Global hunger is one of the greatest challenges humanity faces. Sometimes, when we attempt to respond to hunger, we miss the opportunity to address the causes of hunger.
The United Nation’s World Food Programme names six main causes for the world hunger crisis. What are they and what might the Biblical response to each look like for us?
Poverty is a vicious cycle, and a great heartache in that cycle is lack of food. If farmers do not have the land, water or money to purchase seeds and fertilizer, then they cannot grow the necessary food. This lack of food then causes hunger on a small and very large scale.
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” Isaiah 58:6-7 NRSV
The purpose of God’s chosen people all along was to be a blessing to the nations around them. This text, which is echoed in Matthew, shows the poor to be considered like family that live under the roof of the house that God provides. Jesus also is very clear in many scriptures that when we love and care for the poor, we are indeed loving God (Matthew 25).
2. Low agricultural investment:
When there is a lack of investment in agriculture, there is a lack of roads to transport the crops, warehouses to store the crops and irrigation to water crops, and drought-resistance seeds cannot be purchased. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization points to the investment in agriculture as the most effective strategy in reducing poverty — more than investment in any other sector.
The story of Joseph in Genesis Chapters 41-46 is an excellent example of an investment in agriculture with his interpretation of the Pharaoh’s dreams, which led to the storage of grains to provide for the people in the land with warehouses. Just imagine if countries and leaders modeled Joseph’s warehouses and stored their surpluses to share with those countries that are facing crisis.
3. Climate and natural disasters:
Floods, tsunamis and droughts are on the rise due to climate change globally, not to mention the deforestation due to human hands occurring around the world, which causes erosion and therefore affects the ability to grow crops. All of these things further continue the cycle of food shortage, economic instability and poverty.
“Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard.” Genesis 9:20
Isn’t it amazing that after the flood narrative in Genesis, the first thing Noah did was to plant a vineyard? After the massive global disaster, cultivating a vineyard was a beautiful way to begin growth anew.
We must care for this great gift of the earth we have been given, before and after disasters. This includes not only care for the earth and the land, but also for the people who love upon it by “planting vineyards” of all sorts to bring new life.
4. War and displacement:
War is an ugly reality of our world, and we can see daily on the news how it disrupts farming and food production and, most devastatingly, displaces people as they flee their homes and farmlands to avoid conflict and death. Hunger is a tragic reality of war as people are displaced and lands are destroyed. In many cases, a lack of food becomes a weapon used against the enemy, which sadly ends up affecting the local non-military people living in the land.
“‘This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, good will among people!’” Luke 2:12-14
The very announcement of the birth and new life of Christ to the entire world was proclaimed as bringing peace and goodwill. God’s perfect image for all of humanity was summed up in a fully human and fully God baby bearing peace and goodwill, who ironically was displaced by human conflict. Let us fight for a world without war and may we see those who have been displaced as those in need of the grace and peace of Christ.
5. Unstable food markets:
Food costs in recent years have been highly volatile. When this cost variant occurs, consistent nutritious food becomes a rare commodity among the poor. When prices increase, people tend to have to reduce their food consumption to less nutrient foods, causing a rise in micronutrient deficiencies.
“I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and will give to your offspring all these lands; and all the nations of the earth shall gain blessing for themselves through your offspring, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Genesis 26:4-5
The original purpose of God’s blessing his chosen people in the Hebrew texts was so that they would be the conduit of God blessing all the other nations around them. How can God’s people be blessing others with healthy and affordable food and seeds?
6. Food waste:
One in every eight people in our world is hungry. Now, add this stark fact to the equation: One third of all food produced (1.3 billion tons) is never consumed. These numbers should speak volumes, especially to those of us living in countries in which this waste is continuing to go unacknowledged. Consider, too, the amount of greenhouse gases created and clean water wasted to grow this food that is then thrown away, all while people in so many countries are starving.
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:9-10.
Where have we gone wrong when it comes to our harvesting and the usage of our food? God was trying to teach us the deeply meaningful practice of gleaning from the very beginning, and yet the wise words seem to have fallen on deaf ears if we view our trash piles brimming with rotten and wasted food.
Our harvest is not our own to do with what we will, but the harvest belongs to God, and God has commanded his people to care for the hungry.
What will it take to start to see God within those in need and the strangers? What will it take for us to be moved to a passion for the hungry? We do have a holy calling as God’s people to rethink and, even begin today, this very moment, to remedy the causes of hunger, which are closer to home than we might like to think.
Food for thought.