National Geographic : 1975 Jul
Misshapen bodies tell the tragic story of malnutrition, a condition affecting perhaps as many as 1.5 billion people. Medical science identifies two major types, which usually occur in combination. Kwashiorkor is typified by the bloated look so incongruous with starvation. Accumulated fluids pushing against wasted muscles account for the plumpness of hands, feet, belly, and face. Emaciated shoulders reveal true thinness. Caused by an acute lack of protein, kwashiorkor (a West African word) can bring brain damage, anemia, diarrhea, irritability, apathy, and loss of appetite. Marasmus Stick limbs, bloated belly, wide eyes, and the stretched-skin face of an old person mark victims of marasmus, a word taken from the Greek "to waste away." Lacking calories as well as protein, sufferers may weigh only half as much as normal. With fat gone, the skin hangs in wrinkles or draws tight over bones. With marasmus comes anemia, diarrhea, dehydration, and a ravenous appetite. Children, whose growing bodies require large amounts of protein, are afflicted in greatest numbers, but perhaps only 3 percent of all child victims suffer the extreme stages illustrated. NATIONALGEOGRAPHICART DIVISION foothills of the Himalayas, birthplace of the region's great river systems. "With trees no longer holding the soil, erosion is rapidly silt ing up reservoirs on which Pakistan depends for irrigation water. The denudation also probably aggravated the recent flooding in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan." * A leveling of productivity. With the passing of the farm frontier, our expanding needs must be met through larger yields per acre. Until recently, the mechanized farmer, aided by fertilizers, obliged with an upward spiral of productivity. Now this promising upsurge may be slowing, not only in the United States, but throughout the Western World. "I believe we're reaching a yield plateau that only new breakthroughs in research can surmount," says University of California agronomist Dr. Milton D. Miller. "Use of fertilizer is reaching a point of diminishing returns, and the yields of many of our stand by crops-corn, for example-appear to be nearing their biological ceilings." Hunger Belt Holds Potential Food strategists mapping the ongoing war against hunger realize that their battlefield must be the tropics and semitropics, where two-thirds of the planet's people scrimp on a mere one-fifth of its food. But here, too, lies the greatest potential: most of the available new land, abundant sunlight, and a year round growing season. I saw some of this promise for myself on a visit to the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center on Taiwan. "Our mis sion is to supplement the use of rice in Asia," said Robert F. Chandler, Jr., director of the newly established center. Here technicians are testing and developing new strains of tomatoes, potatoes, mung beans, soybeans, and Chinese cabbage. "But the front-runner," Dr. Chandler told me, "is the unlikely sweet potato. We feel confident we can bring its protein content up to that of rice and at the same time assure the Asian farmer twice rice's yield-with an added bonus of abundant vitamin A." Throughout the world's hunger belt, I vis ited other such institutions where dedicated scientists are deeply committed to the fight for food. Leading the assault is an inter national network of ten research programs supported by 29 governments and organiza tions under chairmanship of the World Bank. At CIMMYT, near Mexico City, where Dr.