This is yet another piece whose drum beats are as old as Methuselah. I for one would beg to differ at best or remain a skeptic at worse. Here is why: Most human population growth predictions say that the global population should stabilize by 2050 as more and more couples are having lesser number of children than their grandparents. The trend of negative or zero population growth that we see in countries like Italy, Japan, etc. will eventually filter down to the less developed countries, where there is maximum growth at present. Even in the worse case scenario, I doubt that with the new technologies available to us in crop improvement we will ever run out of food. We may most likely have a problem with food distribution from the food surplus areas to the hungry ones, but we will never run out of things to eat.
Another factor that food doomsday pundits do not take in to consideration is that man has only scratched the surface of the food pile as far as edible crop plants are concerned. The main food source for a very large number of the world’s poor and rich comes from only a handful of the crop plants and food animals. There are a number of plants out there that can be domesticated for food. Likewise, there are also a number of animals that we do not yet use for food. It is just a matter of developing a taste for them.
We now have tools such as biotechnology which can move desirable genes or gene segments, not only from one plant to another from the same family, but also from other species. In addition, gene transfer from the animal world is also now possible with gene manipulation — an antifreeze gene from Arctic flounder has been introduced into strawberries to extend their growing season in northern cold climates — which is why we get strawberries all year long. As we have seen with genetically-modified cotton, we can breed varieties of crops on which pests and diseases can make no impact, thereby increasing their yields manifold. The potential impact of these new technologies at increasing food supply globally is almost unlimited.
Look where we have come as far as computers are concerned in the last 30 to 40 years. We now have laptops that are as or more powerful than the main frame computers occupying an entire floor about 35 years ago. If the same brainpower is applied to food production, I am sure we have nothing to fear from the world population growth as the article suggests.
Adi B. Damania
Associate in the agricultural experimental station
Department of plant sciences