On Feeding the World

Mr. Beeler is Executive Editor of California Farmer. This article is reprinted by permission from his editorial in the December 1974 issue of Agrichemical Age.

The topic of the day is world starvation.

Convention speakers, theologians, concerned citizens, newspaper columnists, TV moralists, classroom lecturers, civic leaders, controlled parents, social engineers, symposium panelists, and long range planners are all up to their ears in it.

The representatives of 140 nations, at the 1974 World Food Conference in Rome, concluded that somewhere between 400 and 800 million members of the human family are starving.

They say 71 percent of world population is too poor to buy its minimum food requirements.

While there is indeed a shortage of food, there is no shortage of ideas on what should be done about it. Most of them involve government restrictions and regulation, and none is going to solve the problem. They’ve all been tried.

Perhaps that is the most horrifying thought of all. We seem to be tooling up for a flock of projects that will bleed America white, and in the long run just make the things worse.

Governments do not produce food. Neither do religions or humanitarian organizations.

Only farmers produce food. And American farmers are far better at it than any other farmer anywhere.

One does not make good farmers simply by sending out a supply of implements and seeds, or huge quantities of fertilizer.

Good farmers cannot even be created by massive education effort, development of new crop varieties, or running young people through the jungles and deserts with the latest agronomic gospel and birth control gadgets.

It cannot be done by providing stop-gap food supplies until they "get on their feet." In the past 20 years, the rich United States has proven that by giving more than $25 billion in food to poor nations, but today world starvation is worse than ever.

Any of those suggestions may help, but none will really work. Even if we put them all together they will fail. Something is still missing. That something is the priceless ingredient it takes to make a good farmer.

A good farmer is an individual human being. He responds to standard human incentives and he produces well only when he has something to gain personally from it.

The American farmer is a great producer because he has the assurance that what he earns will be his, and that at least for the most part it cannot be taken from him.

Without such assurance he would not be a great producer — no matter how much technology, machinery, fine soil, climate, fertilizer or other requisites were put at his disposal.

Moreover, the American farmer works within an economic system which consists of other individuals with similar incentives and assurances. He is closely dependent upon many fellow Americans who respond in the same way he does. They produce not only the supplies, equipment and services he needs to farm, but also much of his personal incentive. That incentive is in the form of a marvelous array of products he can acquire for his own enjoyment if the fruits of his labor are sufficient to trade for them.

In a word, he is a great farmer because he is part of a great system of free individuals.

Farmers in other parts of the world are no less individual humans than they are in America. Put them in the same system and they will produce the same way. The fact that many great American farmers came from backward countries proves the point.

Conversely, if we were to isolate a highly productive American farmer in one of the underdeveloped countries, away from this marvelous system and incentive, he too would fail.

And, incidentally, it would not be necessary to deport the American farmer to a foreign land to deprive him of the system and the incentive he requires.

That can be done here.