Contents

2.1 Introduction

2.2 Past Perspectives

2.3 Present Perspectives

2.4 Future Perspectives.. References

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Hillel, a soil scientist, emphasizes the long-term damaging effects of poor soil management on sustainable production; and Evans, a plant physiologist, stresses the resilience of plants to changing conditions. But all four conclude on an optimistic note.

While noting that "hunger has probably been the lot of most people, in most places, at most times," Dyson concludes that by 2020 there will be rises in "food consumption per head in most regions" with Sub-Saharan Africa being the exception. Of Sub-Saharan Africa, his conclusion is that "demographic, socio-economic and political conditions ... may be so difficult that there will be little change." He might well have concluded that in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, it will be difficult to maintain the improving but still inadequate levels that prevailed in the early 1990s. Demographic, socioeconomic, and political conditions have continued to deteriorate in most Sub-Saharan countries.

Hillel says that "as an agricultural and environmental scientist, I am convinced that we have the essential knowledge and capability to manage soil and water efficiently enough to feed all of humanity even allowing for the unavoidable measure of expectable population growth."

Evans is a little more cautious. His book starts with the assumption that the world population will follow the high rate of increase of UN projections, and reach 10 billion before 2050 (Figure 2.1). In fact, since Evans completed his book, the rate of increase has been closer to the medium than the high variant. Evans adds that not only does global climate change pose a major threat, but also shortages of water and land resources, and the fact that "the genetic yield potentials of our staple crops may be approaching their limits, unless their capacity for photosynthesis and growth can be substantially improved." His final conclusion is that "[f]eeding the ten billion can be done, but to do so sustainably, in the face of climatic change, equitably in the face of social and regional inequalities, and in time when few seem concerned, remains one of humanity's greatest challenges."

Following a meeting at the Royal Society in England (Greenland et al., 1998) entitled "Land Resources: on the Edge

Total population (High) Total population (Medium) Total population (Low) Children per woman (High) Children per woman (Medium) Children per woman (Low)

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Figure 2.1 Total world population 1950-2050 (in billions), and average number of children per woman (total fertility rate). High, medium, and low variant, UN projections 1996. (From UN Population Division.)

Figure 2.1 Total world population 1950-2050 (in billions), and average number of children per woman (total fertility rate). High, medium, and low variant, UN projections 1996. (From UN Population Division.)

of the Malthusian Precipice?", the organizers of the meeting concluded, inter alia, "If all resources are harnessed and adequate measures taken to minimise soil degradation, sufficient food to feed the population in 2020 can be produced, and probably sufficient for a few billion more." They added, "Production increases will only be achieved in resource-poor countries as a result of increased understanding of the basic principles of crop production and sustainable land management. The necessary knowledge will only be gained through improved education at all levels of society, and by close and continued collaboration between scientists, extension workers, and farmers (male and female) in research and development activities."

Wild (2003) wrote that most developing countries have the potential to feed their growing populations if "water is available, the land is properly managed, inputs are used efficiently and crop varieties with higher yield potential are developed." Young (1999) drew attention to the inadequacy of current knowledge of land resources, as illustrated by the conclusion "and probably a few billion more" drawn from the Royal Society meeting. In Land Resources, Now and for the Future (Young, 1998), which is based on his own experience and knowledge of Malawi and other parts of Africa, Young stressed the need to observe and map where further productive land is to be found. He is very critical of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) data (Alexandratos, 1995), which are claimed to show that there is much "unused" land at present. Most of this is thought to be in Africa. Young may well be right, as Africa is the continent where food shortages are being most acutely felt at present. Much of the unused land is unused because it is difficult to manage sustainably without easy and economic access to the necessary inputs. And without security of tenure, all farmers are reluctant to invest in land.

Thus, the riders added to the conclusions of these books are sufficiently serious to make it doubtful whether there should be any complacency about future world food security, in spite of current surpluses in many developed countries.

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