Can Biotech Food Cure World Hunger?
For many years the issue of ever rising population of the world, has been of concern and was at one time thought of as a time bomb. Optimists view increase in number of people in a community as an increase in the strength of those people to defend themselves; increase in ability to produce and an enlargement in the intellectual pool among other benefits. However, all these goodies are accompanied with resource consumption. When the rate of population growth exceeds the available resources and people’s abilities when it comes to production, naturally, a crisis will emerge. This is exactly what was noted in the mid 1960s, when population growth attracted most population biologists’ attention. For instance, Paul Ehrlich, one of these biologists, estimated the world population by 2900 to be six million billion if the growth rate was to be maintained. This was when the population rise reached the peak-1960s. The collision between high population growth and high consumption rate in a constant world has seen many authors, professionals, organizations and other interested parties to come up different views on the whole issue of population growth.
The World watch Institute published an article by Danille Nierenburg in its magazine in September/October 2004, The Population Story…so far, which explicitly focuses on the balance between the expected world population in the 21st century (as projected by UN) and the resources available for consumption. Equally, it notes the effects of this population on the ecosystem. The article is a cornucopian interpretation of the contemporary world lifestyles in relation to their impact on resources by arguments (Carpenter, 2010). It lays a lot of emphasis on the issue of preventive checks such as reduction of fertility rates, where it attributes the fall of population growth rate (from 2% in 1970s to 1.3% today) to the number of children an individual woman can bear in her lifetime. The number has reduced from six to below three, though; in Niger that number is abnormal, eight. The author believes that the sources of water, food crops and forests, are straining, and other resources are getting squeezed, day after day, into remarkably small ranges by the fast-rising population in most developing nations. Thus as any other neo-Malthusian, he advocates for population control by family planning and reproductive health services to people especially those in third world countries.
The article indicates that population growth may be a contributor to human misery and misunderstanding due to the “excess’’ mouths. One of the manifestations of this is dissatisfaction and social problems an example of these problems is the women inequality issue. There is very little of this issue relevant to the collision between the rising population and the high consumption rate. The weight given to women equality does not reflect the real position of the issue in the topical matter. In the article, the author concludes that what matters is not the birth rate in today’s world but technology coupled with consumption levels and pattern. This cornucopian view lacks the understanding of the primary contribution of birth rates to the cause of the population –resource crisis. In as much as technology fosters the satisfaction of human needs, the world’s natural resources are static and limited. Technology enables man utilizes and make efficient use of these resources. Once depleted, technology will be as useless as a corpse. Secondly, regulation of consumption patterns will entirely depend on the number of people to consume the available resources. If that number is so high, the need will be partially satisfied in an individual.
Nierenberg’s sentiments that it is a combined effort of all human beings to shape the fate of their existence in the earth are worthy and deserves appraisal. The decision on sexuality is personal, but affects more people than those who make that decision. So it is with lifestyle. Thus, this decisions need to be taken with caution as there consequences will befall not only those taking them but the whole human race. The article by Nierenburg boosts the thinking in a line consistent with the current trends of population increase and its effect on the available resources, as well as the degradation of the ecosystem. In the process of evaluating the ability of technology to substitute the fast-vanishing natural resources as a result of high population growth rate, man should gauge his decisions and lifestyle (NRC. 2004). Human life is threatened by several “positive checks” (as referred to by Thomas Malthus). They include death, starvation, war and disease, but none is as worse as clearance of the human race out of existence in planet earth as a result of our poor decisions and egocentric lifestyles.
In the same magazine mentioned above, David Pimentel and Anne Wilson wrote an article on agriculture and how it has been affected by the ever-rising population. They also focused on the impact of the 21st century agriculture on land. Due to high increase in population, there has been a tendency to increase land for agriculture. As a result no arable land or fresh water has been spared. The resources which are the basic supporters of life i.e. biodiversity is being polluted and degraded. It is also getting depleted with very little of the world population, which has doubled in the last 45 years, noting. This is the reason underlying the decrease of the quantity of food produced per capita, leading to many people’s suffering from hunger (FAO). In fact, according to World Health Organization, 3billion people are malnourished globally-the peak ever reached (Martineau, 2001). Partly this has been a result of reduction of cropland from o.6 hectare per capita to 0.23. The cropland has reduced due to human settlement or other economic activities such as urbanization, transport system-roads, airports etc.
Pimentel explains clearly how land that could have been used for food production has been lost to the accommodation of the increasing population. He says that degradation of the soil by erosion has also played a role in the reduction of per capita cropland. For example, according to FBRI, about10 million hectares of land are abandoned annually because of soil erosion. The same numbers of hectares are abandoned due to Stalinization which results from irrigation or improper irrigation methods (Boucher, 1999). The lost land is replaced by forest land when the trees have been cleared, leading to the continued gradual desertification of the world. Another natural resource of concern Pimentel addresses is water. He remarks that surface water has been mismanaged, leading to misuse and depletion. For instance, in Tamil Nadu, India ground water dropped 25m to 30m due to excessive pumping for irrigation while in Tianjin, China, it is dropping 4.4m per year. However, he notes that the greatest problem with fresh water is pollution from industries and other human activities.
In their article, Pimentel and Anne view the high population as an increase in demand in energy. Energy is essential in not industries but also in homes for lighting, cooking and laundry among many other uses. In most developing nations, not all industries or households have electricity access. They use alternative means of energy like charcoal, firewood and hydropower and geothermal power. These sources have led to extensive cutting of trees, contributing to the disappearance of forests. Pimentel and Anne have not highlighted on this crucial facet of environmental degradation (Lappe, 1998). They conclude that these life-supporting natural resources, with the expanding no of people, will have to be divided among these people and the availability per capita will decline to very low levels. This will compromise the quality of life and will affect even those enjoying the resources.
From their arguments, it is obvious that it is only the worst that can be predicted from the currently experienced population growth. This is especially because of the effect of this population on the environment. Such neo-Malthusianism argument will ensure realization of humanity’s goodwill and this entirely depends on everybody’s commitments (Raney, 2008). It is not only the responsibility of agriculturalists like David Pimentel or researchers like Anne Wilson or Danielle Nierenburg to focus on the dangers of population increase, but also a responsibility of all mankind, in a collective and collaborative manner.