Kenneth R. Weiss. 22 July 2012. As the world’s population grows, hunger persists on a massive scale. Nearly 1 billion people are malnourished, and a child dies of hunger every 11 seconds. Los Angeles Times series “Beyond 7 billion”.
Around the world, population is rising most rapidly in places where life is most precarious. Across Africa and in parts of South Asia and Latin America, hundreds of millions of people live on the edge of starvation. A drought, flood or outbreak of violence can push them over the brink. Many end up on the march, crossing borders in search of relief. Some arrive in places like Dadaab, famished and desperately ill. Millions more are displaced within their own countries.
It has been four decades since advances in agriculture known as the Green Revolution seemed to promise relief from mass suffering. Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for helping to develop high-yield, disease-resistant varieties of wheat and other grains, making it possible to triple harvests around the world.
Mankind finally seemed to be gaining ground on its longtime nemesis: pervasive hunger.
Yet Borlaug cautioned against hubris: “The frightening power of human reproduction must also be curbed,” he said. “Otherwise, the success of the Green Revolution will be ephemeral only.”
Today, with nearly twice as many people on the planet, his words seem sadly prescient. Nearly 1 billion people are malnourished, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. At least 8 million die every year of hunger-related diarrhea, pneumonia and other illnesses — more than succumb to AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
By mid-century, global food production could simply be insufficient. There will be at least 2 billion more mouths to feed, and an expanding middle class will consume more grain-fed beef, pork and other meats.
Jonathan Foley, a University of Minnesota climatologist, asks “How will we feed 9 billion people without destroying the planet?” Carving large new tracts of farmland out of the world’s remaining forests and grasslands would destroy wildlife and unleash climate-warming gases now locked in soils and vegetation.
Rivers and aquifers are running dry, and heat waves and droughts associated with global warming are withering crops. Pests and diseases thought to have been vanquished are bedeviling farmers again, often in more virulent forms.Most of Earth’s best farmland is already under cultivation, and prime acreage is being lost every year to expanding cities and deserts, contamination from agricultural chemicals and other causes.