More Food for More People

One of the problems of a growing global population that needs to be solved is how do we feed all those extra mouths?  We’ve looked at UN reports on this issue. We’ve also looked at counterviews that actually there is enough food for us all at the moment and the lack of food for many in the world are caused more by waste, inadequate storage and transport infrastructure and wars.  One factor that is constantly ignored by those predicting overpopulation doom is that a growing global population doesn’t just add to the number of mouths to feed. It also adds to the world’s human capital – it adds to the number of minds that can dedicate themselves to solving problems that the world is faced with – problems like a shortage of food, or transport and storage difficulties, or an excess of food wastage.

The number of people who are better fed nowadays is much greater than 200 years ago (or even 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago!), despite the fact that the global population has expanded enormously over that time. But how did this happen? Weren’t those extra billions of people just extra mouths to feed? They were more mouths, but they weren’t just extra mouths. Just like the population, the amount of food produced has also increased dramatically (and the storage and transport of food has become much more efficient).  And people (with mouths to feed) brought those changes about.  So why could something similar not happen in the next 50 years as the population grows?

Well, it could. For example, as reported in the Guardian, researchers in Australia have managed to test a new strain of durum wheat that has increased yield of 25% in saline soils.  Durum wheat is the basis for pasta, noodles, couscous as well as a lot of bread.  According to the Guardian, the reason that this is such an important finding is that:

“…[j]ust 11% of the planet’s land surface is suitable for agriculture, and a lot of this land is being steadily degraded by salination. Salts tend to accumulate wherever soils are irrigated, and ever higher tides will mean that huge tracts of now fertile estuary farmland – for instance in the Nile delta, and in Bangladesh – are increasingly at risk from catastrophic flooding or slow poisoning with brine.”

Interestingly also, the researchers used traditional techniques to breed a salt-tolerant gene in a wild wheat ancestor to the durum wheat.  They were able to do so:

“…thanks to increasingly precise knowledge of the molecular biology and biochemistry of plants. Researchers have sequenced the genomes of around 30 plants, among them wheat, soybean, rice, maize, millet and potato.”

In short, this is another technological change that can increase crop yields and help feed an expanding population.  Often, those arguing that there will be too many people to feed in the future assume that while the population increases, food supply remains static. The evidence from history, and from current scientific breakthroughs, undermines this assumption.

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  • 2012Christian

    In the 1960s when the population wsa a bit over 3 Billion, the alarmists predicted tha the World Population around 2000 would be 6 Billion and there would be mass starvation.  Well, the population in 2000 was 6 Billion, but the people of the World were not starving.  Indeed, many would argue that people in Emerging Markets now eat better than ever.

  • MarkRutledge

    “…waste, inadequate storage and transport infrastructure and wars…”

    And, as was tacitly suggested in this fine article, also politics, perhaps the greated culprit.

  • JP

    There will actually be a coming glut of food in the next few decades as much of the First World continues to age. Current UN data also shows much if not most of the developing and Third World will also be aging, as birthrates from Indonesia to Brazil to Egypt are plunging. Even in India, the rate of population growth is slowing. If current trends do not change very soon, the world population will probably peak sometime between 2035 and 2045, before it begins to fall. Japan and Russia are already seeing population contraction (Japan is losing about 250,00 souls a year).

    What this means is that the demand for food, energy, and consumer goods, at a global level have already peaked. I seriously doubt if we will see the kind of gobal demand for food and energy we saw between 2005-2008. Older populations consume and produce less than younger ones. Therefore, farmers world wide may begin to see in the near future falling demand for thier crops, whcih will lead to falling agricultural prices. Only the weak dollar and even weaker Euro mask this trend. But, the long term outlook does not look good for farmers. Yes, people will still need food no matter what age they’re at. But with fewer children, and a glut of elderly people, both the quantity and type of food consumed will drop off (Just look at the global beer market. It peaked in 1995 and has been falling ever since).

    How this will play out for Third World countries is anyone’s guess. But I’m not optimisitc.

  • Clement_W

    To me this confirms that Jesus did indeed keep his promise to send the Paraclete as our “Advocate” bearing with him His Gifts: Knowledge, Understanding, Counsel, Wisdom, Strength, Humility and Awe and Reverence for God.

    After all ‘Science’ is this very same Gift of The Holy Spirit for the completion of the Promise made by God to Abraham and confirmed by Himself in His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ!

  • Carroll Price

    Here in the US, farm subsidy programs provide huge welfare payments to American farmers for the purpose of preventing them from producing more food in a single year than the world could consume in several years. Therefore, the fact that there’s a shortage of food in some parts of the world, has nothing to do with a lack of production.