The circles of life (4) Crowded house crowded field
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CTA. 1999. The circles of life (4) Crowded house crowded field. Spore 2000 (Supplement to Spore 84). CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/46628
The circles of life (4) Crowded house crowded fieldDo not be alarmed, but there are Limits to Growth. Some say that the sky is the limit (and, yes, we know, women hold half the sky). As a species, we shall grow, from our current 6 billion to closer...
Do not be alarmed, but there are Limits to Growth. Some say that the sky is the limit (and, yes, we know, women hold half the sky). As a species, we shall grow, from our current 6 billion to closer to 10 billion by 2050. Much talk about population increases is alarmist, and more often than not it comes from those quarters that see their position of relative privilege coming under threat from the growth in our numbers. What is important is to understand what changes can be expected in population, and what this means in terms of demand for food and, to mention but two finite resources, water and land. Most wise people know that the rate of population growth is strongly affected by poverty, by wealth and welfare, and by the distribution of income and opportunity. There is talk of galloping population growth, as if it were an animal racing across the landscape, but we can already see that it is slowing down. Forecasting the future is an uncertain science, and anyone who dares predict what our population, or land use, or water consumption, or food production will be by any given date is exposed to derision, often because statistics in the past have been unreliable. Take the population of Nigeria, for example, where the latest estimates based on painstaking figures show a total of 95 million, compared with estimates of more than 110 million a decade ago. But the precision with which the United Nations forecast that the world s population would reach 6 billion by the year 2000 suggests that population predictions are becoming reliable. The population of Africa was approaching 800 million at the turn of the century, when the annual rate of increase was 2.6%. It will almost double by 2020 and exceed 2 billion by 2050, when the annual growth rate will have fallen to about 1%. This increase, which is greater than increases in the Caribbean and Pacific, is partly due to remarkable rises in life expectancy, themselves due to a web of improvements in health, education, and nutrition. It also takes into account recent predictions about the savage impacts of AIDS. The slowdown in population growth in Africa will come, the United Nations has predicted in a remarkable turn of events, mainly from a drop in fertility rates. These have been the most difficult to forecast in the past, but experience in recent decades shows that the number of children born per woman drops as urbanisation, literacy, and good health spread. This land is your land? So, there is some reassurance that there are limits to population growth. There are other limits, those to the amount of land and water available for increasing food production. At one extreme, the high population densities in the Great Lakes region of central Africa, particularly in Burundi and Rwanda, already exceed what is widely accepted as the carrying capacity of the land. On the other hand, Africa is often described as the empty continent. Some estimates suggest that almost half of sub-Saharan African farmland is affected by soil degradation and erosion and that four-fifths of the ranges and pasture are degraded all reasons for drastic steps to replenish soil and protect the environment. The process of land expansion under way in virtually every country no doubt increases the area of available farmland, but only on a temporary basis since marginal lands fall rapidly into disuse or lie fallow. Land expansion also takes place at the expense of forest lands, to such an extent that its effect combined with that of tree-felling is predicted to remove most African rain forests by 2030. Finally, land expansion is replacing long rotation periods and fallows, causing a noticeable reduction in natural soil fertility. The slowdown in population growth in Africa will come, the United Nations has predicted in a remarkable turn of events, mainly from a drop in fertility rates. These have been the most difficult to forecast in the past, but experience in recent decades shows that the number of children born per woman drops as urbanisation, literacy, and good health spread. Ownership of land, or entitlement to land use, is probably a key to helping the farmer steward the land better, and protect and nurture the soil. At least as critical an issue as land is renewable water supplies, including their ownership and management. Resolving issues of land tenure and access to water will be a major focus for those who believe that governance is not only about voting rights, but also embraces the citizen s rights and duties towards sustainable natural resources. Access is also crucial, especially for women and the poor, to education, health services and credit and finance. We know even though our policies and practices do not yet show this how essential it is to recognise the central role of women in achieving food security. History reminds us that we have various ways of dealing with such issues. Some are destructive of the environment and murderous of our own species, some are proof of our ingenuity in taking our accumulated skills and knowledge do we not call them our traditions? and adapting them for the future. Average life expectancy at birth in Africa (UN projections, 1995): 1995: 53 years 2015: 60 years 2040: 72 years Fertility rates 1995 Africa: 5.8 children/woman Pacific: 2.5 children/woman 2035 Africa: 2.63 children/woman Pacific: 2.10 children/woman