Setting the Table for the End of Hunger

Malnourished Indian children eat a meal at the Apanalaya center, an organization working for the betterment of slum children,
Malnourished Indian children eat a meal at the Apanalaya center, an organization working for the betterment of slum children, in Mumbai,India, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012. The United Nations now says its 2009 headline-grabbing announcement that 1 billion people in the world were hungry was off-target and that the number is actually more like 870 million. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

In recognition of World Food Day, we must -- for at least one minute -- think about the one in eight of us who will go to bed with an empty stomach tonight.

Yes, we have enough food on this planet to feed everyone, but still, devastating hunger persists.

You see, global hunger isn't about the absence of food; it's about the presence of entrenched injustice.

It's about a mother looking at her meager earnings and having to choose between paying for her daughter's school books or for her food.

It's about the father who is forced to kill his prized cow so his family can eat for a week, knowing full well that keeping the cow could provide more earnings in the long run.

It's about market failures, abuses of power and systematic neglect of human rights.

We at Oxfam know this because we've seen it up close, on the ground and in real time. And as the world population grows over the next decades, the stresses on the global food system will only grow worse. By 2050, there will be nine billion mouths to feed.

The solution to persistent hunger is not just about sowing more or better seeds in the ground. The way we win the real "hunger game" is by rewriting the rules by which it is played.

It's about investing in small holder farmers, especially women, across the world.

It's about getting real about climate change and understanding that its effects are sometimes gradual, sometimes sudden, but invariably hit the poorest first and hardest.

It's about prioritizing the development of seeds, soils and fertilizers that can endure drought and withstand floods, and using markets to deliver risk management tools such as micro-insurance to reduce the vulnerability of farmers.

And when disaster strikes and there is a dire need for food, it is knowing that we shouldn't spend more than 50 percent of food aid dollars to U.S. agribusiness and shipping companies. Instead of putting grain on barges and shipping them across the world, what if we could work with local farmers and buy fresh food in local markets and rush it into famine areas? This simple reform to our food aid could save close to half a billion dollars, get food to hungry people faster and allow life-saving assistance to reach up to 17 million more people.

It's about recognizing that more than 40 percent of the corn that's grown in this country ends up into gas tanks and in a world with so much hunger, that's simply not right.

Linking the markets for food and fuel, as we've done in this country through corn-ethanol mandates, has caused food prices to go up and corn reserves to go down. What if instead we can focus our taxpayer support on the next-generation of biofuels that will deliver the power we need for our cars without increasing the global hunger crisis?

Yes, it is about fixing broken policies, but it's also about the things you and I can do perhaps even despite our politicians.

In this "hunger game," each of us has a part to play. Little things can make a big difference, at our local grocery store; in our own kitchens; at our own tables.

In the United States alone, 40 percent of our food gets lost or wasted between farm and fork.

At the same time, more than half of the population in more than half of industrialized nations is overweight. One out of every 12 Americans has diabetes.

Our global food system should serve the health and well-being our neighbors, communities and world -- not undermine them.

And so it's time for all of us to upset the apple cart. Of all the fresh apples bought in the United States, UK, Brazil, India, Spain and the Philippines, one in six ends up in the garbage.

People in those six countries alone could save 5.3 billion apples every year.

The point is hunger is not inevitable, there are things we can do. Each of us, right here, right now. One apple at a time.

It is how we help the world's hungriest people set the table for themselves. And it's how we set the table for the end of world hunger.