Monday, January 30, 2006

Africa's hunger - a systemic crisis

BBC NEWS | Africa | Africa's hunger - a systemic crisis:

The sub-headline screams: More than half of Africa is now in need of urgent food assistance. It continues:
Unchecked population growth

'Sub-Saharan Africa 's population has grown faster than any region over the past 30 years, despite the millions of deaths from the Aids pandemic,' the UN Population Fund says.

A decline in soil quality makes land less productive
'Between 1975 and 2005, the population more than doubled, rising from 335 to 751 million, and is currently growing at a rate of 2.2% a year.'

In some parts of Africa land is plentiful, and this is not a problem. But in others it has had severe consequences.

It has forced farming families to subdivide their land time and again, leading to tiny plots or families moving onto unsuitable, overworked land.

In the highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea some land is now so degraded that there is little prospect that it will ever produce a descent harvest."
It is so rare that an article in any mainstream media states the obvious: that human overpopulation is a big problem. My hat is off to the BBC on this occasion.

The article concludes:
Some campaigners and academics argue that African farmers will only be able to properly feed their families and societies when Western goods stop flooding their markets.
BBC failed to note that some of these campaigners and academics are themselves African.

From 751 million today, at a steady 2.2 percent growth rate, the population will reach a billion and a half in 32 years.

What's the likelihood of a sustained 2.2 percent growth rate? If ever there was a time to read Garrett Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons", this might be the time. Here.


jj mollo said...

I read that TOTC in the Wilson Quarterly 20+ years ago. It's a famous and powerful explanation for the natural workings of self-destruction. It really opened my eyes to the force of mechanism in society's problems and blessings. Our job is to apply new mechanisms to wisely modify the way the system works.

Some people have used Hardin's ideas to justify libertarian ideas of ownership. I'm not of the same mind. I think it makes Henry George's land tax ideas look all the more sensible.

jj mollo said...

We are not going to solve Africa's problems without a clearer understanding of the role of population growth. I think that Jared Diamond's Collapse might be the better reference for this grim prospectus.