The Balance between Food and People Has Become Threatened `State of World' Report Calls for More Reliance on Family Planning Than Farming

By Brad Knickerbocker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 18, 1994 | Go to article overview

The Balance between Food and People Has Become Threatened `State of World' Report Calls for More Reliance on Family Planning Than Farming


Brad Knickerbocker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


AFTER decades of steady growth, the world's food supply is no longer keeping up with population increases. Production of meat, fish, and grains per person has slowed to the point where the earth may have reached its "carrying capacity," with the result that nearly one in five (or 1 billion people) is malnourished.

This is the sobering conclusion of the Worldwatch Institute's annual "State of the World" report, which was released over the weekend.

While solutions are to be found in many aspects of environmental and economic policy, as well as in some emerging technologies, the report's authors say the key is stabilizing population growth.

Not everyone accepts Worldwatch's somewhat Malthusian analysis, which is based on information gathered by national governments, United Nations organizations, and private researchers.

Ronald Baily, author of the 1993 book, "ECO-SCAM: The False Prophets of Ecological Apocalypse," calls it "a wonderful propaganda tool for apocalyptic environmentalism." Other conservative analysts and commentators denounce it as well.

But "State of the World," now in its 11th year and widely distributed among political and business leaders, enjoys considerable credibility and influence. Printed in 27 languages, it is used in about 1,000 university courses.

Vice-president Al Gore Jr.'s "Earth in the Balance" followed much the same line, as did the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (the "Earth Summit") in Rio de Janeiro.

The growth in annual food production peaked in the 1980s, according to data gathered by the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

Between 1989 and 1993, the fish catch per person dropped 7 percent. After peaking in 1984, per capita grain output by last year had fallen 11 percent. The picture on animal protein from grazing animals is less clear, but here too declines can be expected since the amount of rangeland per person is decreasing.

Overharvesting of oceans has become widespread. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported last year that all 17 major fishing areas around the world have reached or exceeded their natural limits with nine of those in serious decline.

Most of the increase in grain yields during the post-World War II era can be credited to fertilizers. The use of fertilizers climbed from 14 million tons annually to a peak of 146 million tons in 1989. …

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