Dr. Arvind Dhople: ‘Necessity is the Mother of Invention’ in Feeding World’s Population
By Arvind M. Dhople, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Florida Tech // October 7, 2017
Feeding 7.5 Billion Hinges On Agricultural Innovation
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA — Monday, October 16 is the World Food Day, and the theme is: Change the future of migration, invest in food security and rural development.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is working with governments, UN agencies, the private sector, civil society and local communities, to generate evidence on migration patterns and is building countries’ capacities to address migration through rural development policies.
Through World Food Day, the FAO focuses on heightening the awareness of governments and partners of factors affecting the world food supply and strongly supports the exploration of the developmental potential of migration, especially in terms of food security and poverty reduction.
Supply and Demand Dictates Population Support
Humans, like members of all populations of plants and animals, are in competition with one another for the Earth’s resources. The global human population is growing at a rate of around 1.2 per cent per year and as it does the competition for resources increases.
One of these resources is food. In high-income countries food supply is relatively secure. But as demand for food increases, supplies come under greater pressure.
In 2012 a drought in the U. S. caused a drop in the global production of corn, and the effects were felt around the world as the prices of stable foods such as bread increased.
In the future will we be able to produce enough food to support the ever-increasing human population? While this seems like a 21st century problem, it is actually a question that has concerned economists for hundreds of years (and farmers since the first days of agricultural endeavors).
ABOVE VIDEO: WikiScip 2016 World Population Infographic Statistics.
Today, the human population has reached over 7.5 billion. This statistic might have surprised a person about 220 years back when he made some gloomy predictions about population growth.
Will Agricultural Resources Limit Population Growth?
In the 18th century, a British economist, Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) wrote an essay outlining his response to the problem. The work, entitled “An Essay on the Principle of Population” (1798), set out Malthus’s theory of population growth–a theory of how and why the size of the population would change.
Malthus thought that if the human population continued to grow, food production would not be able to keep up with demand and there would not be enough food to go around. The result, he warned, would be a terrible famine that would kill many people.
In ecological terms, Malthus was arguing that the human population was at risk of outgrowing its carrying capacity (the number of individuals that can be supported by a specific habitat).
There were examples of this happening to particular populations of animals and insects, such as the reindeer on St. Matthew Island.
Malthus was writing from the perspective of a man living in a world of 1 billion and didn’t foresee the advances in farming technology that would enable the planet to support many more people.
Over 12 Percent of World Population Chronically Hungry
However, by no means are all of today’s seven-plus billion well fed. Around one in eight people suffer from chronic hunger, mostly in low and middle income countries, which are also predicted to see some of the bigger population increases over the coming decades. Population growth is slowing, but it is likely there will be more than 10 billion of us by 2050.
The enduring growth of the human population is often referred to as the “population explosion.” But other species undergo shorter-lived booms, with dramatic effects.
At any one time a catastrophic event can change resource availability dramatically. For example, a sudden explosion in the grasshopper population in the U.S. could destroy millions of acres of grazing land.
In order to predict when a plague might occur, scientists are trying to work out what causes grasshopper numbers to increase so suddenly.
The answer may lie in not one but a combination of factors, including the availability of the plants the insects use for food, and the ability for predators like birds and spiders to keep the insects’ eggs under control.
Advances, Innovation in Agriculture Key to Feeding the World
Nearly 220 years since Malthus published his essay, advances in technology and innovations in farming methods have allowed food production to grow quickly enough that we can now, in theory at least, provide sufficient food for the world’s 7-plus billion inhabitants.
Malthus did not account for these advances in his population theory, but 20th century Danish economist, Ester Boserup (1910-1999), did.
Boserup, best known for her theory of agricultural intensification known as Qays’s theory, concluded that population change drives the intensity of agricultural production, exactly what has transpired over the past two centuries of rapid world population growth.
A major point of her theory on agricultural development was based on the adage that “necessity is the mother of invention,” and her position countered the Malthusian theory that agricultural methods determine population via limits on food supply.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ABOVE VIDEO: Dr. Arvind Dhople graduated from the University of Bombay and then joined Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, first as a post- doctoral fellow and then Asst. Professor. In 1980, he joined Florida Tech as a Professor and Director of their Infectious Diseases Lab. His specialty is microbial biochemistry and he performed research in leprosy and tuberculosis. He is a Fellow in the American Academy of Microbiology and has published nearly 150 articles in peer-reviewed journals. He has also served as an advisor to the World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, German Leprosy Relief Association, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Currently, he is Professor Emeritus at Florida Tech and a free-lance writer.
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