Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Overpopulation and Underdevelopment

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Overpopulation and Underdevelopment

Article excerpt

After a critical review of definitions of overpopulation, a definition based on the average daily animal protein intake per capita in a country is proposed. On the basis of this definition, approx. 75 percent of the world's population live in overpopulated countries. It is shown that increases in agricultural production and in food and feed imports will not suffice to solve the overpopulation problem of the developing countries, and that a reduction of population after zero population growth has been achieved is necessary. Ecological aspects of the population-food supply problem are briefly reviewed.

Key Words: Overpopulation; Dietary patterns; Cereal production; International trade in cereals; Nitrogen fertilizer.

It is a truism to say that a country is overpopulated when its population exceeds the optimum, but there is no way of determining the optimum. Many believe that overpopulation is related to a high population density, but it is obvious that this is not the case. The Republic of Singapore has a population density of 6600 inhabitants per square kilometer, 130 times the world average density, but no one has asserted that Singapore is overpopulated. The population density on Manhattan, the most densely populated county of the United States, was 27000 persons per square kilometer in 2007, but population density in an urban area is a different matter to population density in a sovereign state. The crucial difference is that a sovereign state has the right to limit or prohibit immigration, emigration, import and export.

It is plausible to hold that a country is overpopulated if it has a net emigration, but this definition is untenable. Net emigration can be the result of oppression or persecution, but even if the cause is economic, it does not necessarily indicate overpopulation. A country does not become overpopulated simply because another country with a higher living standard offers employment opportunities to immigrants.

A high percentage of unemployed is not a sign of overpopulation, although it may be connected with a high rate of population growth and inadequate capital investment. A cultivated area per agricultural worker that does not yield an average income per worker at least equal to the average in the non-agricultural sectors is a sign of overpopulation in the agricultural sector, but not necessarily in the country as a whole. The problem can be ameliorated by economic growth. As society becomes wealthier, the percentage of the labor force in agriculture declines and the size of agricultural holdings increases. However, there are few countries in which incomes in the agricultural sector equal those in the non-agricultural sectors, and governments of affluent countries resort to palliatives such as farm price support.


Overpopulation can be defined in relation to a country's ability to feed its inhabitants. If a country's agriculture and fisheries, together with its food and feed imports, are insufficient to provide a satisfactory average diet, the country in question should be considered as overpopulated. Nutritionists who have stated their view of what constitutes a satisfactory average diet agree that it includes 40 grams of animal protein (from meat, dairy products, eggs and marine products) per capita per day. In 2003, the average daily consumption of animal protein was 57 grams in the developed countries and 22 grams in the developing countries, giving a global average of 29 grams1. However, consumption of vegetal protein was nearly the same: 44 grams per capita per day in the developed countries, and 47 grams in the developing countries.

A diet that provides 40 grams animal protein typically provides about 3000 kilocalories per day, of which animal products account for almost 700 kcal. As a global average, this diet requires a cereal consumption of over 400 kilograms per capita per year, of which almost half is livestock feed. Cereal production per capita is over 700 kg in the developed countries and 260 kg in the developing countries. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.