Monday, April 14, 2008

Feeding the world

The world is getting smaller, I know it is. Certainly the amount of it available for me to enjoy is getting smaller.

We are frequently told that the current population of the world is 6.7 billion and will raise to 9 million by 2050. In fact I think this is an underestimation! In 1991 the population was given as 5.5 billion and estimates at that time, were it would rise by 1.7% per annum, If you adjust that figure down to an increase of 1.25% per annum you arrive, in 2007 with a predicted figure of 6.7 billion, which is about right. If we extrapolate that growth to the year 2050, we get a figure of 11.5 billion rather than 9 billion.

But enough of all this mathematics, after all, as Mark Twain, or was it Benjamin Disraeli, said "There are lies, damn lies and statistics".

But what actually does it all mean. I can’t even imagine what 6.7 billion or 9 billion or 11.5 billion people means. I have no concept of that sort of magnitude of figure. How about you?? Thought not.

So how can we express this in terms that we will all understand and that might get to actually mean something.

How about if we go back to the statistics for a minute and see if there is anything else we might be able to comprehend?

My figures show the increase in the population for 2008 at 83.8 million people. Scary huh, I mean that IS an understandable figure. If you live in the UK that would be about 1.25 times the population of the whole country . Or maybe in the USA you could imagine the world population increasing by 10 times the population of New York City or simply 4 times the population of Australia.

So now we do have some imaginable figures. Put simply, not withstanding any change in the eating habits of the world population we just need to produce enough extra food THIS YEAR to feed another 10 New York Cities.

And when we’ve done that, hey come on , it’s April already, then next year the figure is 84.9 million and the year's after 85.9 million. By 2050, my figures show an annual increase of 143 million. So that’s an extra 10 New York Cities this year and another ten (that makes 20) New York Cities next year and so on, year on year.

In the world today we have ten million hunger related deaths every year with almost 5 million of those being children. Developing countries are having to grapple with both the unprecedented consequences of climate change and the huge complexities of biotechnology.

At a time when we are failing to feed the world, we seem to have descended into self interest, seeking to modify grain to ensure the reliance of the poorest amongst us on our grand corporations for decades to come.

At a time when we are failing to feed the world, we have decided to divert food production in order to feed our insatiable thirst for energy, whilst still ensuring that the energy we use is not renewable and can only be provided by the continued intervention of big business.

At a time when we are failing to feed the world, we seem happy to allow market forces to further increase world food prices making it even harder for those developing nations to survive.

But don’t worry, this isn’t a new problem, we’ve known about it for years:

from BioScience , November, 1992
"Though it is certainly possible that intensifying human impact on the planet will precipitate a sudden disaster, it seems more likely that humanity will just gradually erode Earth's life-support capabilities over the next few decades."

And that is what we are doing, gradually eroding the planet’s life supporting resources.

Today, growing your own food is not only a fabulous pastime it is also a big help with the environment, creating vast savings in packaging and transport. As a friend’s blog pointed out recently "No government recognises this vital work", although many have seized upon the opportunity to tax "greenhouse emissions".

Perhaps now is the time to get a tax break for those of us who are helping to reduce pollution and control greenhouse gases; those of us who are providing a degree of self-sufficiency and contributing vastly to food security; those of us who are Kitchen Gardeners.