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Friday, July 29, 2011

World Food Demand and Population

Geoff Quartermaine Bastin has posted a very personal and emotional article on our sister site, Agrimarkets.

Entitled "Somalia - Tip of the Iceberg?"  the article looks at the basic population growth figures in Sub-Saharan Africa and asks the question "Will famine become the norm?".

His argument is based on population doubling times. A population growing at, say, 2% per annum will double in 35 years.  Many of the least well off and most dysfunctional countries have growth rates that significantly exceed 2% - and they cannot feed themselves even at present.

GQB wonders whether conventional approaches to agricultural development can possibly bridge the gap between demand for food in these countries from much larger populations and supply from resources that are impacted by e.g., climate change or the neglect by governments.

Agricultural productivity (output) has grown by only 1.5% in the last  decades and this is well behind the increase in population that has come about from successful health programmes.

Geoff says we've reduced deaths at birth only to starve the people who have survived.  Aid budgets are disproportionately aimed at high profile and easy to implement health programs; USAID's budget for health was US$6 billion in FY 2010, agriculture received only $1 billion.

No one is against improved health and we at FoodWorks see that as an essential element (along with education) in improving agricultural productivity.  But agriculture itself and its supporting infrastructure cannot be neglected - but it has been.

Geoff doubts that agriculture can catch up given the laggardly nature of aid agencies that seem baffled by the industry. But he does see a solution in the private sector.  High crop prices and good margins mean that increasingly the private sector is taking on the burden of  development. Private agribusiness has the resources to invest in R&D and capacity to transfer the technology to where profits can be made.

The question is, how equitable will be these transfers and will they come in time to prevent more humanitarian disasters like Somalia?

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