Food for Thought

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WASHINGTON: By 2025, say researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the world will be incapable of feeding its estimated 8 billion inhabitants. Unless we cut down the birth rate, writes author Don Hinrichsen, there simply won't be enough farm land to go around.

Sound familiar? Try this: "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce sustenence for man." Not Hinrichsen in 1997, but Thomas Robert Malthus in 1798. You might remember dreary Malthusian predictions from social science class if so, you'll also recall he was proved wrong. Fast-forward 200 years, and a bunch of researchers are trying to recycle the warning. Has anything changed?

A pessimist to the end, Malthus neglected human ingenuity crop rotation and refrigerated steamships got us out of the hole well before his starvation deadline. At least Hinrichsen's doomsaying is more cautious: Technological advances could feed an extra 2 billion mouths, he admits, but would require "decades of effort at the international, national and local levels."

So don't start hoarding those cans of beans just yet. After all, some 18 million people will starve across the world this year alone but it's politics, not agriculture, that's killing them.