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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Monday, October 9, 2017

Cereal Production Exceeds Population Growth--For Now...

Max Roser at Oxford does a magnificent job of putting data together to help people understand what's happening in the world, and one of his group's recent blog posts (by Hannah Ritchie) relates changes over time in cereal production to population growth. The tension between population and food was at the heart of Malthusian thinking and, to be frank, if were still back in the late 18th/early 19th century of Malthus's day, we would almost certainly agree with Malthus' view of the world. As I detail in my book, two important things have happened since then: (1) we have figured out how to control both mortality and fertility; and (2) we have figured out how to grow more food on an acre of land. Here's a graph of recent trends (which is interactive if you go there directly):

Cereal production accounts for more than half of the global caloric input (including cereals that are fed to animals that are then slaughtered for human consumption) and its production has increased faster than the population has grown. This is due almost entirely to agricultural intensification (more yield per acre), rather than extensification (we are already farming all of the good land).

Of course, we don't know how long this relationship will last--and that is the critical issue. As Ritchie notes in her blog:
The adoption and success of the Green Revolution has not been consistent across the developing world. Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has been a region of particular concern in terms of food security. Despite making significant progress in reducing hunger in recent decades, undernourishment in Sub-Saharan Africa remains the highest in the world (with almost one-in-five people living there defined as undernourished). 
In the chart below we see that SSA’s cereal production has been unable to keep pace with population growth. Despite an increase in cereal output of around 300 percent, per capita output has been declining. Overall, we see much greater emphasis on agricultural expansion in SSA, increasing by 120 percent since 1961—approximately equivalent to the total area of Kenya. Relative to Asia and Latin America, SSA’s improvements in yield have been much more modest (increasing by only 80 percent).
Since Africa has the world's most rapidly growing population, the fact that cereal production is lagging behind population growth is a very poor omen for the future, no matter how rosy the current global situation may seem. We have to stay real about this. 

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