Can we feed the world? Although the rate of increase is falling, the world’s population continues to grow at an explosive rate, doubling since the early 1960s. Fortunately, the quantity of food has increased even faster. The average human being in 2010 has 25 percent more food than in 1960 despite the huge increase in population. Although that’s an average figure, the proportion of humanity that is undernourished has also fallen. Extending and intensifying has improved our fate. But we have reached a point where not much more nature can be converted into farmland without serious negative impacts on other vital environmental services such as water catchments, carbon sequestrations, and conservation of biodiversity. A quarter of the world’s ice-free surface is already used for farming. So how can we increase food production to feed the increasing number of people as well as improve the nutrition of the millions who are still malnourished, especially in Africa? Pessimists regularly predict catastrophic food shortages. The specter of starvation can be traced back to the ideas of the English parson Thomas Malthus, who fretted about the population explosion he witnessed toward the end of the eighteenth century. A typical couple at the time had four children and sixteen grandchildren, which meant the population was growing exponentially. Malthus anxiously predicted a shortage of food, as he didn’t believe new farmland could be cleared fast enough to keep feeding all those extra mouths. Linear growth in the area under cultivation—and hence, the production of food—was the best that could be hoped for. Something would have to give, and Malthus was convinced that humanity would be stricken by genocidal war, plague, and other epidemics. Starvation on a massive scale would then restore the balance between population levels and food supply. Yet the catastrophe he predicted never came about. The world’s population continues to grow rapidly. Fortunately, the food supply has expanded even faster in most parts of the world. Overall, there is more than enough for all of us. The fact that shortages exist is a question of politics, communication, and knowledge transfer.

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