Worldwide, population is expected to reach eight billion by 2025. In addition to the incredible strain this puts on the world’s ecosystems and natural resource stores, it also presents monumental challenges in the areas of food availability and nutrition. The World Health Organization estimates that 850 million people globally are under or malnourished, and approximately 18 million people die each year from starvation and disease associated with poor nutrition.
Although global overpopulation and world hunger can be considered as two separate issues, it would be improbable to think we can adequately solve the problem of world hunger without also addressing the contributing population issues. How do we overcome barriers to lowering birth rates when such obstacles as culture, religion, government and poverty are involved? To further complicate the matter, current challenges may not be so much due to food availability as they are of logistics. How do we get available food to the people who need it, and how will they pay for it when we do?
Although population growth has stopped or significantly declined in many of the more-developed countries (MDCs), in most less-developed countries (LDCs) it is still rising exponentially. To illustrate, the average population growth rate in MDCs is 0.1%, compared to 1.8% in the LDCs, and the doubling times – the amount of time it will take for the current populations to double in size – are 700 years compared to 47 years respectively. Since global population growth is the result of birth rate minus death rate, the obvious solution is to lower birth rates.
Lowering birth rates can be accomplished via two strategies: having fewer children per woman, and postponing childbearing until later in life. Neither of these is likely to occur in LDCs, however, until we first find a way to sustainably develop these nations. Sustainable development will raise their standard of living in a manner which will also provide for future generations. In addition, it tends to raise the status and education levels of women. History has shown that when this happens, both the aforementioned goals are realized. It will also result in families having higher household incomes, allowing them to purchase more of the essential items they need, including food. Sustainable development will not occur, however, without a vast amount of assistance from the MDCs and a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources.
Specifically, the MDCs can help accomplish this in four areas. 1) Funding sex education at various levels, beginning at an early age, 2) Make family planning services and birth control readily available at no cost, 3) Underwriting education costs, especially for females, and finally 4) Making long-term commitments of money, resources and technology as needed to assist in the sustainable development of overpopulated regions.
Even once we are able to lower birth rates as needed to stabilize the global population, we will still be left with the issue of how to feed all these people. Sustainable development, as described above, will help, but we will likely still be left with food shortages in many parts of the globe. Filling in these gaps will be every bit as challenging as stabilizing populations, and must be tackled from a variety of directions, employing a wide assortment of methods.
To begin with, we need to protect our soil resources around the globe by implementing measures to prevent erosion, over cultivation, and loss to nonagricultural development. When possible we must also reclaim farmland and find ways to improve the soils in marginal areas so that they can once again become valuable contributors to food production. Improvements in technology can offer assistance through better fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation methods, and development of crops with higher yields. Additionally, we need to develop better storage methods and distribution channels in order to get the food we do have to those who need it most. And finally, we need to reach out beyond our comfort zones to find and develop new, untraditional foods that provide high levels of nutrients and proteins and can be cultivated at a cost affordable to the masses.
Each of the tasks mentioned above, although edited into a few simple paragraphs, presents a challenge in and of itself. It will not be without the full support and commitment of the world’s most powerful and affluent nations working together toward this common goal that they can be accomplished. Understandably, it will take time. However, time is of the essence, as even in the time it has taken me to commit these few words to paper, more than 9,000 additional people have died of starvation or disease associated with poor nutrition.
Chiras, D. D. & Reganold, J. P. (2010). Natural Resource Conservation (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.