In the year 1800, the global population reached the remarkable milestone of 1 billion people. It took another 130 years for the planet’s human population to double to 2 billion. When I was born in 1952, the world’s population would not reach 3 billion for another 8 years, in 1960.
This year, the human race will mark yet another milestone as earth’s population reaches 7 billion people. It only took 12 years to add the last billion earthlings to the population. Since I graduated from high school in 1970, the planet’s population has nearly doubled. It was predicted.
Demographic scientists like Paul Ehrlich, spread doom and gloom in the 1970’s that the population explosion would exhaust air, land, water and food commodity resources extrapolated into a global crisis and economic depression. They predicted grain would become too expensive to feed to livestock just like they say grain should not be used to produce biofuel today.
The “doom and gloomers” were right about the population explosion. It happened, fulfilling forecast growth. However, they missed the mark on the collapse of the human race.
The world’s population has never been wealthier, nor has upward economic mobility raised so many standards of living globally.
The green revolution was a match for global population growth. Millions of subsistence peasants (I apologize for using a condescending word) are becoming consumers with incomes, as an enlightened world adopted market economies.
The world’s population has not stopped growing. China’s one child policy will curb population growth there, so that India, which has no such social policy relative to the size of families, will surpass China in population in about 20 years.
The world will add its next billion souls in 11 years, reaching 8 billion in 2022. Global population growth is not expected to flatten its trajectory before reaching 9 billion people in 2045.
Population growth is not only a function of the birth rate. Life expectancy in India was just 38 years when I was born in 1952. It is 64 years there today and life expectancy in China has risen in that time from 41 to 73 years.
About 70 percent of the farmers in Japan are 60 years old and older. In developed countries, a rate of 2.1 births per woman would maintain a stable population. Chinese women are averaging just 1.5. It’s economic emancipation that is driving China’s unprecedented wealth creation.
With rising incomes comes food demand. It is the first thing new consumers with incomes purchase with their money. They improve and increase their caloric consumption.
It is estimated that global food production will have to rise 70 to 100 percent in the next 40 years. What the doom and gloomers missed in their first try at predicting famine in the 1970’s was the role technology played in food production.
Today trendline yields of crops are in steep ascent and inputs per unit of production necessary to sustain the yield growth are declining, allowing farmers to produce more with less.
As a percent of income, U.S. consumers have the cheapest food in the history of the world. Can we add 2 billion more people and keep food costs low? Not without rapid development and adoption of biotechnology.
The irony is that global agriculture was so efficient producing abundance that most of the time, during the past 30 to 40 years, farmers dealt with surplus and low net farm incomes.
Only now has excess global food production capacity been utilized and markets are calling for more food production capacity as prices are rising. Consumers and their politicians hate higher commodity prices, but higher commodity prices are the fertilizer that grows commodity production capacity.
Artificially deflating commodity prices with regulation or market intervention only short circuits the necessary market signals and incentives to expand production, costing consumers more in the long run.
The doom and gloomers haven’t given up, but they are unimaginative. The globe has not exhausted its food production capacity.
Eastern Europe, Africa, and Brazil all have huge tracks of land capable of producing crops to be developed. Political barriers have isolated a significant amount of land from production in Europe and Africa.
Biotechnology has only begun to make its contribution to man’s ingenuity. The intellectual productivity of 7 billion people is becoming unleashed and more patents are being filed outside the U.S. than in it today.
The bottom line is that just as we have proven our capability to feed 7 billion people in 2011, we can continue to manage our resources and eat well without undermining the sustainability of our production systems.
The human race is smart enough to manage its population too in order to make all the apocalyptic warnings empty threats.
David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.
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