Chapter Two NSSM 200, Pages 87-93


Rapid population growth and lagging food production in developing countries, together with the sharp deterioration in the global food situation in 1972 and 1973, have raised serious concerns about the ability of the world to feed itself adequately over the next quarter century and beyond.

As a result of population growth, and to some extent also of increasing affluence, world food demand has been growing at unprecedented rates. In 1900, the annual increase in world demand for cereals was about 4 million tons. By 1950, it had risen to about 12 million tons per year. By 1970, the annual increase in demand was 30 million tons (on a base of over 1,200 million tons). This is roughly equivalent to the annual wheat crop of Canada, Australia, and Argentina combined. This annual increase in food demand is made up of a 2 % annual increase in population and a 0.5 % increased demand per capita. Part of the rising per capita demand reflects improvement in diets of some of the peoples of the developing countries. In the less developed countries about 400 pounds of grain is available per person per year and is mostly eaten as cereal. The average North American, however, uses nearly a ton of grain a year, only 200 pounds directly and the rest in the form of meat, milk, and eggs for which several pounds of cereal are required to produce one pound of the animal product (e.g., five pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef).

During the past two decades, LDCs have been able to keep food production ahead of population, notwithstanding the unprecedentedly high rates of population growth. The basic figures are sum- marized in the following table: [calculated from data in USDA, The World Agricultural Situation, March 1974]:


              (excluding Peoples Republic of China)




       |        Food        |        Food        |          Food          |

       |     production     |     production     |       production       |

       |                    |                    |                        |

       | Popu-        Per   | Popu-        Per   | Popu-        Per       |

       |lation Total  Capita|lation Total  Capita|lation Total  Capita    |


| 1954 |  100    100    100 |  100    100    100 |  100   100    100      |

| 1973 |  144    170    119 |  124    170    138 |  159   171    107      |

|      |                                                                  |

| Compound Annual Increase (%):                                           |

|      |  1.9    2.8    0.9 |  1.1    2.8    1.7 |  2.5   2.9    0.4      |



It will be noted that the relative gain in LDC total food production was just as great as for advanced countries, but was far less on a per capita basis because of the sharp difference in population growth rates. Moreover, within the LDC group were 24 countries (including Indonesia, Nigeria, the Philippines, Zaire, Algeria, Guyana, Iraq, and Chile) in which the rate of increase of population growth exceeded the rate of increase in food production; and a much more populous group (including India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) in which the rate of increase in production barely exceeded population growth but did not keep up with the increase in domestic demand. [World Food Conference, Preliminary Assessment, 8 May 1974; U.N. Document E/CONF. 65/PREP/6, p. 33.]

General requirements have been projected for the years 1985 and 2000, based on the UN Medium Variant population estimates and allowing for a very small improvement in diets in the LDCs.

A recent projection made by the Department of Agriculture indicates a potential productive capacity more than adequate to meet world cereal requirements (the staple food of the world) of a population of 6.4 billion in the year 2000 (medium fertility variant) at roughly current relative prices.

This overall picture offers little cause for complacency when broken down by geographic regions. To support only a very modest improvement in current cereal consumption levels (from 177 kilograms per capita in 1970 to 200-206 kilograms in 2000) the projections show an alarming increase in LDC dependency on imports. Such imports are projected to rise from 21.4 million tons in 1970 to 102-122 million tons by the end of the century. Cereal imports would increase to 13-15 percent of total developing country consumption as against 8 percent in 1970. As a group, the advanced countries cannot only meet their own needs but will also generate a substantial surplus. For the LDCs, analyses of food production capacity foresee the physical possibility of meeting their needs, provided that (a) weather conditions are normal, (b) yields per unit of area continue to improve at the rates of the last decade, bringing the average by 1985 close to present yields in the advanced countries, and (c) a substantially larger annual transfer of grains can be arranged from the surplus countries (mainly North America), either through commercial sales or through continuous and growing food aid. The estimates of production capacity do not rely on major new technical breakthroughs in food production methods, but they do require the availability and application of greatly increased quantities of fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation water, and other inputs to modernized agriculture, together with continued technological advances at past rates and the institutional and administrative reforms (including vastly expanded research and extension services) essential to the successful application of these inputs. They also assume normal weather conditions. Substantial political will is required in the LDCs to give the necessary priority to food production.

There is great uncertainty whether the conditions for achieving food balance in the LDCs can in fact be realized.

Climatic changes are poorly understood, but a persistent atmospheric cooling trend since 1940 has been established. One respectable body of scientific opinion believes that this portends a period of much wider annual frosts, and possibly a long-term lowering of rainfall in the monsoon areas of Asia and Africa. Nitrogen fertilizer will be in world short supply into the late 1970s, at least; because of higher energy prices, it may also be more costly in real terms than in the 1960s. Capital investments for irrigation and infrastructure and the organizational requirements for securing continuous improvements in agricultural yields may well be beyond the financial and administrative capacity of many LDCs. For some of the areas under heaviest population pressure, there is little or no prospect for foreign exchange earnings to cover constantly increasing imports of food.

While it is always unwise to project the recent past into the long-term future, the experience of 1972-73 is very sobering. The coincidence of adverse weather in many regions in 1972 brought per capita production in the LDCs back to the level of the early 1960s. At the same time, world food reserves (mainly American) were almost exhausted, and they were not rebuilt during the high production year of 1973. A repetition under these conditions of 1972 weather patterns would result in large-scale famine of a kind not experienced for several decades a kind the world thought had been permanently banished.

Even if massive famine can be averted, the most optimistic forecasts of food production potential in the more populous LDCs show little improvement in the presently inadequate levels and quality of nutrition. As long as annual population growth continues at 2 to 3 percent or more, LDCs must make expanded food production the top development priority, even though it may absorb a large fraction of available capital and foreign exchange.

Moderation of population growth rates in the LDCs could make some difference to food requirements by 1985, a substantial difference by 2000, and a vast difference in the early part of the next century. From the viewpoint of U.S. interests, such reductions in LDC food needs would be clearly advantageous. They would not reduce American commercial markets for food since the reduction in LDC food requirements that would result from slowing population growth would affect only requests for concessional or grant food assistance, not commercial sales. They would improve the prospects for maintaining adequate world food reserves against climatic emergencies. They would reduce the likelihood of periodic famines in region after region, accompanied by food riots and chronic social and political instability. They would improve the possibilities for long-term development and integration into a peaceful world order.

Even taking the most optimistic view of the theoretical possibilities of producing enough foods in the developed countries to meet the requirements of the developing countries, the problem of increased costs to the LDCs is already extremely serious and in its future may be insurmountable. At current prices the anticipated import requirements of 102-122 million tons by 2000 would raise the cost of developing countries' imports of cereals to $16-20 [At $160.00 per ton] billion by that year compared with $2.5 billion in 1970. Large as they may seem even these estimates of import requirements could be on the low side if the developing countries are unable to achieve the Department of Agriculture's assumed increase in the rate of growth of production.

The FAO in its recent "Preliminary Assessment of the World Food Situation Present and Future" has reached a similar conclusion:

What is certain is the enormity of the food import bill which might face the developing countries . . . In addition [to cereals] the developing countries . . . would be importing substantial amounts of other foodstuffs. clearly the financing of international food trade on this scale would raise very grave problems.

At least three-quarters of the projected increase in cereal imports of developing countries would fall in the poorer countries of South Asia and North and Central Africa. The situation in Latin America which is projected to shift from a modest surplus to a modest deficit area is quite different. Most of this deficit will be in Mexico and Central America, with relatively high income and easily exploitable transportation links to the U.S. The problem in Latin America, therefore, appears relatively more manageable.

It seems highly unlikely, however, that the poorer countries of Asia and Africa will be able to finance nearly like the level of import requirements projected by the USDA. Few of them have dynamic export-oriented industrial sectors like Taiwan or South Korea or rich raw material resources that will generate export earnings fast enough to keep pace with food import needs. Accordingly, those countries where large-scale hunger and malnutrition are already present face the bleak prospect of little, if any, improvement in the food intake in the years ahead barring a major foreign financial food aid program, more rapid expansion of domestic food production, reduced population growth or some combination of all three. Worse yet, a series of crop disasters could transform some of them into classic Malthusian cases with famines involving millions of people.

While foreign assistance probably will continue to be forthcoming to meet short-term emergency situations like the threat of mass starvation, it is more questionable whether aid donor countries will be prepared to provide the sort of massive food aid called for by the import projections on a long-term continuing basis.

Reduced population growth rates clearly could bring significant relief over the longer term. Some analysts maintain that for the post-1985 period a rapid decline in fertility will be crucial to adequate diets worldwide. If, as noted before, fertility in the developing countries could be made to decline to the replacement level by the year 2000, the world's population in that year would be 5.9 billion or 500 million below the level that would be attained if the UN medium projection were followed. Nearly all of the decline would be in the LDCs. With such a reduction the projected import gap of 102-122 million tons per year could be eliminated while still permitting a modest improvement in per capita consumption. While such a rapid reduction in fertility rates in the next 30 years is an optimistic target, it is thought by some experts that it could be obtained by intensified efforts if its necessity were understood by world and national leaders. Even more modest reductions could have significant implications by 2000 and even more over time.

Intensive programs to increase food production in developing countries beyond the levels assumed in the U.S.D.A. projections probably offer the best prospect for some reasonably early relief, although this poses major technical and organizational difficulties and will involve substantial costs. It must be realized, however, that this will be difficult in all countries and probably impossible in some or many. Even with the introduction of new inputs and techniques it has not been possible to increase agricultural output by as much as 3 percent per annum in many of the poorer developing countries. Population growth in a number of these countries exceeds that rate.

Such a program of increased food production would require the widespread use of improved seed varieties, increased applications of chemical fertilizers and pesticides over vast areas and better farm management along with bringing new land under cultivation. It has been estimated, for example, that with better varieties, pest control, and the application of fertilizer on the Japanese scale, Indian rice yields could theoretically at least, be raised two and one-half times current levels. Here again very substantial foreign assistance for imported materials may be required for at least the early years before the program begins to take hold.

The problem is clear. The solutions, or at least the directions we must travel to reach them are also generally agreed. What will be required is a genuine commitment to a set of policies that will lead the international community, both developed and developing countries, to the achievement of the objectives spelled out above.

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