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Popul Bull. 1981 Sep;36(3):1-44.

World food resources and population: the narrowing margin.


This bulletin examines the narrowing margin between global food production and population growth. Between 1950 and 1971, world grain production nearly doubled and per capita production increased 31%. During the 1970s, gains in output barely kept pace with population growth, consumption/person declined in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia, food prices were volatile, and over 100 food deficit countries came to depend on the exportable surplus of North America, now the only major grain exporting region. The world fish catch levelled off in the early 1970s and beef production, still dependent mainly on grassland grazing, levelled off in the mid-1970s. With little new land left to plow, satisfying increased food demand now depends on sharp increases in yields on existing crop land. Worldwide, this effort is hampered by loss of topsoil and irrigated land, conversion of cropland to nonfarm uses, rising energy costs, inefficient agrarian structures, particularly in the Soviet Union, the falling yield response to chemical fertilizers in agriculturally advanced countries, and the emerging competition between food and agriculturally based energy crops. Green Revolution successes in some developing countries deomonstrate that, given the right inputs, 3rd world farmers can increase crop yields dramatically. Feeding the world's poor also requires more equitable income and food distribution, including a reduction in the proportion of grain and fish consumed indirectly as livestock products by the affluent. Most important in meeting food needs on a finite planet is braking population growth. The author concludes that every effort should be made to stabilize world production at abour 6 billion by 2020, rather than 10.5 billion by 2110, as is now projected by the UN.

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