Elon Musk's $6B could stave off starvation for millions but won't 'solve world hunger,' experts say

A $6-billion US donation from Space X founder Elon Musk may help stave off starvation for millions currently facing famine, but it certainly would not "solve world hunger," experts say.

Musk tweeted he would sell off Tesla stock if UN agency could show it would solve world hunger

SpaceX founder Elon Musk responded after the head of the UN's food agency challenged him and other billionaires to step up on 'a one-time basis' to help end starvation. (Patrick Pleul/dpa/The Associated Press)

A $6-billion US donation from SpaceX founder Elon Musk may help stave off starvation for millions currently facing famine, but it certainly would not "solve world hunger," experts say.

Instead, say the world hunger experts, the richest person in the world has conflated two issues — the immediate need of financial assistance for those on the brink of starvation, with the endemic problem of food security issues facing hundreds of millions of people.

"What a mistake it would be to suggest that [$6 billion] would solve world hunger," said Herbert Kronzucker, the founder and inaugural director of the Canadian Centre for World Hunger Research at the University of Toronto. "Oh my god, would we be lucky."

Unfortunately, it is not the reality, says Kronzucker, who is currently a professor and head of the University of Melbourne's School of Agriculture and Food.

"You cannot solve world hunger in such a way, and certainly not by throwing a one-time amount like this at one United Nations organization," he said.

Would sell Tesla stock

On Monday, Musk, the CEO of the electric vehicle company Tesla Inc., tweeted that he would sell $6 billion US worth of Tesla stock and donate the proceeds to the United Nations' food agency if it could show how the money would solve world hunger.

His tweet was in response to comments made by World Food Programme executive director David Beasley in a CNN interview last week, in which he challenged Musk, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and other billionaires to step up on "a one-time basis" to help end starvation.

Beasley said that a combination of COVID-19, regional conflicts and climate crises has led to more than 40 million people being on the brink of starvation and that billionaires could give $6 billion to ease the crisis.

"Surely the $6 billion would be helpful to the United Nation's World Food Programme, in its mission to reach the most vulnerable people facing severe food insecurity," said Jennifer Clapp, a professor and Canada Research Chair in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability at the University of Waterloo.

"But hunger is a complex problem and money alone is not sufficient to address its root causes," she said.

Clapp said it's important to note that the World Food Programme is focused mainly on emergency food assistance, trying to reach those who are on the edge of starvation, either through providing food or cash assistance.

But that doesn't include those who are chronically undernourished, consistently not eating enough to cover their caloric needs for over a year, she said.

Roman Kidanemariam, 35, holds her malnourished daughter, Merkab Ataklti, 22 months old, in the treatment tent of a medical clinic in the town of Abi Adi, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. (Ben Curtis/The Associated Press)

Hunger in the world today is largely the product of poverty, conflict, structural inequities in the world economy, ecological destruction of natural resources on which food systems depend, and a failure of states to uphold the human right to food, she said.

More than 760 million chronically undernourished

Kronzucker said that before the pandemic, about 650 million people globally were classified as chronically undernourished. But that number has since risen to more than 760 million people. 

"Now, that [$6 billion] wouldn't even be anywhere near enough to provide the food aid necessary just for the additional millions that have been thrown into hunger this year," he said.

"So this is really about an emergency response and the stop-gap moneys that are necessary at this particular point in time."

David Laborde, an economist and researcher with the International Food Policy Research Institute, co-authored a study last year that found G7 governments would need to increase their investments by about $11 billion to 14 billion US per annum over the coming 10 years to lift 500 million people out of hunger and malnutrition by 2030.

If Musk donated $6 billion US, "that would basically be the cost of money we need to make sure that people will not die of hunger or not have terrible long-term consequences in terms of key development [from] lacking food in their plate this year," Laborde said in an interview with CBC News.

"But it's not going to address the root cause of why these people are on the brink of famine. And obviously, that's not going to solve the situation for the 760 million people that still face hunger on a regular basis."

Clapp said what is needed is the political will to implement policies to secure more equitable and sustainable societies that prioritize human rights.

"If Musk wants to help the cause of ending world hunger, he can publicly support those types of policies in addition to donating funds to the World Food Programme."


Mark Gollom


Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

With files from The Associated Press