This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

You can download an iPhone app for the 13th edition from the App Store (search for Weeks Population).

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Feeding the World, Not Just China

Today's New York Times has a lengthy and detailed article by Justin Gillis that does a very nice job of laying out the challenges that we face on this planet trying to feed a growing population. Although readers of my book are unlikely to find much that is new in the article, it is important to keep beating the drum that we cannot be complacent about the food supply. In the end, we all must eat, or we die. Among the many important comments in the article are the following:

The rapid growth in farm output that defined the late 20th century has slowed to the point that it is failing to keep up with the demand for food, driven by population increases and rising affluence in once-poor countries.
Consumption of the four staples that supply most human calories — wheat, rice, corn and soybeans — has outstripped production for much of the past decade, drawing once-large stockpiles down to worrisome levels. The imbalance between supply and demand has resulted in two huge spikes in international grain prices since 2007, with some grains more than doubling in cost.
Those price jumps, though felt only moderately in the West, have worsened hunger for tens of millions of poor people, destabilizing politics in scores of countries, from Mexico to Uzbekistan to Yemen. The Haitian government was ousted in 2008 amid food riots, and anger over high prices has played a role in the recent Arab uprisings.
Now, the latest scientific research suggests that a previously discounted factor is helping to destabilize the food system:climate change.
A rising unease about the future of the world’s food supply came through during interviews this year with more than 50 agricultural experts working in nine countries.
These experts say that in coming decades, farmers need to withstand whatever climate shocks come their way while roughly doubling the amount of food they produce to meet rising demand. And they need to do it while reducing the considerable environmental damage caused by the business of agriculture.
Key points made in the article bear repeating: (1) the kind of research that is needed to make sure that agriculture can handle the challenge takes years to develop; (2) the research requires money, and (3) developing countries--where the rise in demand is greatest--cannot do this on their own. At the moment the Gates Foundation is one of the single biggest contributors to this effort, but governments of rich nations need to step up, as well. It is true that Norman Borlaug's work, which launched the Green Revolution, was initially funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, but that was followed by government agencies in many countries pushing the effort.

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