Food is a basic need and it must be satisfied for a person to stay alive. Adequate food supplies are therefore required for the human population to keep flourishing. For centuries, the food produced has been able to satisfy the demands of the global human community. However, the past century has witnessed significant increases in human population that have forced food production to be increased substantially. While the food output has been able to satisfy the current population size, its ability to do that in the distance future is in question since the human population is projected to increase at a rate that is faster than that of food production. In addition to this, other factors such as climatic changes threaten future outputs. Global food security is therefore a major concern for humankind at the present. This had led to questions being raised on whether mass starvation is a real threat for humans. This paper will argue that mass starvation is a real danger for humans and unless radical steps are taken, this catastrophic outcome will be unavoidable. The paper will then proceed to offer some steps that can be taken to avoid the mass starvation catastrophe.
The Current Situation
Today, the world’s supply of food is more than enough to feed the entire human population since the increasing demand for food has been countered by a higher increase in food production. The millions of people who starve each year do so since they cannot access the food mostly due to poverty. This statement is confirmed by The World Food Program (2012) report documenting that 98% of the people suffering from hunger and starvation are from developing countries. However, the future promises to unleash a situation whereby the demand for food will outstrip the global food supply making it impossible for the food production system to feed the entire human population. There is doubt concerning the ability of Earth to provide a future world population with sufficient food and water resources. This doubt is fueled by a number of factors that point to a future where mass starvation will be a reality.
Mass Starvation: a Real Danger
The rising human population is the greatest threat to the food security of the world. As the population increases, the food output has to increase in order to feed everybody. At the current rate of growth, the world’s food resources will be unable to supply for the entire population in only two decades. Gregory (1999) presents the population growth problem as one of the classic examples of exponential growth. The population increases by a given percentage each year that means that the number of increase is greater with each progressive year. At the current rate of growth, the food market will be overwhelmed and mass starvation will occur.
The additional land required to support increased farming activities to support the growing population is unavailable. Due to the increase in world population, the availability of land for agriculture is on the decline (Spiertz & Ewert, 2009). Farmland is being used to house people and this has a negative impact on food productivity. As the world population continues to rise, it can be expected that even more farming land will be used for settlement. This will reduce the food production capacity of the world with dire consequences for humanity.
Current trends suggest that the land and water resources available will not be able to meet the food demands for humans and animals into the distant future. Rotmans and de Vries (1997) explain that the rising population will necessitate an increase in the area of land used for cultivation and this will lead to erosion. Since higher yields per hectare will be desirable, more fertilizer will be used and this will lead to greater pollution of the water supply. On the other hand, the water requirements of cultivation will lead to a depletion of the available resources and the water table will move even lower. The growing water shortages have already led to the reduction in cereal productivity growth in many developing countries (Rosegrant, 2001). As demand for food increases, more the already limited water resources will be depleted.
Food is already becoming scarce as demand for it increases. Proof of this can be seen from the high food prices that have been experienced over the last decades Brown (2010) reports that between 2006 and 2008 alone, the prices of grains (rice, corn, wheat and soybeans) almost tripled. Even after this period, the prices have only managed to recede slightly. Many countries are at the present unable to feed their own populations and they have relied on huge imports from other countries. Some of these large-scale importers have resorted to long term leasing or buying of large blocks of land from countries that have good land resources. Brown (2010) reveals that the countries that are selling or leasing their land to others are often low-income countries. These countries themselves lack the capacity to feed their own populations. For example, Sudan provides Saudi Arabia with most of its grain supplies in spite of the fact that Sudan is the site of the “World Food Programme’s largest famine relief effort”. The trend towards food shortage can only be expected to go on as the population increases and the water and land resources are depleted by humankind.
Demand for additional food in previous decades was satisfied by converting more land for agricultural use and therefore increasing the food output. Such a move might be unfeasible today as the land resources are exhausted. The alternative is therefore to increase the yield on the available land. Rosegrant et al. (2001) observe that greater crop yields from a given hectare of land are necessary to serve the increased demand since new agricultural land is not available. However, increases in yield are almost reaching a threshold and crop research has not significantly increased cereal yields in the past decade. The environmental conditions place a limit on food production capacity of the globe. Soil erosion, lowering of the water table and increased levels of carbon are causing a loss of cropland and reducing the output of the available land. Brown (2010) observes that the productivity of 30% of the world’s cropland has been lowered by soil erosion.
Unpredictable climate changes will also lead to a decrease in food production, which will cause mass starvation as outputs in farmlands decreases. The earth’s temperature is on the rise due to the excess accumulation of Green House Gases. The effects of this global warming phenomenon have mostly been negative with incidents of hurricanes, floods, and droughts increasing (Lal, 2010). The climate change being experienced has also led to the melting of the polar caps at the North and South poles. This has led to an increase in the volume of the ocean and the flooding of some coastal lands. Global warming is having a negative impact on agricultural output with each increase reducing productivity in the main grain-producing areas. The yield of some grains is therefore reducing in spite of the fact that the demand for grain is on the increase.
The energy needs of the world will also reduce the amount of food available as food resources are utilized to supply the world’s energy needs. In an attempt to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, a number of Western countries have started using biofuels and this has had a strong impact on the availability of grains for food. Spiertz and Ewert (2009) project that the food security problem will only worsen as “biomass production will compete with food crops for arable land and scarce fresh water resources” (p.290).
The role of soil in food production is vital and it is required for farming. As a natural resource, the nutrients of soil can be depleted and in the short term, it is not renewable. Oldeman (1999) notes that efforts to reclaim or improve soil, once it has been degraded, are very expensive. As soil becomes degraded, its food producing capacity is reduced. There is a link between the stagnant output of grain products and soil degradation all over the world. Oldeman (1999) observes that while the world grain production was able to double between 1960 and 1990, “the aggregate cereal output started to decline after 1982 mainly s a result of a negative nutrient balance in most non-irrigated dry-lands in developing countries” (p.5). The degradation of the soil has been progressing even more over the last decade. Poor agricultural practices such as shortened fallow-periods and destruction of natural cover have compromised soil integrity by encouraging the loss of the fertile topsoil through erosion. Lal (2010) highlights the gravity of the situation by noting that if soils are not restored, “crops will fail even if rains do not; hunger will perpetuate even with emphasis on biotechnology and genetically modified crops” (p.13).
How to Avoid Mass Starvation
The above arguments have shown that the danger of mass starvation is primarily going to be caused by the exponential growth of human population. As the number of people on earth is growing, it will be impossible for the basic human need of food to be satisfied. Controlling human population is therefore the primary means though which mass starvation can be averted. Many scientists agree that a reduction in world population growth may be necessary to avert serious food shortages in future. Gregory (1999) notes that if humans do not come up with a way to curb the population growth, the mass starvation predicted will be inevitable.
A change in the eating habits of people will also help to avoid mass starvation. The world is already struggling to feed all its people and the incidents of starvation and chronic food insecurity are on the rise. The shift to a meat intensive diet puts a further strain on the fragile food resources of the world. A reduction in meat consumption would have a positive impact on the food availability worldwide. The past 3 decades have witnessed a spectacular rise in meat production and consumption and this has had an impact on food supply. Rosegrant (2001) observes that livestock consume a significant share of cereal production therefore necessitating an increase in cereal production in order to provide for the demand. Research indicates that “a plant-based diet required roughly one-fourth as much energy as a diet rich in red meat” (Brown, 2010, p.32). Shifting to plant-based diets will therefore reduce the pressure that the current meat-intensive diet is putting on earth’s land and water resources.
Efforts should be taken to ensure that all grain crops are used primarily for human or animal consumption. The world grain harvest is already finding it hard to expand fast enough to keep pace with the food demands as the human population rises. Additional demand for grain by fuel distilleries will make it impossible for the world grain harvest to supply for the food demands and this will lead to starvation by many. As it currently stands, grain is used in the production of ethanol to fuel automobiles. Brown (2009) notes that in the US, 20% of the entire grain harvest is used to produce ethanol. As more grain harvests go to ethanol distilleries, the food market will face a deficit (Spiertz and Ewert, 2009).
Vegetable oil in the European Union is being used to produce biodiesel. To meet its goal of obtaining 10% of its fuel from plant-based sources, the EU is importing vegetable oil from countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. This trend is leading to the clearing of forests and farmlands for oil pal plantations. Governments should stop producing crop-based fuels and invest in alternative forms of energy. Food and energy economies should be kept separate and the use of grains to fuel cars should be done away with. Failure to this, a significant amount of food resources will be used to produce fuel with dire consequences for many people.
The hope for coming up with new productive land are not there. Expansion of food supply therefore needs to come from other areas such as developing higher-yielding varieties of all food crops. Increasing crop yield is a matter of urgency since crop yields have remained at the same level for the past 20 years (Lal, 2010). If the situation remains the same, the food supply will quickly be outpaced by the demand. Idso (2011) argues that spectacular advances in agricultural technology will be required if the necessary increase in food production is to be made in the future. However, these discoveries will require enormous investments in research by governments all over the world. Many governments have already invested in the development of high yield varies of most grains. Breeding of crops that are tolerant to drought and cold is one way through which yields can be raised dramatically. Such a move would ensure that arid countries that receive inadequate rainfall are able to produce significant crop yields.
Water scarcity is one of the conditions that might cause mass starvation since crops require significant amounts of water that is supplied through irrigation. Increases in use of water over the coming decades will be neither feasible nor desirable. Increasing irrigation efficiency will ensure that future water productivity is guaranteed hence prevent the mass starvation predicted. The type of irrigation system employed influences the water efficiency. Surface water irrigation is the most inefficient with over 50% of the water being lost. Utilizing more irrigation efficient technologies will help to reduce the usage of water and therefore ensure its sustainable use. This will assure the world’s future food security.
Improving soil quality is integral to the future food security of the growth. This can be achieved by engaging in practices such as intercropping which nourish the land even as food is produced. Cover crops can also be used to prevent soil erosion and therefore maintain the quality of the soil. Lal (2010) states that even with innovative technology to reclaim land and restore soil quality, judicious soil management remains to be the most effective means of ensuring soil sustainability. Conserving natural habitats will also assist in ensuring future sustainability. Lal (1999) proposes that production from existing farmlands should be increased in order to decrease the need for additional deforestation in order to create more land for farming.
This paper set out to argue that mass starvation is a real danger for humanity. It then proceeded to offer actions that can be taken to avert this sad future. It began by reaffirming that the ability of the planet to provide a future world population with sufficient food and water resources is unguaranteed. This paper has suggested that the world is doomed to suffer from mass starvation if the population continues to grow at the same rate and no major changes are made in the agricultural policies currently employed by governments all over the world. It demonstrated that the current food insecurities and climate changes, if allowed to continue, would lead to mass starvation. A number of solutions have been offered including curbing human population, making good use of the water resources, changing eating habits, and good soil management will deter the mass starvation danger. This will ensure that human civilization continues to flourish for centuries to come.
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