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October 2012, Volume 18, Number 4

Global: Population, Hunger

The world's population, according to the UN, reached seven billion on October 31, 2011. The annual growth of the world's population, about 1.1 percent or 78 million a year, peaked at 2.2 percent in 1963. There were about 134 million births and 56 million deaths in 2011.

The Los Angeles Times on July 22, 2012 began a series on global population, Beyond 7 Billion. There are three billion people under 25, and their fertility decisions will determine the growth of the global population.

The UN projects 9.3 billion people in 2050; it assumes that global fertility will fall from the current 2.5 to the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. If fertility remains at 2.5 children per woman, there would be 11 billion people in 2050.

The world's population first reached one billion in 1810 and doubled to two billion by 1930. The population doubled again to four billion in 1974, and is 7.1 billion in 2012.

India has 1.2 billion people and a fertility rate of 2.5 that is projected to fall to 2.1 by 2030. However, the momentum of a youthful population will keep India's population growing until 2060, when it reaches 1.7 billion.

Civil conflict is most likely in countries with young, fast-growing populations, known as youth bulges. Afghanistan, where fertility averages 6.6, provides an example. The median age is 17 (compared with 37 in the US), and few young men can find good jobs that will allow them to save the $5,000 usually needed to pay a dowry and organize a wedding celebration.

Youth bulges and lack of jobs can fuel resentment and conflict. A survey of Afghani youth who had joined the Taliban and were captured found that the number one policy that could have deterred them was providing jobs or money for dowries and weddings.

Hunger. The drought-induced run-up in corn and soybean prices in summer 2012 is a reminder that the world has not solved the problem of feeding a billion poor people in developing countries. The green revolution that raised agricultural productivity in developing countries rapidly has slowed; further productivity improvements may be slower in the decades ahead.

The summer 2012 food price increase was the third significant food price increase in five years.

Africa highlights the population and food challenge. On the one hand, birth rates and child mortality are declining as many countries experience rapid economic growth, but agricultural productivity lags in many countries, keeping calorie intake per person at 1960s levels. Reasons include high prices for fertilizer to apply to relatively poor African soil and government policies that prevent the development of well-functioning markets for inputs and outputs.

Oceans. The world's oceans are becoming more acidic, with 30 percent higher acidity than before the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. The oceans have absorbed an estimated 500 billion tons of carbon dioxide, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels in the past two centuries. By absorbing a quarter of the greenhouse gas that accumulated in the atmosphere, the oceans have slowed global warming.

The rising acidity of the oceans due to absorbing carbon dioxide has killed some marine life, including oysters, clams and corals that rely on the minerals in alkaline seawater to build their protective shells and exoskeletons. If left unchecked, ocean acidification could increase water temperatures and expand the number of low-oxygen "dead zones." Cold, nutrient-laden waters from the deep sea are naturally more acidic than surface waters, so acidification is likely to be most noticeable in colder waters near the poles.

China. China produces more pork, tobacco, fruits and vegetables, wheat, rice, cotton, fish and many other commodities than any other country. There are about 300 million Chinese workers employed in agriculture, about 38 percent of the 790 million strong labor force. About 28 percent of Chinese workers are employed in manufacturing and 34 percent in services.

Only a third of Chinese farmers are full-time or dedicated farmers, and 60 percent of the 100 million dedicated farmers are over 45. Since agriculture generates only 10 percent of Chinese GDP, helping to explain why Chinese farmers remain poorer than urban workers, with incomes of about $1,000 a year compared to $3,000 a year in urban areas, the agricultural work force is likely to shrink as older farmers retire and youth avoid agriculture.

Chinese agriculture is intensive. Farms are small, averaging about one acre, encouraging farmers to use fertilizer, labor and other inputs intensively; China uses five times more fertilizer per hectare than the US. China has about 123 million hectares of crop land, compared with 173 million hectares (430 million acres) of crop land in the US.

China has 20 percent of the world's people and less than seven percent of the world's fresh water. There is 10 times more water per capita available in the south than the more arid north, but the north produces half of China's wheat and a third of its corn. With agriculture using three-fourths of China's water, there will have to be water pricing to avoid overuse and water wastage.

Japan. Japan levies a 778 percent tariff on rice imports after 700,000 tons are imported tariff-free each year. In summer 2012, a 10-kilogram bag of Japonica, the sticky, short-grain rice favored in Japan, cost about $62, ten times the world price of long-grain rice.

Deflation, declining incomes and fears about rice contaminated from the radiation escaping from nuclear disaster in Fukushima in March 2011 are prompting some Japanese consumers to turn to imported rice. In 1993, a poor Japanese harvest was offset in part by imports from northeastern China.

If Japan joins the TransPacific Partnership, it would have to eliminate rice tariffs within 10 years. Japanese rice consumption is declining; per capita rice consumption today is half that of the 1960s.

Zimbabwe. The New York Times on July 20, 2012 reported that some Blacks who received land when the government seized white-owned farms are doing well. The number of tobacco farmers rose from less than 2,000 whites in 2000 to about 60,000 Blacks in 2012. Total production was 522 million pounds in 2000, hit a low of 105 million pounds in 2008, and was 330 million pounds in 2012.

The takeover of white-owned commercial farms destroyed the country's economy and currency while giving much of the best land seized to associates of President Robert Mugabe. However, with tobacco buyers making loans and providing training, many small Black farmers are producing more and better tobacco.

Climate. There was a United Nations Climate Change Convention meeting in Bangkok in September 2012 that highlighted differences between developed and developing countries.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries (excluding the US), were supposed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions at least five percent from their 1990 levels by 2012. During negotiations for Kyoto Protocol II, developing countries demanded that industrial nations reduce their emissions by a further 40 percent and provide financial assistance to developing countries so that they can reduce their emissions.