Atanu Dey On India's Development

Necessary and Sufficient

Amit wrote in a comment:

Atanu, when you have time, I’d invite you to do some research on food production and malnutrition, and write a post on it – whether lack of food is because of insufficient production, or asymmetrical distribution and inefficient use of crops/food. Because it’s a very popular sentiment that’s paraded out every time a case is made for biotech crops – that it is the solution to world hunger. Would be interesting to read your take on it.

Sorry but it is unlikely that I will find the time to do the suggested research any time soon. But for now, here’s one common trap that we sometimes stumble into: the inability to distinguish between “necessary” and “sufficient” conditions.

Adequate food production is a necessary condition for addressing the problem of malnutrition; it is not a sufficient condition. Efficient and equitable distribution of food may be a necessary condition for addressing the problem of malnutrition; it is not a sufficient condition.

In other words, if you don’t have enough food to go around, no amount of distributional efficiency will help you with malnutrition. So also, even if you had more than enough food to feed everyone, some could still starve if the distribution was not effective.

The use of any technology for increasing food production is a necessary condition but clearly not sufficient. So if some people push biotech as a complete solution to the problem of world hunger, they are either stupid or are deliberately misleading.

However, just because the use of biotechnology merely addresses the necessary condition and is not sufficient to end world hunger, it does not follow that we should not use biotechnology. If we followed that strategy, then we would be further up the creek without a paddle.

  • http://jihadwatch.org/ Notsure

    Most economists do agree that India is more than self sufficient WRT food production and from what I have seen that doesn’t seem to be an issue.
    There is another factor in poverty that no one addresses which is on how a person thinks…
    A prior Dalai Lama did an experiment where he took the wealth of the most richest man in Tibbat
    and gave it to the poorest man.
    What he found was the poor man lost it in a few year and the richest man gained it back.

    The Economist had a meta study type article a few months ago on why do poor still spend money on cigarrettes/bidi/alcohol and other such non necessities when they/their families were in many cases were suffering from malnutrition.
    They had no answers but they were only showing what the existing condition was.

  • Amit

    However, just because the use of biotechnology merely addresses the necessary condition…

    But it doesn’t. The necessary condition (inadequate food) is a falsehood, propagated by biotech companies to mostly recoup their investment, when the real issue is how the more than adequate food that we currently produce is used and distributed.