Can We Feed 9 Billion People?

By Shlomo Maital

hunger  FAO Food Price

The new United Nations report on climate change * is very disturbing. It shows climate change is far worse than we had feared, with average temperatures liable to rise by as much as four full degrees, flooding coastal cities and creating turbulent weather.

   Today, in the New York Times, Eduardo Porter invokes the ghost of Thomas Malthus, who wrote two centuries ago that population growth would generate famine, starvation, plagues and war. It didn’t happen – yet. Could it?

   In case you haven’t noticed, the FAO global food price index rose from 100 in the year 2000 to 160 today, 2014. This is nearly as high as it was in 1970, when the world faced rapid food price inflation.  

   The IPCC report refutes the idea that climate change will help food production by making food-growing areas warmer. Apparently, faster photosynthesis caused by more carbon dioxide in the area helps weeds more than crops, while ozone and high temperatures actually reduces yields of major grains, according to the report.

   To feed over 9 billion people worldwide in 2050 will require 70 per cent more calories than the world consumes today. That’s a huge increase. Where will it come from? Or will we see growing numbers of hungry people?

   We’d better tackle the problem right now. Because, Malthus forecasted in 1800, hungry people go to war, desperately, to feed their kids. Especially when half the world overconsumes and grows obese, while half the world goes hungry. There must be a better way.

* U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC), report issued Monday.

* Eduardo Poter, “a forecast of famine, revisited”, International NYT April 3, p. 16.