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.

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Can We Keep Feeding a Growing Population? Problems Abound

The bottom line for life of humans on earth is whether or not we can continue to feed ourselves in the face of population growth that is almost certain to continue for several more decades. Most of us just take for granted that food will always be there, but this does not happen magically. A story yesterday on reminded me of this issue. As part of a panel discussion last week at the 2014 Corn and Soybean Future Forum in Frankfurt, Germany, hosted by Bayer CropScience, three countries were highlighted with respect to problems they face in growing corn and soybeans--two of the most important crops in the world.
In Argentina, Federico Bert, says the top obstacles are political and infrastructure issues. roads and highways are biggest infrastructural hindrance inhibiting expansion and profitability for Argentina farmers. Political unrest, theft and extortion are also hurting farmers’ potential in Argentina, which is the world’s third-largest exporter of corn and soybeans.
Belgian farmers, as well as their European Union counterparts, are constantly trying to show agriculture in the country is sustainable, says Alexander Doring, secretary general at European Feed Manufacturer’s Federation in Belgium. He says the market demands “responsible production,” and if farmers could document and prove sustainable agriculture, they could gain market opportunities.
With corn and soybean prices lower, Danny Murphy, Canton, Miss., farmer and American Soybean Association chairman, says the high cost of producing grain is the biggest challenge for American farmers. Murphy says regulations, especially about the waters of the United States, consumer acceptance of modern farming practices and transportation hang-ups with grain movement via railroads also challenge U.S. farmers.
The jarring thing about these three examples is that they are only marginally related to what we usually think of as the problems with feeding enough people--having enough water (is regulation good or bad?), good soil, proper use of fertilizers and pesticides, mechanization, distribution, etc. The "real world" tends to get in the way of the big issues when it comes to food, just as it does in everything else.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed. The issue of the global food supply is one of the most critical concerns going forwards. There are many problems. But let me focus on just one. Our economic system involves types of investments that do not promote real equality, or producivity, in the food supply.

    If we had simply remained with an invesment system based on stocks and stock prices, I think it would have been fine. However, many of the key foods in the world today are traded through the Commodities Markets. Such markets depend on substantial financial leverage. The concept was fine - when the world was "normal". The concept is badly flawed today ... in a world where huge amounts of money (often borrowed at almost zero interest rates) are used to invest in short-term profit gain i.e. a gambling casino mentality. Hedge fund managers are well aware that food is in limited supply, and offers a low-risk investment in a world with a spiralling population.

    Such "short-term money" only guarantees large price swings and instability in the food commodities, at a time when we badly need long-term investment and real problem solving. It's not a good thing - and almost certainly will create wars and riots. Our global political systems, and economic systems, are simply not set up to deal with the "Future Shock" that is headed towards the human race.

    Pete Pollock, Redondo Beach, CA