Population and Food

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The world population in 1800 was about 1 billion. By 1960 it had risen to 3 billion and by 2005, according to the United Nations, had risen to 6.5 billion, thus more than doubling in just 45 years. The prediction, also by the United Nations, is that the world population will rise to 9.1 billion by 2050, an increase of 40 per cent in just another 45 years, much of the lifetime of most of the children being currently taught in schools. It will mean that the world population will have trebled in less than a hundred years. Most of this rapid rise in population is taking place in the less developed parts of the world. In fact the majority of the world population is in the less developed parts of the world. Currently there are around 800 million people without sufficient food on which to survive and about one-third of the world population lack food security having insufficient funds to import additional food where needed. These are stark figures leading to the question - Can the soils of the world provide enough food for this rapidly increasing population going into the future?

Is there enough land to produce food for this rapidly growing population? So often in the past many humans have used the land without really caring about whether the soil, and land that it supports, is being used in a sustainable manner. There has been too much of a 'bulldozer mentality' of 'we will do this', often based on an inadequate knowledge of the soil resource and its potential fragility. As a result in large areas of the world the soils have had their potential reduced. This means there is less good land available at a time when the world population is increasing rapidly. Already many people go hungry each day because they lack the economic or environmental support of food security.

So how are we going to feed the future generations of the population? In particular, we need to arrest the spread of soil degradation. Virtually all of the best quality land is already being used for agriculture. Moving agriculture on to less suited land will be a challenge. Firstly the land is likely to need much more careful, and therefore expensive, preparation. Secondly the extra land is likely to be less productive so more of it will be needed. Thirdly, the land will be more vulnerable to erosion, desertification and salinisation, particularly in those areas likely to most affected climate change-induced drier and hotter conditions.

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