Everyone agrees that the world’ population will s exceed 8 billion people by 2025, an increase of over 2.5 billion in the next thirty years. Everyone agrees that most of the increase will occur in developing country cities-urban population is expected to rise from 1 billion in 1985 to 4 billion by 2025. Most everyone agrees that world food supplies will have to more than double by 2025, because of increases in income and urbanization. in addition to population growth. Given this widespread agreement on the needs or demand side of the equation and its magnitude-the greatest numerical growth in human numbers in history and a required magnitude of increased food production never before achieved-why is there so little agreement on the ease or difficulty of generating the
supply to meet that demand? The spectrum of views ranges from the one extreme, “there is no problem,” to the other, “the imminent arrival of the Malthusian nightmare, unless effective population control is implemented immediately.” By far the predominance of views is toward the “no problem” end, and can only be characterized as bordering on complacency. Therefore, the puzzle that this lecture identifies is, how can intelligent students of the international food economy agree so closely on the demand side and disagree so wildly on the capacity of the world to provide the supply to meet that demand? The cacophony of views is muddying the waters and, in my view, retarding needed attention to this critical issue. This lecture has a modest objective. It is to critically appraise the competing viewpoints and to show that, regardless of which view you prefer, the productivity improvement challenge facing world agriculture in the next thirty years is enormous. Twenty twentyfive is just thirty years away. From initiation to implementation in farmers’ fields, agricultural research takes ten to twenty years to have an impact. Twenty years from now there will be at least 1.8 billion more people in the world to feed. Research and technology development to contribute to the needed production must start today. Everyday spent on further debate about whether “Malthus must wait” or “Malthus is finally right” is “fiddling while Rome bums.” First, I will Specifically, I shall do five things. review briefly the past history of ‘ food crises” debates. Second, I will quickly summarize the demand side upon which most people agree. Third, I will summarize four
different viewpoints on the supply side of the world food equation;from the “no problem” view, as exemplified by Donald 0. Mitchell and Merlinda D. Ingco in their paper entitled “The World Food Outlook,” to the ominous predictions of Lester R. Brown and Hal Kane Reassessing the Earth’ s in their book, Full House: Population Carrying Capacity. Fourth, I will critically appraise the consequences of each of these scenarios development and technology for future agricultural generation needs. Finally, I will focus on the consequences of not recognizing the urgency of the productivity challenge.
The sufficiency of future food supplies has been a recurrent question in the international debate over most of the post-World War II period. The debate is most frequently driven by supply side considerations. Since Thomas Malthus wrote his “Essay on the Principle of Population as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society” in 1798, the debate has focused on the race between supply (seen to grow linearly) and population (seen to grow exponentially). New lands, new technology, and capital investment in irrigation have delayed the “Malthusian cross” (i.e. when population growth rates exceed the rate of food supply increases) for most of the world, but the debate, for how long?, has raged for years. Immediately after World War II, there were concerns about imminent food shortages. These quickly gave way to food production surges and...