Monday, October 17, 2011

Will we be able to feed 9 billion people in 2050?

Ever since Rev. Malthus's theory of population failed to produce the projected results, it has become mighty hard for people to be moved by 'The sky is falling' prophecies. It's amazing how many current surveys of society's perception of climate change, show that most people just don't believe it's an issue. 

Perhaps they are right. Most people in the field of energy will never suggest that the world is going to run out of energy. Energy economists, for instance, will stand by the theory of price. There are many energy sources available to us which are not viable today because of the costs of extraction and processing. When oil becomes scarce enough driving up it's price, alternatives like wind, solar, nuclear and wave energy which are just not being exploited their fullest potential in many places, will step in. Oil trapped in the tar sands of Canada (the largest reserve of petroleum in the world outside of Saudi Arabia) will be extracted. Crisis Averted.

So why should they listen when it comes to food? Well, because there are no known substitutes for food. And whilst we can give up our second cars, air-conditioning, etc. We just cannot give up food. We would die. Given my preamble, I guess it makes sense that I focus on not whether we can feed 9 billion people in 2050, but how. Whilst a lot of the measures require government action, I will focus on what you and I can do to help food security, and the environment.

  • Cut down on beef
I live in the desert. Water is an issue we are constantly grappling with. And yet 70% of consumptive water is used in cattle rearing. Previously, I would have balked at the statistic "It takes 24 liters of water to produce one hamburger". Today, I am more than willing to believe. Between cultivating hundreds of thousands of acres to feed them, cleaning them and cleaning up after them, processing them, etc. Cattle take up a lot of water. Keep your consumption of beef to the minimum. Substitute with chicken, fish (and surprisingly better on the environment), even pork. The resources spent on feeding them alone; water, land, time, etc. can all go towards growing food for humans; you and me. Eat fewer animal products. Grain and soya beans should be saved for people, and animals should only be kept on land which is too poor for crops.

  • Minimize waste
Accorging to HervĂ© Guyomard of INRA (French National Institute for Agricultural Research), food amounting to 800 calories is lost per person per day as waste in richer nations. Save leftovers for the next day, eat bread crusts, stalks of vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, etc.

  • Buy Local
Apart from the organic benefits of farmers' markets, etc., cosmetic requirements for food sold in supermarkets lead to a lot of farm produce going waste because they are too small, too big, oddly shaped, etc. for 'commercial' purposes. Make a walk of it. Meet your local farmers, haggle prices, your food will taste twice as nice knowing you did the environment and yourself some good.

Why not start with these and see how it goes? The truth is, we will probably not have 9 billion people to feed in 2050 if we all continue living like we are. If we did, we probably won't be able to feed them if they had our current dietary preferences or worse. (i.e. given ecological and technological constraints). The impact of 9 billion people on resources depends a lot on what we eat, now and then. Are you going to do something about YOUR contribution?


  1. hmmm, we'll be 7 billion very soon so I guess this is extremely timely. I already like pork, I am a recycling fan even though I don't get half the chance to do it here in Ghana and I love markets and all u need is a few more billion ppl to join in....

  2. hmmm i don`t even wanna picture a world without food,#scarymuch. 9 billion by 2050 is mission impossible unless those cloning weirdos decide to clone more humans..the "24 liters of water to produce one hamburger" is a scary one coz just imagine how many hamburgers are being produced. 9 billion by 2050 on the other hand should not be too scary coz as humans,there is always a plan B.