The Imminent Food Shortage


Pregnant Pause Home Overpopulation


The Prediction

Population grows exponentially. That is, each generation is a little bigger than the generation before, and so more people have more children, and the next generation is bigger yet. Population grows faster and faster.

On the other hand, food production is limited by available farmland, water for irrigation, and so on, and so cannot grow without limit. Food production grows more and more slowly.

Therefore, it inevitably follows that as population continues to grow faster while food production grows more slowly, sooner or later population will outstrip food supply, and it just will not be possible to feed all the people. The logic is simple and irrefutable. Right?

Let's look at the facts.

The Reality

Here's a chart showing total world food production since 1961. The data comes from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO).

The FAO gives the amount of food produced as a relative index, where 2005 is 100%, so all other numbers are compared to 2005.

World Food Production
(2005=100)

(Sorry, you need HTML5 and Javascript to see the graph.)

Now you may say, sure, production is up, but world population is up also. Is food production even keeping pace with population?

Oh, perhaps I should have been clear: The FAO numbers are food production per person. The world is not only producting more food than ever before, we are producting more food per person than ever before.

How Is This Possible?

How is this possible? The answer is simple: agricultural technology. Farmers are getting smarter every day. They have better equipment, better fertilizer, improved crop strains, better land management, etc.

Again thanks to the FAO, here's how much food farmers produce per acre. Or being the FAO uses metric, they give the numbers in hectograms per hectare. I picked four crops that are commonly an important part of people's diets: maize (i.e. corn), potatoes, rice, and wheat.

Crop Yield
(hg/ha)

(Sorry, you need HTML5 and Javascript to see the graph.)

As you can see, production of all four of these crops, per acre, is steadily increasing. You'll see similar results if you look at other crops.

Given the continual upward push, there's no reason to believe that this is going to stop any time soon.

Well, but maybe we've reached the limits.

Probably not. Let's compare crop yields by continent.

Crop Yield by Contient
2014, hg/ha

(Sorry, you need HTML5 and Javascript to see the graph.)

Note that yields in North America and Oceania are notably higher than the rest of the world. Some of this may be because of climate, soil quality, and so on, but a lot of it is because these places use the most advanced and efficient farming techniques. It is likely that if the rest of the world adopted these practices, food production could boom without needing any new advances.

We are not in danger of running out of food. In large parts of the world today, the problem is that we have too much food and we harm our health by over-eating.


For those who prefer to see the raw numbers:

World Food Production
(2005=100)
Year Agricultural Production Livestock Production
196176.378.6
196277.279.3
196377.979.9
19647979.8
196579.181.4
196680.382.6
196781.583.8
196882.284.5
196980.984
197081.784
197182.184
197280.384.3
197382.983.4
19748285.1
197582.185.2
197682.485.7
197783.186.5
197885.287.4
197984.987.6
198083.688
198184.987.7
198286.287.5
198384.988.8
198487.889.5
198587.790
198687.690.8
19878790.9
198886.591.7
198987.991.4
199088.792.4
199187.691.9
199288.290.8
199387.590.6
199488.591.7
199588.992.6
199691.592.8
199791.792.8
199891.994
199993.695.1
200094.495.9
200194.795.6
200294.697
200396.297.8
200499.298.5
2005100100
2006100.8101.4
2007102.9103.2
2008105.5104.4
2009105104.6
2010106.4105.9
2011108.8106.1
2012108.7106.9
2013110.9106.5

World Crop Yield
(hg/ha)
Year Maize Potatoes Rice Wheat
1961194231221571869310889
1962197961143611895812060
1963203111227672056711320
1964199371310272102512413
1965212371266462035312151
1966220781312042078114079
1967242361384162174913392
1968228941432662232814534
1969242061346562254014174
1970235091434782380814941
1971265341371552361916245
1972268671340992324516046
1973272171528832452416836
1974255651412812425116155
1975281321362322518615701
1976283711431222450917911
1977296681465672571816724
1978315561520242684319328
1979338471549542659118522
1980315341280072748218554
1981349331425232827218800
1982360901414562980419992
1983294521416053136721258
1984352561558183226122201
1985372021528163257021719
1986362791581433244123213
1987348631554473265122900
1988310011483563329622926
1989361861535363454123732
1990369071510943528025626
1991369671458013534824396
1992390091513753585925373
1993362951650633628825389
1994412361502173658524474
1995380921558393659425144
1996422231667353785425761
1997414891618393818326986
1998443621599833818227040
1999442471522243896527506
2000432441630943887427187
2001447561579723944527571
2002438551650543867726922
2003445821646383950826822
2004494371747304034929174
2005481931688534091228557
2006481621666474117528505
2007498961735764234228228
2008510561814444294930874
2009517121790824344030389
2010519291788594340229725
2011517841941024434831645
2012488961906344517430700
2013546481939934499632603
2014561571998514556933074

Source: United Nations Food and Agriculture Association. "Statistics". http://www.fao.org/statistics/en/

Photo © Photowg | Dreamstime.com - Famine Sculptures, Dublin, Ireland. Photo


Pregnant Pause Home Overpopulation

Posted Feb 13, 2017

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