By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Cities
Can the world feed 10 billion people? As economists and demographers come to terms with a rapidly growing population, so must the agriculture industry -- and the policy that regulates it.
An article in Foreign Policy this week asks a daring but realistic question: can the world feed 10 billion people?
That's the number that demographers believe will be the world's population by the year 2100. Anyone who reads Time, Newsweek or even this site will know that while the world is pretty adept at producing enough food for everyone, it's not so good at distributing it -- leaving hundreds of thousands hungry around the globe.
A population boom -- particularly in developing nations, which have an outsized number of the world's poorest residents -- will most definitely exacerbate the problem, Raj Patel writes.
The problem: most of that rapid population growth will occur in cities. (So much so, in fact, that the trend will create new megacities before the end of the century, demographers predict.) And while wages tend to be higher in dense urban areas, all those people need someone to feed them.
But it's a stormy mix of policy and theory that clouds the debate.
[Oxford economist Paul] Collier argued the virtues of big agriculture. He also called on the European Union to support genetically modified crops and for the United States to kill domestic subsidies for biofuel. He was one-third right: biofuel subsidies are absurd, not least because they drive up food prices, siphoning grains from the bowls of the poorest into the gas-tanks of the richest -- with limited environmental gains, at best.
Collier's contempt for peasants seems, however, to rest on something other than the facts. Although international agribusiness has generated great profits ever since the East India Company, it hasn't brought riches to farmers and farmworkers, who are invariably society's poorest people. Indeed, big agriculture earns its moniker -- it tends to work most lucratively with large-scale plantations and operations to which small farmers are little more than an impediment.
It turns out that if you're keen to make the world's poorest people better off, it's smarter to invest in their farms and workplaces than to send them packing to the cities.
Access to land, water, technology, education, capital and the greater domestic and international markets -- that's the answer, right? Yet a complex maze of private, rather than public, goods subsidies nearly derails what seems to be common sense for most economists.
Investment is surely good. But it's even better when it's directed in the right way.
Can the World Feed 10 Billion People? [Foreign Policy]
May 6, 2011
Companies like Monsanto and ADM would have us believe that only their methods can feed the future world's populations, that they and only they are rooted in science. Turns out the facts are the opposite. They are actuall endangering the world's populations with GMO foods and pesticide pollution on an ever expanding scale. http://organicconnectmag.com/wp/2010/05/the-science-of-organics/
There won't be any farms if development of arable land isn't restricted. Land all over the western US and Canada is being developed. Large chemical companies like Monsanto push their products to farmers, with no regard to diversity. So agricultural land gets smaller, and through the magic of toxic chemicals, productivity goes up. Put all of your eggs into one basket?
do we believe that we can do this without technology ? Since it is technology i.e. western chemical medicine which arguably has caused the worlds current 'population explosion' and continues through intervention by contemporary medical and food relief as well as financial investment to maintain very precariously the lives of millions of the global poor in cities and rural environments and aims through mining the "fortune at the bottom of the pyramid" to continue to do so?
"the trend will create new megacities before the end of the century, demographers predict" Problem solved. Create on large megacity. Ten Trillion people could live in one large magacity- the size of Texas - and the rest of the world could be used to grow food, especially since global warming will create new fertile lands and growing seasons.
Peasants today grow food mainly for their own use (subsistence farming). Relatively little of it makes its way off the farm and to the cities. If we have any shot at feeding 10 billion people, we unfortunately can't expect peasants to grow it. It's more than just giving the peasants more money. They simply don't have the knowledge, resources, and skills necessary to grow food economically. It takes people with college degrees who spend much time improving upon their skills. The only way to feed 10 billion people is using modern agribusiness farm techniques. We must also stop producing meat, since it takes three or four pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat (depending on the type of animal). While modern farming techniques certainly have their downsides, they can be improved upon. Every resource such as arable land, water, and fertilizer must be must be carefully managed without waste. There's simply no other way to grow enough food. While it would be nice to grow food organically in a "sustainable manner" (a vaguely defined concept once you try to put it into practice), at 10 billion people we are going to be on the perpetual brink of starvation and won't have the resources to devote to such niceties. For example, the current controversy over genetically engineering crops so they can withstand the use of Round Up herbicide to control weeds will be seen as a quaint conceit. At least obesity will no longer be a problem for even the richest countries...
I read about experiments that put rats in a large, but limited space with unlimited food. The population of rats predictably boomed to the point of overcrowding followed by a period of weird behavior followed by a huge die off. The weird behaviors were an increase in violent acts as well as theft; in a normal density these behaviors were rare but in high density populations these behaviors were the norm. As John McGrew asked, we got to this point by humanitarian means but how do we control population by humanitarian means? Lack of action will not prevent a backlash from nature. Malthus wrote about over population long ago and thought that the population could not grow above a few billion; technology has pushed the max population higher. We, in the west, use a lot of oil to make fertilizers, power farm equipment and also for pest controls to make our farms super productive. Transport of food to warehouses and then distributed to thousands of grocery stores and millions of homes also takes a lot of oil. A disruption of ready oil could hurt the developed countries as much as the developing and 3rd world countries. The Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions had food prices as part of the cause to overthrow those governments.
Make birth control free and widely available. You want to prevent overpopulation? Stop breeding. Humans and roaches have a lot in common. They both breed in large numbers when food is readily available.
One of the Biggest issues to feeding the hungry is Politics.Local politics and discrimination in most undeveloped countries prevent the most beneficial aid for reaching the hungry. Corruption allows food to rot on docks and prevents the most beneficial aid from being delivered.it is much more efficient to support local farming than ship food from on side of the word to the other.Until the people who need the food have a fair and honest goverment the issue will never be solved.The people have to gain a stake in their own future rather than wishing they had something to eat.
It is hard to estimate what would happen if the west shut off subsidies and aid to Africa, but a good prediction is what has been happening in North Korea. Because of a hostile government that poorly manages the centralized food production while blocking most foreign aid to its own people you have a sustained famine going on coupled with a poor health care system. The results are between 300,000 and 1 million people dead from starvation and treatable illness during the 1990s alone. The average height of a North Korean has gone down since the end of the Korean War because of malnutrition brought on by the chronic food shortages. The average height gap between North and South Koreans is now over 2 1/4 inches and climbing with every generation. The poor nutrition and bad medicine has resulted in a drop in fertility leading to what many estimate was a 1 percent net loss in population from 1991 to 2009. The ethical question becomes, is it truly an act of kindness to bring children into a subsidized world that can not be sustained? Or did you really doom them and their children to an eventual death by starvation?
...that is usually avoided in these discussions is why global population is booming at such a seemingly unsustainable level. Being a student of "the dismal science", let me suggest a few reasons why: 1) We've made food so cheap and plentiful, that it's allowed populations to flourish and multiply at a rate that would be unsustainable were it not for our subsidies and aid. 2) Over the last several generations, we've made possible through science and exported wealth and technology an unprecedented reduction in child mortality world-wide. The consequence for this charitable act has been unprecedented population growth, especially in places that can least afford it. "Yet a complex maze of private, rather than public, goods subsidies nearly derails what seems to be common sense for most economists." Now that we've made this possible through humanitarian motives, the uncomfortable question is how do we make such growth stop in a humanitarian way? The uncomfortable point is that if we do not make a policy decision, nature or economics will make it for us. I doubt that nature or economics will make a particularly "humanitarian" or popular choice.
Who is Raj Patel to be quoted as an authority on food production and food supply management? We are told a little about Paul Collier, but Mr. Patel is quoting an unnamed report/article written by Mr. Collier with no reference link to allow the reader to confirm if the unknown Mr. Patel is accurately portraying the report/article. The question of Mr. Colliers contempt for peasants hangs unanswered because nowhere does Mr. Patel explain why he thinks Mr. Collier has such contempt for peasants.
if the US government ended the mandate of food for fuel, corn for ethanol, production of which consumed 40 percent of the US corn crop in 2010.
You need to understand more about organic farming and its inherent weaknesses. I suggest you read "The Rational Optimist" by Matt Ridley and note the actual costs, both in energy and to the environment that organic farming creates.
... especially since global warming will create new fertile lands and growing seasons. Good luck with that.
But in reality, the rich will still be obese, and increasing numbers will be at starvation levels. First, any and all subsidies that go into meat should be stopped, meat prices will go up, and people will switch to eating less meat. Subsidies should go into making sure that people still can get their essential amino acids, it is easy to get all of them by eating meat, but you have to eat the right mix of other foods to get them all and stay healthy without meat.
Most of the time when I read these articles I end up slapping my forehead and saying, "why, oh why didn't I read the source article instead?!" To answer your question about Patel and what makes him an authority on the subject. "Raj Patel is a visiting scholar at University of California Berkeley's Center for African Studies, an Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy food and community fellow, and the author most recently of The Value of Nothing: How To Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy." (end of original Foreign Policy article)
would stop if the ethanol subsidies weren't there. It would no longer be economically viable to grow the corn, so it wouldn't be grown. Corn would be cheaper, but that means more farms would stop growing it as they couldn't cover their costs. Ethanol production from corn can be seen as a stepping stone towards using biomass(stalks, leaves, other plants that don't need so much water and fertilizer) for ethanol production.
In America, it's mostly the "poor" who are most likely to be obese. The wealthier you are, the more likely you are to eat healthy and to be fit. It's more about education and lifestyle.
Ancient illnesses like rickets and scurvy are making a come back among infants and toddlers because ignorant people are putting their kids on vegan or vegetarian diets as suggested by kevinrs1. The CDC launched a program a few years ago working with national vegan groups to get the word out on proper vegan diets and supplements needed for children. Beyond growth issues from a lack of protein and other essentials, a growing amount of data is pointing to a lack of omega 3 oils in growing children being a contributor to rising autism rates. The number one source for omega 3 for kids used to be whole milk, before the skim milk / no milk craze. What caught researchers eyes is the rise in autism mirrors the decline in the sale of whole milk.
You are ignoring the fact that corn production did not rise to meet the increased use by ethanol production. When ethanol production went from being about 3 percent of the crop to being 40 percent the acreage planted did not go up. The corn was directly taken from food production or long term storage for lean years. The estimated planted acres for 2010 was 92.2 million corn acres. Which is still down from the 2007 high of 93.5. So while usage has gone up over the past 3 years, production is down. What used to be stored as surplus for the lean years is now sold to the highest bidder. Which is usually ethanol production with its subsidiy. Simple economics explains the price increase and the solution.
Sorry, that's completely wrong. Producing ethanol as cheaply as possible requires the sugar and starches present only in the corn kernel (the stuff animals eat). Where you may be confused is that humans only directly eat sweet corn, while farm animals eat feed corn (two different varieties of corn). Feed corn is by far the largest part of the corn crop. It's feed corn that is also primarily used to make ethanol. There has been research into using the other parts (stalk, leaves, corn cobs) to create ethanol but it's a long, long ways from becoming economical. The best way to use these discarded parts today is to simply burn them as biomass.
The corn you speak of is often processed and used as flour in human consumed food products like bread. It is also a major feed component to feed chickens, milk cows and cattle. By driving up the cost of this corn through the corn for ethanol mandate you drive up food cost for everything from bread, eggs and milk to chicken and beef. Or have you not been in a grocery store in the past 2 years?