Friday, March 16, 2012

Another Breakthrough Defies Overpopulation Alarm

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…

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.

(Marcus Roberts, "More food for more people," Mercator, March 14)