to have a look at are a bit less about facts, and a bit more about us. They’re about the way that we see the world. And they’re about things that we often try and do to help make a difference. The first of those is the idea that, “I’ll help by volunteering overseas.” To those people who have considered this or done that, I want to say, brilliant, that’s absolutely wonderful! But, when we think about trying to help out, we need to remember that trying to do something about an issue like poverty — it isn’t about us.
It’s about people living in poverty themselves, and it’s about what they’re doing, and what we can support them to do a little bit better. And so if we want to volunteer overseas, we need to make sure to ask ourselves some questions, about why we want to do that, what value they’re really going to add. Because I travel around the country, I meet far too many people who are really keen, but like this next person, haven’t necessarily thought a huge amount about it.
(Video) (voice): Yes, how can I help you?
(Man): I want to be an aid worker.
(Woman): Really? Why?
(Man): Because I want to save the poor peoples.
(Woman): What do you know about aid work?
(Man): I want to heal the world. I want to make it a better place.
(Woman): That is a song lyric, not a reason. What do you know about aid work?
(Man): It is glamorous. I want to meet Bono. I want to save the children.
(Woman): That is not how it works. Have you even thought about this?
(Man): Yes I bought a white armband. I want to be an aid worker.
(Woman): Do you know anything about poverty and development?
(Man): I read the book, “The End of Poverty,” by Jeffery Sachs. I want to end poverty. It is my calling.
(Woman): OK. But you do not need to be an aid worker. You can do other things. Give money. Volunteer for charities here. Join campaigns to change laws that keep people poor.
(Man): Yes. I’m a volunteer. I went to Africa last summer, and did aid work. I built a school. I taught English. I want to be an aid worker.
Simon Moss: Now, that’s a little video that we put together last year, that we hear a lot of people say exactly those things. And honestly, they’re all fantastic things. But they all need context. Because going to another country, for a month, if you don’t speak the language, if you don’t have any practical skills of building or teaching — and if you’re only going to hang around for a month, isn’t likely to actually make that much of a difference. You’re going to learn a huge amount about it.