Global Hunger Sooner Than You Think – Humanities Essay

Global Hunger Sooner Than You Think – Humanities Essay
It is frightening to think that one day there may not be enough food left on the planet. For our generation this seems an unlikely fate, but for future generations it could be reality. World population is growing at an

alarming rate, and already there are parts of the world where the demand for food outweighs the supply. Currently, one fifth of the population in developing countries cannot find enough food to eat. Out of the whole population of the world, eighty percent are considered malnourished.

In 1798 an English demographer named Thomas Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population. This essay concentrated on the idea that one day the earth’s natural resources will no longer be able to support it’s population. Malthus had the belief that the speed of population growth exceeds the production of resources, and thus humans would eventually strip the earth of food. Today, there are a few reasons that explain why the world’s population is larger than ever before. First, there is the principle of geometric growth, which Malthus also popularized. This means that the population increases by doubling itself, and thus its rate of increase speeds up. Over the past 50 years, world population has increased by roughly 0.8 billion per decade. In 2020 it is estimated to reach just over eight billion (United Nations, 1989). Most of the growth will take place in lesser developed countries, where birth rates are higher than in the Western societies. This is a product of many factors, including lack of contraception, which is sometimes due to religious beliefs. Certain cultures, namely towards the Middle East, also encourage large families. Families in poverty-stricken countries develop the need to have more children so that they can help bring in income, and in some regions the rate of infant mortality is very high, and parents often decide to have four kids instead of one or two to ensure survival (Blue, 2006).

Population growth affects food supply directly. First of all, to put it simply, the more people there are, the more resources will be consumed. Secondly, there is the issue of space. Everybody needs a place to live, and the earth’s surface does not grow with the population. Housing takes up a large portion of inhabitable land, therefore there is a limited space which can be used to grow crops and produce food. Most of the places where food can grow are already occupied, and currently only 11% of the world’s land is fit for cultivation (NSCE, 2006). As the population expands further there will be even less arable land, and there is no doubt that population will indeed expand. This leads to the belief that the Malthusian theory of food depletion is the inevitable. However, “many have argued that Malthus did not recognize the human capacity to increase our food supply,” (Wikipedia, 2006), so there still may be various ways to counter the crisis which he predicted.

In his time Malthus had a few rather controversial ideas on how to prevent his prophecy of resource diminution. He believed in taking control of the world’s population by using means such as prohibiting early marriages; abstinence; disregarding the conditions of the poor; neglecting the issue of infant mortality, and doing nothing to boost healthcare standards (Winch, 197. In short, he thought that by sustaining a general misery among people, population growth would slow down. Though his proposed plans may not have been ineffective, today they are seen as somewhat barbaric, and there are better ways to solve the looming problem.

Since Malthus wrote his essay in the late 18th century, huge technological developments have been made. For instance, humans have developed Genetic Engineering which could yet prove to be the answer to the food crisis. Already with the help of the Green Revolution, which began in the 1940s and used “modern agricultural techniques” (Wikipedia, 2006) to assist food production, “the number of people in danger of malnutrition worldwide has decreased significantly.” The question is whether the genetically modified crop movement will be able to “develop into an agricultural revolution on the scale of the Green Revolution” (Rand Corp. 2004). While in some countries genetically modified crops are already being grown, the Gene Revolution cannot yet be adopted worldwide. Environmentalists, policymakers and some members of the public are trying to limit its spreading, disapproving of the idea of “playing God” and worrying about the side-effects of modified cells. While these fears are not unjustified, it should also be taken into account that genetically engineered crops could be very helpful to countries such as Africa, where poverty and famine is a constant threat (Rand Corp. 2004) For example, scientists have been modifying plants so that they require less water, and in the dry countries where water is scarce these developments could be immensely beneficial (PBS, 2000). Moving away from genetic engineering, researching alternative fuels could cheapen the production and transportation of food. Also, the countries which have a low literacy rate tend to be the ones in economic trouble, so educating people on how to produce their own crops and providing information about contraception could greatly improve the situation. Food aid is another option, and the United Nations have a variety of ideas on how to go about distributing the world’s resources, and deem it a necessary action throughout the coming years. They believe that the earth is able to provide every living being with enough resources to survive, but due to factors such as war, natural disasters and political corruption many people are in poverty and do not have enough to eat (Shaw, 2001). Currently, to say that the earth is running low on food would be untrue. There is more than enough, but it is not distributed evenly.

It is a fact that population will grow. However, after taking everything into consideration, it is impossible to know for what exactly will happen in the future. There are countless things which could unexpectedly find their way into the world’s economy, technology, social structure and land structure. Just as Malthus did not foresee things like genetic engineering, today’s scientists may not see future improvements in technology which could lead to a total change in the organization of the world.