Tag Archives: population

World Population Set to Hit 9.1 Billion in 2050

World Population Set to Hit 9.1 Billion in 2050: Scientific American.

At current growth rates, forecasters expect to see a total of 9.1 billion humans on Earth by 2050, although small shifts in the birth rate might add or subtract one billion people. The rise could be slowed without taking any direct measures to control population. The most effective way to reduce fertility rates is to educate women: worldwide, each additional year of female education lowers the average birth rate further. Greater education correlates with more abstinence, birth control and female employment, each of which lowers birth rates.

Source: United Nations Population Division

What does 7 Billion People Mean?

Making Sense of 7 Billion People | Wired Science | Wired.com.

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On the last day of October 2011, the global population of an upstart branch of the primate order will reach 7 billion.review smartphone android

What does it mean?

In itself, not much: Seven billion is just a one-digit flicker from 6,999,999,999. But the number carries a deep existential weight, symbolizing themes central to humanity’s relationship with the rest of life on Earth.

For context, let’s consider a few other numbers. The first: 10,000. That’s approximately how many Homo sapiens existed 200,000 years ago, the date at which scientists mark the divergence of our species from the rest of Homo genus, of which we are the sole survivors.

From those humble origins, humans — thanks to our smarts, long-distance running skills, verbal ability and skill with plants — proliferated at an almost inconceivable rate.

 

Some may note that, in a big-picture biological sense, humanity has rivals: In total biomass, ants weigh as much as we do, oceanic krill weigh more than both of us combined, and bacteria dwarf us all. Those are interesting factoids, but they belie a larger point.

We are the .00018 percent, and we use 20 percent.

Ants and krill and bacteria occupy an entirely different ecological level. A more appropriate comparison can be made between humans and other apex predators, which is precisely the ecological role humans evolved to play, and which — beneath our civilized veneer — we still are.

According to a back-of-the-envelope calculation, there are about 1.7 million other top-level, land-dwelling, mammalian predators on Earth. Put another way: For every non-human mammal sharing our niche, there are more than 4,000 of us.

In short, humans are Earth’s great omnivore, and our omnivorous nature can only be understood at global scales. Scientists estimate that 83 percent of the terrestrial biosphere is under direct human influence. Crops cover some 12 percent of Earth’s land surface, and account for more than one-third of terrestrial biomass. One-third of all available fresh water is diverted to human use.

Altogether, roughly 20 percent of Earth’s net terrestrial primary production, the sheer volume of life produced on land on this planet every year, is harvested for human purposes — and, to return to the comparative factoids, it’s all for a species that accounts for .00018 percent of Earth’s non-marine biomass.

We are the .00018 percent, and we use 20 percent. The purpose of that number isn’t to induce guilt, or blame humanity. The point of that number is perspective. At this snapshot in life’s history, at — per the insights of James C. Rettie, who imagined life on Earth as a yearlong movie — a few minutes after 11:45 p.m. on December 31, we are big. Very big.

However, it must be noted that, as we’ve become big, much of life had to get out of the way. When modern Homo sapiens started scrambling out of East Africa, the average extinction rate of other mammals was, in scientific terms, one per million species years. It’s 100 times that now, a number that threatens to make non-human life on Earth collapse.

In regard to that number, environmentalists usually say that humanity’s fate depends on the life around us. That’s debatable. Humans are adaptable and perfectly capable of living in squalor, without clean air or clean water or birds in the trees. If not, there wouldn’t be 7 billion of us. Conservation is a moral question, and probably not a utilitarian imperative.

But the fact remains that, for all of humanity to experience a material standard of living now enjoyed by a tiny fraction, we’d need four more Earths. It’s just not possible. And that, in the end, is the significance of 7 billion. It’s a challenge.

In just a few minutes of evolutionary time, humanity has become a force to be measured in terms of the entirety of life itself. How do we, the God species, want to live? For the answer, check back at 8 billion.

World will miss economic benefit of 1.8 billion youth

UN: World will miss economic benefit of 1.8 billion young people | Environment | guardian.co.uk.

Population report says lack of education, infrastructure and jobs will mean a generation’s potential will be wasted

Write a letter to the 7 billionth person

Shoeshine boys wait for customers in New Delhi, India

Shoeshine boys awaiting customers in New Delhi, India. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/AP

The world is in danger of missing a golden opportunity for development and economic growth, a “demographic dividend”, as the largest cohort of young people ever known see their most economically productive years wasted, a major UN population report warned on Wednesday.

The potential economic benefits of having such a large global population of young people will go unfulfilled, as a generation suffers from a lack of education, and investment in infrastructure and job creation, the authors said.

“When young people can claim their rights to health, education and decent working conditions, they become a powerful force for economic development and positive change. “This opportunity [for] a demographic dividend is a fleeting moment that must be claimed quickly or lost,” said the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), in its Global Population Report, published just days before the UN forecasted the world population will pass 7 billion. Of this 7 billion, 1.8 billion are aged between 10 and 24, and 90% of those live in the developing world.

The report also reveals average life expectancy across the globe has risen by 20 years since the 1950s, from 48 to 68, as healthcare and nutrition have improved, while infant mortality has fallen fast, from 133 deaths per 1,000 births in the 1950s to 46 per 1,000 today.

These successes area a cause to celebrate, the United Nations said. Fertility has also halved, from 6 births per woman to 2.5 over the same period, though there are stark regional differences – fertility is 1.6 births per woman in east Asia but 5 per woman in some parts of Africa.

The report found a “vicious cycle” of extreme poverty, food insecurity and inequality leading to high death rates, that in turn encourages high birth rates. Only by investing in health and education for women and girls can countries break the cycle, as improving living conditions will allow parents to be more confident that their children will survive, and therefore have smaller families.

Crucial to this will be allowing women and girls greater freedom and equality, in order to make their own choices about fertility. Hundreds of millions of women would prefer to have smaller families, but are unable to exercise this preference owing to a culture of repression.

“Governments that are serious about eradicating poverty should also be serious about providing the services, supplies and information that women need to exercise their reproductive rights,” said Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UNFPA. On the empowerment of woman, he said at a press conference in London: “we have come a long way, but we are not there yet. There is no group that gives up power voluntarily. Men will not give up power to women voluntarily. Women have to fight. Women need to work together.”

One way of doing so highlighted in the report is to provide a good level of sex education to adolescents, and access to modern methods of contraception.

The report said: “When women have equal rights and opportunities in their societies and when girls are educated and healthy, fertility rates fall … the empowerment of women is not simply an end in itself, but also a step towards eradicating poverty.”

The difference between a future of high fertility rates and one where people are better able to choose is stark: if fertility rates in areas of high population growth come down towards the global average, the world will reach a global population of about 9.3bn in 2050, and about 10bn in 2100. But if fertility rates remain high in the most populous countries, the 2100 population will be more than 15bn.

Osotimehin said countries must do more to help themselves: “It is unacceptable for countries to rely on donor money for reproductive health. The welfare of their people is their mandate.” He said it would cost only $2bn to give access to family planning to the 250 million women who would like it but lack access. “The budget of the average developing country does not give enough money to issues of women and reproductive health. That has to change. If it does not change, it becomes unsustainable.”

But he also said donors were failing to make sufficient commitments. “Family planning has not been funded as it should have been. Donors need to provide resources … there has been a reduction [in money made available].”

Osotimehin also said at the press conference that the opportunity had been missed to educate people on reproductive health and family planning, during a drive to prevent HIV infection, echoing comments he made to the Guardian earlier in the month.

With high population growth, many scientists predict thatthe pressure on food and agricultural productivity and other natural resources may become intolerable, and conditions for the poorest people will deteriorate further, rather than improving.

John Cleland, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The escape from poverty and hunger is made more difficult by rapid population growth.”

Rapid growth will also exacerbate the impact of other global problems, such as climate change and other environmental impacts. Steven Sinding, a population expert at Columbia University, said: “The pace of growth poses enormous challenges for many of the poorest countries, which lack the resources not only to keep up with demand for infrastructure, basic health and education services and job opportunities for the rising number of young people, but also to adapt to climate change.”

Separately on Wednesday, the Official for National Statistics forecast that the UK population would grow to 70 million by 2020, up from 62.3 million in 2010.

World population hits 7 billion

World population hits 7 billion on Oct. 31, or thereabouts – latimes.com.

It took only a dozen years for humanity to add another billion people to the planet, reaching the milestone of 7 billion Monday — give or take a few months.

Demographers at the United Nations Population Division set Oct. 31, 2011, as the “symbolic” date for hitting 7 billion, while acknowledging that it’s impossible to know for sure the specific time or day. Using slightly different calculations, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the 7-billion threshold will not be reached until March.

Under any methodology, demographers agree that humanity remains on a steep growth curve, which is likely to keep climbing through the rest of this century. The U.N.’s best estimate is that population will march past 9.3 billion by 2050 and exceed 10.1 billion by the end of the century. It could be far more, if birthrates do not continue to drop as they have in the last half-century.

Nearly all the projected growth this century is expected to occur in developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, while the combined populations in Europe, North America and other wealthy industrialized nations will remain relatively flat. Some countries, such as Germany, Russia and Japan, are poised to edge downward, their loss made up mostly by ongoing growth in the United States, which is bolstered by waves of immigrants.

The buildup to Monday’s milestone has briefly turned up the flame on long-simmering debates about growth on a finite planet: Whether a growing population or growing consumption remains the biggest environmental challenge, how best to help lift a billion people out of poverty and misery, whether governments should provide contraception for those who cannot afford it.

The new leader of the United Nations Population Fund, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, a Nigerian obstetrician-gynecologist, stepped gingerly into the fray. His agency remains a favorite punching bag of antiabortion activists in the United States for its role in supporting family planning clinics in developing countries.

“Instead of asking questions like, ‘Are we too many?’ we should instead be asking, ‘What can I do to make our world better?’ ” wrote Osotimehin in the annual State of the World Population report. The report chronicles disparities between rich nations and poor ones. Poor countries continue to have low education levels and startlingly high rates of teenage pregnancy and maternal and child deaths due to complications from childbirth.

“In many parts of the developing world, where population growth is outpacing economic growth, the need for reproductive health services, especially family planning, remains great,” Osotimehin concluded.

Some have used the occasion to celebrate the unrivaled success of the human species. Population grows when births exceed deaths. The 7-billion mark was reached because people are living longer and the number of infant deaths has dropped, because of a more secure food supply and because of advances in sanitation and medicine.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will hold a news conference Monday to mark the date and talk about challenges ahead, particularly how to reduce poverty, invest in the world’s 1.8 billion youth and help countries develop in a sustainable way.

In 1999, his predecessor, Kofi Annan, designated a boy born to refugee parents in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, as Baby 6 Billion. He had been plucked from the hundreds of thousands of babies born that day to put a face on global population growth. Adnan Mevic, now 12, has become something of a celebrity.

None of the estimated 382,000 babies born Monday will have such an honor.

There is no word yet on how the United Nations will handle the next milestone, when the globe’s population hits 8 billion — about 14 years from now.

World population to surpass 7 billion in 2011

World population to surpass 7 billion in 2011; Explosive population growth means challenges for developing nations.

ScienceDaily (July 28, 2011) — Global population is expected to hit 7 billion later this year, up from 6 billion in 1999. Between now and 2050, an estimated 2.3 billion more people will be added — nearly as many as inhabited the planet as recently as 1950. New estimates from the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations also project that the population will reach 10.1 billion in 2100.

These sizable increases represent an unprecedented global demographic upheaval, according to David Bloom, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Economics and Demography at the Harvard School of Public Health, in a review article published July 29, 2011 in Science.

Over the next forty years, nearly all (97%) of the 2.3 billion projected increase will be in the less developed regions, with nearly half (49%) in Africa. By contrast, the populations of more developed countries will remain flat, but will age, with fewer working-age adults to support retirees living on social pensions.

“Although the issues immediately confronting developing countries are different from those facing the rich countries, in a globalized world demographic challenges anywhere are demographic challenges everywhere,” said Bloom.

The world’s population has grown slowly for most of human history. It took until 1800 for the population to hit 1 billion. However, in the past half-century, population jumped from 3 to 7 million. In 2011, approximately 135 million people will be born and 57 million will die, a net increase of 78 million people.

Considerable uncertainty about these projections remains, Bloom writes. Depending on whether the number of births per woman continues to decline, the ranges for 2050 vary from 8.1 to 10.6 billion, and the 2100 projections vary from 6.2 to 15.8 billion.

Population trends indicate a shift in the “demographic center of gravity” from more to less developed regions, Bloom writes. Already strained, many developing countries will likely face tremendous difficulties in supplying food, water, housing, and energy to their growing populations, with repercussions for health, security, and economic growth.

“The demographic picture is indeed complex, and poses some formidable challenges,” Bloom said. “Those challenges are not insurmountable, but we cannot deal with them by sticking our heads in the sand. We have to tackle some tough issues ranging from the unmet need for contraception among hundreds of millions of women and the huge knowledge-action gaps we see in the area of child survival, to the reform of retirement policy and the development of global immigration policy. It’s just plain irresponsible to sit by idly while humankind experiences full force the perils of demographic change.”

Where Have All the Girls Gone? Sex Selection spells doom for developing countries?

Where Have All the Girls Gone? – By Mara Hvistendahl | Foreign Policy.

How did more than 160 million women go missing from Asia? The simple answer is sex selection — typically, an ultrasound scan followed by an abortion if the fetus turns out to be female — but beyond that, the reasons for a gap half the size of the U.S. population are not widely understood. And when I started researching a book on the topic, I didn’t understand them myself.

I thought I would focus on how gender discrimination has persisted as countries develop. The reasons couples gave for wanting boys varies: Sons stayed in the family and took care of their parents in old age, or they performed ancestor and funeral rites important in some cultures. Or it was that daughters were a burden, made expensive by skyrocketing dowries.

But that didn’t account for why sex selection was spreading across cultural and religious lines. Once found only in East and South Asia, imbalanced sex ratios at birth have recently reached countries as varied as Vietnam, Albania, and Azerbaijan. The problem has fanned out across these countries, moreover, at a time when women are driving many developing economies. In India, where women have achieved political firsts still not reached in the United States, sex selection has become so intense that by 2020 an estimated 15 to 20 percent of men in northwest India will lack female counterparts. I could only explain that epidemic as the cruel sum of technological advances and lingering sexism. I did not think the story of sex selection’s spread would lead, in part, to the United States.

Then I looked into it, and discovered that what I thought were right-wing conspiracy theories about the nexus of Western feminism and population control actually had some, if very distant and entirely historical, basis in truth. As it turns out, Western advisors and researchers, and Western money, were among the forces that contributed to a serious reduction in the number of women and girls in the developing world. And today feminist and reproductive-rights groups are still reeling from that legacy.

The story begins in the mid-20th century, when several factors converged to make Western demographers worried about global population growth. Thanks to advances in public health, people were living longer than ever before. Projections released by the U.N. Population Division in 1951 suggested what the sum of all those extra years of life could be: Rapid population growth was on the horizon, particularly in the developing world. As pundits forecast a global “population explosion,” anxiety mounted in policy circles, and the population control movement that coalesced brought together everyone from environmentalists to McCarthyites. Viewed through a 1960s Beltway lens, mounting numbers of people meant higher rates of poverty, which in turn made countries more vulnerable to communism.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Bank, and the Rockefeller Foundation were among the organizations that poured money into stanching the birth rate abroad, while the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the Population Council helped coordinate efforts on the ground. As these organizations backed research into barriers to couples accepting contraception, one of the obstacles quickly identified was that in most parts of the world, but particularly in fast-growing Asia, people continued to have children until they got a boy. As demographer S.N. Agarwala explained in a paper on India he presented at a 1963 IPPF conference in Singapore: “[S]ome religious rites, especially those connected with the death of the parents, can be performed only by the male child…. [T]hose who have only daughters try their best to have at least one male child.” Even in the United States, surveys suggested a preference for sons.

That raised the question: What if couples could be guaranteed a son from the start? Elsewhere, scientists were working to perfect fetal sex determination tests for women carrying sex-linked disorders like hemophilia, which only manifests itself in males. (The first sex-selective abortions, performed in 1955 by Danish doctors in Copenhagen, were actually done on women carrying male fetuses.) But the technology was still incipient and required a late-term abortion. Proponents of population control began talking about nudging sex selection along. In 1967, for example, when Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Alan Guttmacher received a proposal from an Indian scientist interested in finding a way to “control SEX in human reproduction,” he scrawled a note across the top in hasty red pencil, asking the organization’s medical director to consider whether the research was in fact “worth encouraging.”

Planned Parenthood didn’t fund the research in the end, but on the technicality that the U.S. government had recently cut funding for fellowships to foreigners. Six months later Steven Polgar, the organization’s head of research, went public with the notion that sex selection was an effective population control method. Taking the podium before an audience of scholars and policymakers at a conference sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Polgar “urged,” according to the meeting’s minutes, “that sociologists stimulate biologists to find a method of sex determination, since some parents have additional children in order to get one of specified sex.”

At first the language was gender-neutral. But before long the descriptions grew more blunt, and some proponents talked frankly about selecting for sons. In the years that followed, Population Council President Bernard Berelson endorsed sex selection in the pages of Science, while Paul Ehrlich advocated giving couples the sons they desired in his blockbuster The Population Bomb. “[I]f a simple method could be found to guarantee that first-born children were males,” he wrote, “then population control problems in many areas would be somewhat eased.” In many countries, he wrote, “couples with only female children ‘keep trying’ in hope of a son.” A wide range of population control strategies were on the table at the time, but by the end of the decade, when the NICHD held another workshop on reducing birth rates, sex selection had emerged as an approach that participants deemed “particularly desirable.”

Other spokesmen — for they were mostly men — included Arno G. Motulsky, a geneticist at the University of Washington-Seattle, William D. McElroy, then head of the biology department at Johns Hopkins University, and British microbiologist John Postgate. Postgate was particularly resolute. He extolled sex selection in an article for the New Scientist, explaining that population growth was so great a threat that the drawbacks of a skewed sex ratio would have to be tolerated, grim as they were. “A form of purdah” might be necessary, he predicted, while “Women’s right to work, even to travel alone freely, would probably be forgotten transiently.” A handful of women got on board as well. In 1978, former ambassador and former U.S. Congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce wrote an article for the Washington Star in which she clamored for the development of a “manchild pill” — a drug a woman could take before sex to ensure any children that resulted would be male.

Before long, sex selection emerged as a favored solution. In the context of ’60s and ’70s population politics, it had the appeal of being a voluntary strategy that played to individual behavior. In his paper for Science, Berelson ranked sex selection’s ethical value as “high.” Postgate pointed out, “Countless millions of people would leap at the opportunity to breed male.” And other strategies being tried in Asia at the time entailed coercion, not choice.

In South Korea, Western money enabled the creation of a fleet of mobile clinics — reconditioned U.S. Army ambulances donated by USAID and staffed by poorly trained workers and volunteers. Fieldworkers employed by the health ministry’s Bureau of Public Health were paid based on how many people they brought in for sterilizations and intrauterine device insertions, and some allege Korea’s mobile clinics later became the site of abortions as well. By the 1970s, recalls gynecologist Cho Young-youl, who was a medical student at the time, “there were agents going around the countryside to small towns and bringing women into the [mobile] clinics. That counted toward their pay. They brought the women regardless of whether they were pregnant.” Non-pregnant women were sterilized. A pregnant woman met a worse fate, Cho says: “The agent would have her abort and then undergo tubal ligation.” As Korea’s abortion rate skyrocketed, Sung-bong Hong and Christopher Tietze detailed its rise in the Population Council journal Studies in Family Planning. By 1977, they determined, doctors in Seoul were performing 2.75 abortions for every birth — the highest documented abortion rate in human history. Were it not for this history, Korean sociologist Heeran Chun recently told me, “I don’t think sex-selective abortion would have become so popular.”

In India, meanwhile, advisors from the World Bank and other organizations pressured the government into adopting a paradigm, as public-health activist Sabu George put it to me, “where the entire problem was population.” The Rockefeller Foundation granted $1.5 million to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the country’s top medical school, and the Ford Foundation chipped in $63,563 for “research into reproductive biology.” And sometime in the mid-1960s, Population Council medical director Sheldon Segal showed the institute’s doctors how to test human cells for the sex chromatins that indicated a person was female — a method that was the precursor to fetal sex determination.

Soon after, the technology matured, and second-trimester fetal sex determination became possible using amniocentesis. In 1975, AIIMS doctors inaugurated sex-selective abortion trials at a government hospital, offering amniocentesis to poor women free of charge and then helping them, should they so choose, to abort on the basis of sex. An estimated 1,000 women carrying female fetuses underwent abortions. The doctors touted the study as a population control experiment, and sex-selective abortion spread throughout India. In his autobiography, Segal professed to being shocked to learn that doctors at AIIMS were using a variation on his instructions to perform sex-selective abortions. But he neglected to mention that shortly after his stay in India he stood before an audience at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and described sex selection as a method of population control. (The minutes from the meeting describe “sex determination at conception” — now finally available today through advances in assisted reproductive technology — but in-utero sex determination was the form of sex selection furthest along at that point.)

 

Sex selection hit China the same year the AIIMS experiments began. The country accepted Western aid belatedly, in 1979. But after years of being kept out of the Middle Kingdom, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) and IPPF jumped at the opportunity to play a role in the world’s most populous country, with UNFPA chipping in $50 million for computers, training, and publicity on the eve of the one-child policy’s unveiling. Publicly, officers at both UNFPA and IPPF claimed China’s new policy relied on the Chinese people’s exceptional knack for communalism. But, according to Columbia University historian Matthew Connelly’s account of the population control movement, Fatal Misconception, in January 1980 IPPF information officer Penny Kane privately fretted about local officials’ evident interest in meeting the new birth quotas through forced abortions. Accounts of those eventually leaked out, as did reports of sex-selective abortions. In 1982, Associated Press correspondent Victoria Graham warned that those augured a spreading trend. “These are not isolated cases,” she wrote, adding: “Demographers are warning that if the balance between the sexes is altered by abortion and infanticide, it could have dire consequences.”

Today, some of those dire consequences have become alarmingly apparent. Part of that is the extent to which organizations like UNFPA have found themselves unable to perform legitimate services in the developing world because of their historic connection to population control. For it was news of sex-selective and forced abortions that helped fuel a budding anti-abortion movement in the United States. Protesters showed up at the 1984 World Population Conference in Mexico City, wielding evidence of abuses in China. The next year, President Ronald Reagan unveiled what would become known as the “global gag rule,” cutting off $46 million in funds to UNFPA — money that might have gone toward maternal and child health as well as population control. The struggle to fund reproductive health continued over the next two decades, with subsequent U.S. presidents withdrawing or reinstating the gag rule along partisan lines.

Nowadays, of course, UNFPA and Planned Parenthood are led by a new wave of feminist bureaucrats who are keen on ensuring reproductive rights, and they no longer finance global population control. Thanks to a thriving anti-abortion movement, Planned Parenthood can barely make contraceptives and safe abortion available to the American women who actually want them. But contentious American politics has these and other groups on the left stuck in what Joseph Chamie, former head of the U.N. Population Division, calls “the abortion bind.” The United Nations issued an interagency statement condemning sex selection and outlining recommendations for action last week, and UNFPA was among the agencies that helped draft it. The organization has also funded research on sex selection and sex ratio imbalance at the local level. But its legacy in the developing world continues to haunt its leaders, to the detriment of women worldwide. Lingering anxiety over taking on issues involving abortion, activists and demographers have told me, now has UNFPA reluctant to address sex selection head-on at the international level — a reluctance that has left the organization’s enemies to twist the issue to fit their own agenda. (Anti-abortion groups and pundits have proven all too eager to to take on the issue, though they seem far more interested in driving home restrictions on abortion than they do in increasing the number of women in the world and protecting the rights of women at risk.)

Meanwhile, as American politicians argue over whether to cut Planned Parenthood’s U.S. funding and the Christian right drives through bans on sex-selective abortion at the state level, the effects of three decades of sex selection elsewhere in the world are becoming alarmingly apparent. In China, India, Korea, and Taiwan, the first generation shaped by sex selection has grown up, and men are scrambling to find women, yielding the ugly sideblows of increased sex trafficking and bride buying. In a Chinese boomtown, I watched soap operas with a slight, defeated woman from the poor mountains of the west who had been brought east by a trafficker and sold into marriage. (Her favorite show: Women Don’t Cry.) In the Mekong Delta, I visited an island commune where local women are hawked by their parents for a few thousand dollars to “surplus” Taiwanese men. While the purdah forecasted by John Postgate has not yet come to pass, feminists in Asia worry that as women become scarce, they will be pressured into taking on domestic roles and becoming housewives and mothers rather than scientists and entrepreneurs.

But what happens to women is only part of the story. Demographically speaking, women matter less and less. By 2013, an estimated one in 10 men in China will lack a female counterpart. By the late 2020s, that figure could jump to one in five. There are many possible scenarios for how these men will cope without women — and not all, of course, want women — but several of them involve rising rates of unrest. Already Columbia University economist Lena Edlund and colleagues at Chinese University of Hong Kong have found a link between a large share of males in the young adult population and an increase in crime in China. Doomsday analysts need look no further than America’s history: Murder rates soared in the male-dominated Wild West.

Four decades ago, Western advocacy of sex selection yielded tragic results. But if we continue to ignore that legacy and remain paralyzed by heated U.S. abortion politics, we’re compounding that mistake. Indian public health activist George, indeed, says waiting to act is no longer an option: If the world does “not see ten years ahead to where we’re headed, we’re lost.”

Will 10 Billion People Use Up the Planet's Resources?

Observations: Will 10 Billion People Use Up the Planet’s Resources?.

 

Sunrise Dam Gold Mine -- NASA satellite viewThe human enterprise now consumes nearly 60 billion metric tons of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and plant materials, such as crop plants and trees for timber or paper. Meanwhile, the seven billionth person on the planet is expected to be born this year—and the human population may reach 10 billion by this century’s end, according to the latest United Nations analysis. Hundreds of millions of people in Europe, North America and Asia live a modern life, which largely means consuming more than 16 metric tons of such natural resources—or more—per person per year. If the billions of poor people living today or born tomorrow consume anything approaching this figure, the world will have to find more than 140 billion metric tons of such materials each year by mid-century, according to a new report from the U.N. Enviromental Programme.

Figuring out how to do more with less is becoming a global necessity.

The international agency derived its consumption figures by simply dividing the total world production figures for such commodities by national population. The good news is that economic prosperity has been rising faster than direct resource consumption. Between 1980 and 2002, the resources required to produce $1,000 worth of consumer goods fell from 2.1 metric tons to just 1.6 metric tons and global per capita income has increased seven-fold. The bad news is that trend will not necessarily continue and—in absolute terms—resource consumption has increased 10-fold since 1900.

Of course, a wide array of national governments and even the international community have committed to “sustainable development,” variously defined but essentially attempts to reduce things like energy use or resource extraction that go along with economic growth. Those lofty goals, however, do not match up to facts on the ground: such as an unwillingness on the part of the U.S. to lower its consumption or a hesitance on the part of China to restrain its economic growth.

This is the exact recipe for creating the kind of commodity price spikes the world is already enjoying in everything ranging from essential food crops to the “luxuries” of modern life such as copper for electric wiring or oil for transportation. Increased demand is running up against increased scarcity as well; already it takes three times as much total mining material to produce the same amount of ore as 100 years ago and the era of easy oil is over.

The U.N., for its part, plans to launch an effort similar to the Millennium Development Goals to curb resource waste, greenhouse gas emissions and the like, and Swiss scientists have come up with a plan for a “ 2,000 watt” per person society, which aims for reducing each European’s energy use by roughly one third.

But that type of approach, in order to be effective, would need to paired with a mindset no longer driven by gadget lust. After all, technological leapfrogging, such as from burning wood for light and heat to lighting a bulb with electricity from photovoltaic panels requires a shift from consumption of biomass to consumption of minerals, which differ only in the type of impact on the planet. Nor is it clear that “decoupling”—rising economic growth paired with reductions in resource consumption—actually is now taking place; most gains to date, such as those in Germany or Japan, may simply have been achieved by outsourcing resource-intensive manufacturing and the like abroad to countries like China.

High prices for commodities, in and of themselves, will drive more efficient use of such resources, but that may not be enough to prevent the total depletion of world’s resources and attendant environmental apocalypse, according to the new UNEP report. Ultimately, the quantity of resources consumed by the nearly 7 billion of us on the planet will need to average out to six metric tons per year per person—a steep cut in the resources currently enjoyed by people in Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan and the U.S. As it stands now, an average American uses 88 kilograms of stuff per day and, all told, our modern gadgets require at least 60 different elements, ranging from the toxic to the treasured, such as gold. These devices fuel the same kind of exploitative and annihilating resource-extraction that has been a hallmark of consumption since at least the ivory craze of Victorian England or the relentless pursuit of whale oil in the 19th century and earlier.

“People believe environmental ‘bads’ are the price we must pay for economic ‘goods,'” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner in releasing the report on May 12 and calling for an increased effort to decouple economic growth and resource consumption. “However, we cannot, and need not, continue to act as if this trade-off is inevitable.”

Image: The Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite captured this true-color image of the Sunrise Dam Gold Mine on December 4, 2009; credit: NASA Earth Observatory

The Myth of 9 Billion

The Myth of 9 Billion – By Malcolm Potts and Martha Campbell | Foreign Policy.

This week, the United Nations Population Division made a radical shift in its population projections. Previously, the organization had estimated that the number of people living on the planet would reach around 9 billion by 2050 — and then level off. Now everything has changed: Rather than leveling off, the population size will continue to grow, reaching 10 billion or more at century’s end.

Why is this happening? Put simply, fertility rates. Across much of the world, women are having fewer children, but in African countries, the decline is far slower than expected. Part of this shift was supposed to come from preferences about family size and better access to family planning to make that possible. Sadly, however, that access hasn’t come. Another factor, many expected, would come from the deleterious impact of high HIV/AIDS rates. But even Uganda — with one of the highest numbers of AIDS cases in sub-Saharan Africa — is projected to almost triple its population by 2050. In fact, outside a handful of countries, HIV/AIDS has only a tiny impact on overall population. Consider this: In the first five months of this year, the world population grew by enough to equal all the AIDS deaths since the epidemic began 30 years ago.

Rapid population growth is bad news for the continent, as it will likely outstrip gains in economic development. It’s also a wake-up call: If the world doesn’t begin investing far more seriously in family planning, much of our progress fighting poverty in sub-Saharan Africa over the last half-century could be lost.

Demographic projections are just that — predictions. They only tell us what can happen if we make a variety of policy decisions and investments. As is the case with these projections, they include a lower and higher estimate — and where we end up in that range depends upon what we do in the meantime. Hence, it would be a mistake to focus only on the medium U.N. projection of 9.3 billion people by 2050 as most commentators do. The high projection would take us to 10.6 billion in 2050. The low projection would mean 8.1 billion. (Just for a sense of scale: The difference between these high and low variants is equivalent to the entire global population in 1950.)

That 2050 figure is vital in determining how large the population will grow by 2100 — either as high as 15.8 billion or as low as 6.2 billion. With so many people reproducing, very small differences in family size have a dramatic impact over time. The difference between a world of 6.2 billion and 15.8 billion will depend on a change in the average number of children that women have — a change that is so small that demographers are reduced to using the odd image of “half a child” to describe it. Over the coming 40 years, however, if the average woman bears half a child more, on average, it will have an almost unimaginably profound effect on virtually everything else that happens in the 21st century.

Let’s imagine how different our world could look, depending upon its population. Already, we face a host of challenges: feeding growing numbers of middle-class meat-eating citizens, lifting the bottom third of the world’s people out of poverty, and ensuring that our ever-growing economies are environmentally sustainable. All these necessities will become more urgent and more difficult if the population grows quickly, particularly in poor countries where adequate food supplies and sufficient sources of water often can’t be taken for granted.

Some of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, especially those making up the Sahel bordering the Sahara desert, face particularly somber demographic problems. In Niger, the rate of population growth exceeds economic growth. Twenty percent of women there have 10 or more children, and only one in 1,000 women completes secondary school. Already, one-third of children in Niger are malnourished, and global warming will further undermine agricultural output in the desertifying Sahel. Even if the current birth rate is halved by 2050, the population will still explode — from 14 million today to 53 million by 2050. If the birth rate continues at current levels, the population could reach a totally unsustainable 80 million. Unless there is an immediate commitment to family planning, the scale of human suffering over the next three decades in the Sahel could equal or exceed that caused by HIV/AIDS in the past 30 years.

Why are some countries having such a difficult time reducing their average family size? Oddly, for a world in which information travels so quickly, access to contraceptives — and information about family planning — is extremely hard to come by in large parts of Africa. A poor woman who cannot obtain contraception will have many children, and often not by choice. Often, the contraceptives themselves simply aren’t in supply; other times, there are barriers — such as government or medical regulations and misinformation — that prevent access.

Ironically, the future problem stems from today’s success: Women are not having more children than in the past, but fewer of them are dying. Globally, the number of infant deaths per 1,000 births fell from 126 in 1960 to 57 in 2001.

Persistently high fertility yields some striking statistics, according to Babatunde Osotimehin, the executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA). Last month he called for urgent action to meet the needs of “some 215 million women in developing countries, who want to plan and space their births, [but] do not have access to modern contraception.” He added that “neglect of sexual and reproductive health results in an estimated 80 million unintended pregnancies; 22 million unsafe abortions; and 358,000 deaths from maternal causes — including 47,000 deaths from unsafe abortion.”

That so many women lack access to family planning may come as a surprise to many who have watched women’s rights improve throughout the world in recent decades. But after much attention to population control in the 1970s, interest began to wane in the 1990s. Below-replacement fertility levels in countries such as Russia and Japan suggested the much-heralded population explosion was over. Then, in 1994, an influential International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo emphasized the need to focus on the many needs of girls and women, including health care, education, economic opportunity, the ability to own property, and freedom from domestic violence, as well as access to family planning. It was a worthy goal to work toward these broader needs, but as a result of advocacy, the word “population” became tainted with the idea that improving access to birth control was tantamount to coercion. The term “family planning” was replaced by the broader phrase “reproductive health.” In the United States, in particular, passions over abortion eroded support for contraceptives assistance overseas.

That lack of attention may well prove to be one the worst foreign-policy mistakes of recent decades. Budgets for family planning have collapsed — despite the fact that they were yielding real results. When a modest investment was made in family planning in Kenya in the 1980s, for example, the average family size fell from eight to five. When the focus was taken off family planning, this decline stalled and even started rising again. In 1990, demographers had predicted the population of Kenya in 2050 would be 53 million. But now, the population in 2050 is predicted to be 65 million. This extra 12 million people is equivalent to twice the total population of the whole country in 1950.

In Kenya, the richest economic quintiles have three children, while the poorest have eight. Rich women use contraception more frequently than poor women, but the poor have almost three times the unmet need for family planning — women who report that they do not want another child in the next two years but are not using contraception. It is not that the poor want more children to help in the fields or look after elders as they age; they simply don’t have access to family planning options and information they need and deserve.

Rapid population growth inhibits many of the factors of development from proceeding apace — including education and health. In all our research, we have not found any country, with the exception of a few oil-rich states, that has developed or extricated itself from poverty while maintaining high average family size. Countries with high birth rates tend to find it difficult or impossible to expand their education systems or their health systems adequately to keep up with the need.

This matters beyond any one country or region. If we want to live in an ecologically sustainable world, we’ll have to meet the needs of the present without compromising the natural resources and services our children and grandchildren will need. Given time, and a great deal of scientific ingenuity, we might still be able to reduce our consumption and pull a world of 8 billion people back to a biologically sustainable economy by the end of the century. But a world of 10 billion more in 2050 could do irreversible damage to the planet. It’s just too many people.

We’ve now been warned. If measures are taken now, we could still keep the 2050 world population at around 8 billion. We have to ensure that the population can be slowed by purely voluntary means and within a human rights framework. We need to galvanize the political will to make it happen and invest now so that family planning options are universally available. Fail to do so, and we may give birth to a new, difficult era of poverty instead.

Climate Change Wilts Farming Yields

Climate Change Wilts Farming Yields | Wired Science | Wired.com.

Set a place at the table for climate change; hotter weather may have already taken a bite out of food crops worldwide.

Farms across the planet produced 3.8 percent less corn and 5.5 percent less wheat than they could have between 1980 and 2008 thanks to rising temperatures, a new analysis estimates. These wilting yields may have contributed to the current sky-high price of food, a team of U.S. researchers reports online May 5 in Science. Climate-induced losses could have driven up prices of corn by 6.4 percent and wheat by 18.9 percent since 1980.

The researchers tracked country-by-country yields of these common foodstuffs over nearly three decades. Harvests of corn and wheat have climbed steadily since 1980 due in part to technological advancements, says David Lobell, a land-use scientist at Stanford University. But based on the team’s statistical analysis, farmers could have produced a lot more food if the weather had been cooler. For corn, global losses amount to millions of tons — about equal to Mexico’s yearly production of the crop. “For every decade of climate change, it sets you back a year,” Lobell says.

For reasons still up for debate, temperatures largely held steady in the U.S. over the study period. So Iowa, by and large, doesn’t seem to have lost out. Rice and soybean yields have also proved resilient to rising temperatures so far, the team discovered.

This analysis of the past three decades largely falls in line with what other studies have projected for the coming century, says Andy Challinor of the University of Leeds in England, who studies the impacts of climate on agriculture. With enough complementary analyses, scientists may start to feel more certain about predicting the future of food. Still, when it comes to agriculture, researchers rely on a very murky crystal ball. Humans can, and probably will, adapt to warmer temperatures, switching to hardier crops or developing new technology to keep harvests high.

While it’s far from a prediction, Lobell says his study identifies a number of problem areas that do need attention — not later but now. “If we really invest a lot in the development of crops that can withstand really high temperatures,” he says, “that would potentially change things a lot.”

Even today, food scarcity is a pressing problem, says Navin Ramankutty, a geographer at McGill University in Montreal. As populations climb steeply, putting added pressure on agricultural production, an estimated one in seven people go hungry across the globe.

Images: 1) Between 1980 and 2008, climbing global temperatures took millions of tons of wheat off the dinner table, scientists say. Some countries experienced big losses due to weather (red), while in others, wheat production held steady (blue). (Science/AAAS) 2) Corn is feeling the heat from climate change, with yields dropping close to 4 percent due to weather-related factors between 1980 and 2008. (Science/AAAS)

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Can the World Feed 10 Billion People? – By Raj Patel

Can the World Feed 10 Billion People? – By Raj Patel | Foreign Policy.

The world’s demographers this week increased their estimates of the world’s population through the coming century. We are now on track to hit 10 billion people by 2100. Today, humanity produces enough food to feed everyone but, because of the way we distribute it, there are still a billion hungry. One doesn’t need to be a frothing Malthusian to worry about how we’ll all get to eat tomorrow. Current predictions place most of the world’s people in Asia, the highest levels of consumption in Europe and North America, and the highest population growth rates in Africa — where the population could triple over the next 90 years.

There are, however, plans afoot to feed the world. One of the countries to which the world’s development experts have turned as a test bed is Malawi. Landlocked and a little smaller than Pennsylvania, Malawi is consistently among the world’s poorest places. The latest figures have 90 percent of its 15 million people living on the equivalent of less than two dollars a day. By century’s end, the population is expected to be nearly 132 million. Today, some 40 percent of Malawians live below the country’s poverty line, and part of the reason for widespread chronic poverty is that more than 70 percent of Malawians live in rural areas. There, they depend on agriculture — and nearly every farmer grows maize. “Chimanga ndi moyo” — “maize is life,” the local saying goes — but growing maize pays so poorly that few people can afford to eat anything else.

If you arrive in Malawi in March, just after the rainy season, growing food seems like a fool’s game. It’s hard to find a patch of red soil that isn’t a tall riot of green. From the roadside you can see maize about to ripen, with squash and beans planted at the base of the thick stalks. Even the tobacco fields are doing well this year. But there’s a rumble in this jungle. Malawi’s swaying fields are a battleground in which three different visions for the future of global agriculture are ranged against one other.

The first and most venerable development idea for Malawi sees these farmers as survivors of a doomed way of life who need to be helped into the hereafter. Oxford economist Paul Collier is the poster child for this “modernist” view, one that he presented in a scathing November 2008 Foreign Affairs article in which he cudgeled the “romantics” who yearned for peasant agriculture. Observing both that wages in cities are higher than in the countryside, and that every large developed country is able to feed itself without peasant farmers, Collier argued the virtues of big agriculture. He also called on the European Union to support genetically modified crops and for the United States to kill domestic subsidies for biofuel. He was one-third right: biofuel subsidies are absurd, not least because they drive up food prices, siphoning grains from the bowls of the poorest into the gas-tanks of the richest — with limited environmental gains, at best.

Collier’s contempt for peasants seems, however, to rest on something other than the facts. Although international agribusiness has generated great profits ever since the East India Company, it hasn’t brought riches to farmers and farmworkers, who are invariably society’s poorest people. Indeed, big agriculture earns its moniker — it tends to work most lucratively with large-scale plantations and operations to which small farmers are little more than an impediment.

It turns out that if you’re keen to make the world’s poorest people better off, it’s smarter to invest in their farms and workplaces than to send them packing to the cities. In its 2008 World Development Report, the World Bank found that, indeed, investment in peasants was among the most efficient and effective ways of raising people out of poverty and hunger. It was an awkward admission, as the Bank had long been trumpeting Collier’s brand of agricultural development. Farmers organizations from Malawi to India to Brazil had been pointing out that access to land, water, sustainable technology, education, markets, state investment in processing, and — above all, access to level playing field on domestic and international markets — would help them. But it took three decades of lousy policy for the development establishment to realize this, and they’re not quite there yet.

Because of its colonial legacy, Malawi had long been following conventional economic wisdom: exporting things in which the country had a comparative advantage (in Malawi’s case, tobacco) and using the funds to buy goods on the international market in which it didn’t have an advantage. But when tobacco prices fall, as they have of late, there’s less foreign exchange with which to venture into international markets. And being landlocked, Malawi also faces higher prices for grain than its four neighbors — Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, and Tanzania — simply because it costs more to transport into the country. According to one estimate, the marginal cost of importing a ton of food-aid maize is $400, versus $200 a ton to import it commercially, and only $50 to source it domestically using fertilizers. Particularly at a time when food and fertilizer prices are predicted to rise, Malawi is wise to consider how vulnerable to the caprices of international markets it wants to be.

This partly explains why, in the late 1990s, almost a decade before it became fashionable, Malawi bucked the advice of its international donors and decided to spend the majority its agriculture budget on fertilizer, the first and perhaps most necessary ingredient in prepping the soil for producing viable crops. The government gave farmers a “starter pack,” with enough beans, improved seeds, and fertilizer to cover about a fifth of an acre. International donors weren’t pleased. A USAID official decried the program as consigning farmers to a “poverty treadmill” in which farmers would be stuck growing just enough maize to survive, but never enough to get rich. Although the program had modest success, it took off when Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika expanded the program over the 2005-2006 growing season, quadrupling the amount of fertilizer available. Although driven by domestic political promises, his international timing was perfect — he was embarking on a policy whose time had come. And this is why what happens in Malawi’s fields today matter so much beyond its borders.

To understand why, we need a quick history of agricultural policy in developing countries. Many developing countries were, especially before World War II, pantries to be raided by their colonizers. Post-independence, rural areas were often net contributors to government revenues, but there were some assurances of stability, with government schemes to buy crops at guaranteed prices. Internationally — especially in Asia — the post-war era saw governments pressured to feed a restive population that was increasingly wondering whether their lot wouldn’t be improved through socialism and a change in land ownership. In order to fight the Cold War in foreign fields, the U.S. government and key foundations invested heavily in agricultural technologies such as improved seed and fertilizer. These technologies were designed to keep land in the hands of its feudal owners, food plentiful, and communists at bay. In 1968, William Gaud, the USAID administrator, dubbed it a Green Revolution, because it was designed to prevent a red one.

For a range of mainly geopolitical reasons, the Green Revolution was implemented with less fervor and success in Africa than in Asia. The International Fertilizer Development Center observed in 2006 that $4 billion worth of soil nutrients were being mined from the African soil by farmers who, struggling to make ends meet, weren’t replenishing the nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous in the ground beneath their feet.

The prescription for declining soil quality lay, however, not in addressing the policy causes of farmer’s environmental panic — a systematic neglect since the 1980s to which the World Bank itself admitted in an internal evaluation — but to fix the soil with technology. So in 2006, the Rockefeller Foundation (the original sponsors of the Green Revolution in Asia) joined the Gates Foundation to launch The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, or AGRA. This is the second brave new development policy that hopes to feed Africa.

AGRA claims to have learned the lessons of history, rejecting Collier’s view and focusing on policies that “unlike the Green Revolution in Latin America, which mostly benefited large-scale farmers because they had access to irrigation and were therefore in a position to use the improved varieties … [are] specifically geared to overcome the challenges facing smallholder farmers.”

So did it work in Malawi? It depends on the goal. If the aim was to increase output, then yes. Although economist and Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs recently over-egged the data by suggesting that production had doubled because of the fertilizer subsidy (it only increased by 300,000 – 400,000 tons or up to 15 percent, the rest being mainly due to the return of the rains), the amount of maize in Malawi has undoubtedly gone up.

As the 50 million people food insecure in the United States know all too well, though, having enough food in the country doesn’t necessarily mean that all people get to eat, and Malawi still has more than its fair share of glassy-eyed and underweight children. Chronically hungry kids have low height for their age and the number of children malnourished in this way — “stunted” is the term in the statistics — has remained stubbornly high since the subsidies began.

Measuring increased yields of maize from fertilizer and starter kits doesn’t necessarily translate into a society that is well-fed and economically viable in terms of agriculture. Rachel Bezner Kerr, a professor of geography at the University of Western Ontario who also works in Malawi as a project coordinator for the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities Project, isn’t surprised. “Any nutritionist would scoff at the notion that increased yield automatically leads to increased nutrition,” she says.

Bezner Kerr told me that having more crops in the fields and bigger yields can actually be a bad thing, taking “women out of the home and away from domestic work. Particularly if they are doing early childcare feeding, this can lead to poorer nutritional outcomes.” What happens within the household is crucial in translating increased output into better nutrition.

Indeed, gender matters when it comes to food and farming. Sixty percent of the world’s malnourished people are women or girls. Yet the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization recently pointed out that by increasing access to the same resources as men, women could boost their farm’s output by up to 30 percent, leading to a 4 percent increase in total agricultural output in developing countries. In Malawi, 90 percent of women work part time, and women are paid some 30 percent less than men for similar jobs. Women are also burdened with care work, especially in a country ravaged by HIV/AIDS. Even if they own land and have access to the same resources as men, women find themselves torn between the demands of child and elder care, cooking, carrying water, finding firewood, planting, weeding, and harvesting.

These problems are better addressed through social change — abetted by programs like the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities Project — than chemistry. Yet these are precisely the kinds of programs that are crowded out by fertilizer subsidies. The fertilizer program has been a jealous child, sucking resources away from other programs. The opportunity cost of fertilizer for farmers is money that might have been spent on something else — a serious concern when global fertilizer prices are going through the roof. Research by the World Bank in Latin America and Southeast Asia has suggested that it’s smarter for government to subsidize public goods like agricultural research and extension services and irrigation, rather than directing money at private inputs like fertilizer.

Again, this matters beyond Malawi’s borders, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The world’s population growth is scheduled to be driven by “high fertility countries” — most of which are in Africa. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, recently argued that the world might be better fed not by pumping the soil with chemicals, but by using cutting-edge “agroecological” techniques to build soil fertility, and using policy to achieve environmental and social sustainability. In a review of 286 sustainable agriculture projects in 57 developing countries covering 91 million acres, a team led by British environmental scientist Jules Pretty found production increases of 79 percent — again, far higher than the fertilizer subsidy in Malawi, and with a far broader range of ecological and social benefits than increased food production.

These programs succeed, in part, because they don’t see hunger as the consequence of a surfeit of peasants or a deficit in soil, but as the result of complex environmental, social, and political causes. You don’t just need chemists to solve hunger — you need sociologists, soil biologists, agronomists, ethnographers, and even economists. Paying for their skills is the opportunity cost of spending precious dollars on imported fertilizer. Of course, agroecology is an entirely different paradigm than one in which technology is dropped into laps from foreign laboratories accompanied by a sheet of instructions. The programs require much more participatory education work, and much more investment in public goods, than the Malawian government and donors currently seem inclined to provide.

Agroecology is the third development vision battling for the future. In Malawi, it works. By growing cowpeas and groundnuts with maize — expanding the range of crops — Bezner Kerr’s program has beat the fertilizer program’s yield by 10 percent and increased nutrition outcomes too. Yet even agroecology has its limits. Fifteen percent of Malawians remain ultra poor, living on less than a dollar a day and unable to buy enough to eat. They tend to be people who are landless, or who have poor quality land and have to sell their labor at harvest time, just when they need it the most. They remain untouched by the Malawian miracle.

The future doesn’t look terribly promising for agroecology. Concerned about the financial sustainability of its fertilizer subsidy program, the Malawian government is about to embark on a Green Belt project, in which thousands of acres will be irrigated to induce foreign investors to begin large-scale farming of sugar cane and other export crops. The foreign exchange brought in by this program, it is hoped, will bankroll the fertilizer spending. The result will help balance the country’s current account, but as a consequence, thousands of smallholders are scheduled to be displaced to clear lands that will attract the kind of large-scale agriculture of which Collier would approve.

Particularly in the light of the new population projections for the 21st century, it seems foolish to stick to 20th century agricultural policy. Recall that the agroecological interventions in Malawi turned on women’s empowerment. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has famously argued that there are few policies better placed to improve individual, family, and community lives (and lower fertility rates) than education — particularly the education of women and girls. The prophesies presented to us by demographers vary widely — change the assumptions, and you end up with a world of between 8 billion and 15 billion people. No matter what the future holds, though, it’s clear that a world in which everyone gets to eat depends on women’s empowerment — and rather than treating that fact as something irrelevant to feeding the world, agroecology puts it right in the middle.

A great deal of past agriculture policy has been designed either economically to bomb villages in order to save them, or to administer a technological quick fix in order to postpone politics. Collier wants to get rid of peasants. New fads want to keep them, but keep them knee-deep in chemicals. Yet if we are serious about feeding the hungry, in Malawi or anywhere else, we need to recognize that the majority of the hungry are women, and that we need more public, not private, spending on those least able to command rural resources. Because when it comes to growing food, those who tend the land are anything but fools.