In Thomas Robert Malthus’s 1798 “An Essay on the Principle of Population”, he introduced the concept that regions that had a surplus of goods and supplies would continue to grow in size until the population no longer had said surplus, and were instead confronted with distress. That essay out Malthus on the map as a prominent economist, and gained him a following which still exists today.
Active Malthusians (and individuals who share the same fears but are unfamiliar with Malthus’s teachings) express a fear that our current society is setting themselves up for disaster, and on some levels their fear is not unfounded. The rich in the modern world demand and waste food at rates that were previously unheard of, and we’ve reached a point in history where we have more readily available food than ever before. In the beginnings of human history, we started as hunters and gatherers; humans followed their food sources, and abundance wasn’t truly possible. As we shifted into the farming and agricultural practices we know today, food became less of a rarity (as long as natural disasters did not take a severe toll on the crops). With international trade, goods can be available “out of season”, and with continued technological advances, crops grew more abundant and resistant year over year. The concept that there will be no food available has been all but eliminated, even in some of the poorest areas because there truly is so much food available.
But, all of that positive does not mean the traditional agricultural system is without flaws. There are several points of concern that we as a society need to address:
Increased Demand for Food
The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture organization has calculated that by the year 2050, there will be a need for 70% more food than was needed in 2009. This takes into account both increased population, and the projected increase in demand for “prosperity-specific” goods like meat, dairy, and eggs.
Starvation & Malnutrition
While widespread starvation is longer a reality or risk in most of the world (famine does still strike in countries like Zimbabwe and Ethiopia), malnutrition is still a rampant issue around the world. In richer countries, food is wasted and thrown away because of the surplus, while poorer peoples suffer from lack of access to both farmland, wealth, and farming technology.
The yields of some of the world’s most important crops have started to plateau, despite the introduction of new strains and “agrochemicals”
So, what’s the solution?
The predicted need for 70% more food by 2050 may sound alarming, but there are definitely solutions that can be implemented, and they fall within the realm of technology and the sharing of knowledge.
Hydroponics farming techniques can be brought to spaces that lack farmable land. Genetic modification, coupled with more precise crop breeding will be able to continue to create “super crops” that can be modeled to flourish in areas they could not grown in previously. The spread of this technology and other general farming knowledge to areas with less access will also hugely impact yields. If existing farmland and farmers can benefit from the technology that’s readily available in the Western world, their productivity will continuously increase, and everyone will benefit in the long term.
So the answer is yes, with concentrated efforts and investments in the correct agricultural technology, we will be able to feed future generations for years to come.
Click here to see the article that inspired this post.