This is guest post from Tony..
In 1968 Paul Erlich, an American biologist, wrote a book entitled The Population Bomb, in which he predicted large-scale human catastrophe as a consequence of overpopulation. Echoing his ideological predecessor Thomas Malthus, Erlich wrote:
The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s, the world will undergo famines. Hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. Population control is the only answer.
Of course those famines never eventuated. In fact, even though the world’s population has roughly doubled since 1968, food production has grown at an even faster rate, partly due to the technological advances associated with the transformation of agriculture known as the Green Revolution.
Now, in more good news (unless you’re an Erlichian-Malthusian), we learn that the availability of arable land world-wide is more than twice that which is currently being used. An article just published in New Scientist has the details:
Doom-mongers have got it wrong – there is enough space in the world to produce the extra food needed to feed a growing population. And contrary to expectation, most of it can be grown in Africa , say two international reports published this week.
The first, projecting 10 years into the future from last year’s food crisis, which saw the price of food soar, says that there is plenty of unused, fertile land available to grow more crops.
“Some 1.6 billion hectares could be added to the current 1.4 billion hectares of crop land [in the world], and over half of the additionally available land is found in Africa and Latin America,” concludes the report, compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
If further evidence were needed, it comes in a second report, launched jointly by the FAO and the World Bank. It concludes that 400 million hectares, straddling 25 African countries, are suitable for farming.
Models for producing new crop land already exist in Thailand , where land originally deemed agriculturally unpromising, due to irrigation problems and infertile soil, has been transformed into a cornucopia by smallholder farmers.
As in Thailand, future success will come by using agriculture to lift Africa’s smallholder farmers out of poverty, aided by strong government measures to guarantee their rights to land, say both reports.
Julian Simon would be pleased.