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October 24, 2011

It will not be a problem to feed 15 billion people

The UN has a new world population forecast out to 2100 The current world population of close to 7 billion is projected to reach 10.1 billion in the next ninety years, reaching 9.3 billion by the middle of this century, according to the medium variant of the 2010 Revision of World Population Prospects. The high projection variant, whose fertility is just half a child above that in the medium variant, produces a world population of 10.6 billion in 2050 and 15.8 billion in 2100. The low variant, whose fertility remains half a child below that of the medium, produces a population that reaches 8.1 billion in 2050 and declines towards the second half of this century to reach 6.2 billion in 2100.


The range of projections is relatively unchanged from last year, but reissued press releases and the statistical analysis that we are passing the milestone level of 7 billion people has caused fearful articles about inability to support that level of population.

Guardian UK - Why current population growth is costing us the earth

Guardian UK - Paul Ehrlich, a prophet of global population doom who is gloomier than ever. Population surge means there is only a 10% chance of avoiding a collapse of world civilisation, says professor.

Paul Ehrlich has been wrong predicting doom since his 1968 book The Population Bomb.

John McCarthy at Stanford has some information about how food, water and other human resources will be sustainable using current technology to sustain population levels of 15 billion people.




He looks at increasing agriculture and aquaculture yields.

Nextbigfuture has also looked at sustaining agriculture using current technology.

Agrimonde describes the findings of a huge five-year modeling exercise by the French national agricultural and development research agencies, INRA and CIRAD.
The French team began with a goal – 3000 calories per day for everyone, including 500 from animal sources – then ran a global food model repeatedly, with and without environmental limits on farming. The aim was to see how the calorie goal could be achieved. The model suggested that realistic yield increases could feed everyone, even as farms take measures to protect the environment, such as preserving forests or cutting down on the use of fossil fuels. The key will be to tailor detailed solutions to different regions.

"We found three main conditions," says Hervé Guyomard of INRA. "The biggest surprise was that some regions will depend even more on imports", even as their production rises. This, he says, means that we will need to find ways to counter excessive fluctuations in world prices so that imports are not hindered.

The world will have to make farming more productive but less dependent on harmful chemicals, curb food losses and waste, protect the environment and reduce agriculture's exposure to disastrous price swings

The Agrimonde study said that North Africa and the Middle East, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, all with fast-growing populations today, will be heavily dependent on imported food in 2050

Under a business-as-usual scenario, all regions in the world would enjoy strong economic growth, invest heavily in research, innovation, education, health and infrastructure. But, under this scenario, there is not a high priority to the environment, with resulting damage to ecosystems.

Under the second scenario, environmental integrity is a key factor.

To achieve this goal in sustainability, rich countries in particular would have to reduce excessive consumption that leads to obesity and tackle loss and waste in food distribution and use that today runs at around 25 percent of production.

Agriculture everywhere would have to be more economical in fossil fuels and make less use of chemicals.

Genetic manipulation of plants to boost yields would be necessary. However, smarter ways of traditional cross-breeding are emerging as good alternatives to genetic engineering, which is a hot political issue in many countries, he said.

There would have to be changes in trade rules so that the food supply line to importing countries becomes stronger and more resilient, thus easing the price shocks that hit producer or customer.

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