2. Food production and population growth

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1 2. Food production and a. Who was Thomas Malthus and why did he see hunger as inevitable? b. Was Malthus ever influential? c. Are Malthusians still influential? d. Can we feed a growing population without doing irreversible damage to the environment? e. Is Africa facing an eco-malthusian food crisis today? f. Do Malthusians try to reduce? g. Do Malthusians argue we should reduce food consumption?

2 a. Who was Thomas Malthus and why did he see hunger as inevitable? English economist, 1798, An Essay on the Principle of Population: food production will never stay ahead of because of fixed assets constraints (land can be expanded slowly, while population grows exponentially). War, plague, illness, famine recurring tragedies: aggregate inability of Earth to keep pace with human fertility Was he right? Yes, population increased exponentially (it was 1/6 of today s population), 1 to 6 billion No, frequency of premature death from hunger and famine did not increase. Increased life expectancy (in England from 40 to 80 yrs) Perhaps, as these gains cannot be environmentally sustainable. Expected 9 billion by 2050, a Malthusian limit could be reached

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4 b. Was Malthus ever influential? Yes: among political elites in England in 19 th century Professor at British East India Company training college, enabled an indifferent attitude toward the inevitable famines, e.g. India, Ireland ( )..Irish parents having too many children However: Malthus prediction was failing Land constraint was progressively lifted beginning in 19 th century (application of modern science to farming, synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and improved seed varieties increased ag. productivity 10 times in 20 th century) real price of food declined (discounted for inflation) despite and consumption increases

5 b. Was Malthus ever influential? (continue) However: He assumed birthrates remain high, failing to anticipate the reduction in family size (wealthier and more urbanized societies) Reduction in fertility rates in industrial society, slow down of (declining value of having large families for unskilled farm labor, concentrate education on fewer children better payoff, children surviving infancy, later marriage) E.g. population shrinking in some European countries (Estonia children/woman), India, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico (emerging countries) UN peak population prediction: 9 billion instead of 12 billion Doubly wrong: slowing even in regions where food is more abundant than ever before.

6 c. Are Malthusians still influential? Not really. Famine 1975! (1967): W.&P. Paddock predicted India would never be able to feed its growing population, mistake to give food aid.but U.S. delivered food aid in the 1960s and the donor community facilitated the green revolution (boosted ag productivity) The population bomb (1968): P. Ehrlich predicted hundreds millions would die in the 1970s (excessive ) World watch Institute (1995): increased income & per capita food consumption & food demand (higher level of import grain for animal feed in China, international grain prices increase, increased hunger in poor importing African countries).china still a net importer, food price spike 2008 episodic

7 d. Can we feed a growing population without doing irreversible damage to the environment? Environmental components to Malthusians argument Too many dry lands and forests cleared for farming Too much water (ground/surface) used for irrigation water constraints, augmented by soil erosion, the loss of cropland to nonfarm uses, a plateauing of yields in major producing areas, and CC, are making it more difficult to expand world food production.(lester Brown, July 2013) Biodiversity losses Food production increase in the short-run, environmental constraints (desertification..) in the long-run will reduce productivity & Malthusian collapse (population larger at that time ) Have we exceeded Earth capacity for sust. food production? Overshooting and collapse of societies. E.g. Maya collapse in central America. Only prescientific societies? Innovation potential in advanced societies

8 e. Is Africa facing an eco-malthusian food crisis today? Serious environmental damage in SSA Expand arable land, boost food production to keep pace with forest loss & habitat destruction Reduced fallow times depletion of soil nutrients and decline average crop yields, reduced food production/person (e.g. maize reduced by 14%, ) Increased number of food insecure (< calories/day): 300 million (1992) 450 million (2006). Chronically undernourished: 645 million by 2020

9 e. Is Africa facing an eco-malthusian food crisis today? (continue) In Africa, does the pessimistic eco-malthusian prediction seem true? No, it is not a Malthusian trap (food production in Africa is far less than the potential for the region.) African farmers use almost no fertilizer (1/10 as European farmers), only 4% irrigated cropland, most cropped area is not planted with improved seeds Cereal yields are 1/5 as high as in developed countries Africa is failing to keep up with because too little has been invested in developing its potential (only 5% of budget is spent in ag. investments, 60% of citizens depend on farming for income & employment) Public policy crisis more than vindication of Malthus

10 Asia and Pacific Sub-Saharan Africa Source: Henao and Baanante 2006

11 f. Do Malthusians try to reduce? 20 th century, family planning encouraged World watch Institute (1975): USA & Canada to export grains only to developing countries adopting measures on population control 70s 80s: supply side efforts to bring down fertility. E.g. China: one-child family policy Access to modern contraception 90s: demand side approach (reducing desire for more children) Income growth, increased child survival, promotion of education & employment opportunities for girls (forestall immediate marriage and childbearing)

12 g. Do Malthusians argue we should reduce food consumption? Yes, alternative to fertility control is reduced food consumption/capita Food activist Frances Moore Lappe (1971): Diet for a Small Planet grains should be used to prevent starvation in poor countries and not to feed animals for meat production E.g. proteins consumed by cattle, 21 times greater than what is finally available in beef for human consumption However this has limited practical effects: in a market economy, reduced demand for feed implies reduced grain production. and even if not: who will take the expense of shipping the surplus to reach hungry people in remote areas of developing countries? In Africa, vegetarian is not an option (not enough rainfall to grow cereals), goats&cattle needed

13 g. Do Malthusians argue we should reduce food consumption? (continue) In developed countries, eating less meat reduces pollution Increased animals population (cattle, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep) to produce milk, meat, eggs Feeding&processing: large demand on land&energy, generates GHGs (18% of all GHGs, more than transport) GHGs from: cutting of forests for pasture, planting/cultivating crops for animal feed, fertilizer production, transport of livestock products, digestive systems of ruminant animals (CH 4 ) and animal manure (NO 2 ) See FAO report (2006): Livestock s Long Shadow

14 Resources: Paarlberg R., Food Politics, chapter 2 Pingali P. (2011), Malthus is still wrong: we can feed a world of 9 billion

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