World Population Trends and Their Impact on Economic Development

By Dominick Salvatore | Go to book overview

5
Population Growth and Human Carrying Capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa

DENNIS J. MAHAR

Concern about the earth's ability to support growing populations on a sustainable basis has been widely expressed at least since the publication of Thomas Malthus' Essay on Population in 1798.* Dire Malthusian predictions still appear from time to time in books with provocative titles like The Limits to Growth and The Population Bomb, but there is a growing consensus that the global resource base is sufficient to support much larger populations than the 5 billion people who exist today (see, e.g., National Research Council, 1986; IBRD, 1986b). Bernard Gilland, for example, has estimated that even at a relatively high average daily per capita allowance of 9,000 calories of "plant energy" (including plants consumed indirectly through meat consumpti∯n), the earth has the capacity to support about 7.5 billion people ( Gilland, 1983). By applying Gilland's parameters regarding average crop yields and land area appropriate for food production to a more modest daily energy allowance of 6,000 calories per capita--about the present world average--one arrives at a sustainable maximum world population of some 11.4 billion. This latter number is higher than what is currently projected to be the world stationary population.

The rosy picture of the future painted above and in such publications as Julian Simon's The Ultimate Resource ( 1981), although reassuring, must provide precious little comfort to the estimated 730 million persons in the developing countries who do not consume enough calories each day to lead an active working life ( IBRD, 1986b). Although it may seem so at first glance, there is no inconsistency between the apparent abundance of food in the world and the widespread incidence of malnutrition. A recent World Bank study has concluded that a lack of purchasing power on the part of individuals, rather than an insufficient food supply, is the root cause of chronic malnutrition ( IBRD, 1986b). There are

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*
The author wishes to thank Neeta Sirur for her assistance with the preparation of this chapter. The views expressed are solely the author's and do not necessarily represent those of the World Bank.

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