India’s Foodgrain Production Grows Despite Drought

chartThe battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate. – Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (1968)

Despite widespread drought in 11 states across the country, India’s foodgrain production is actually set to grow marginally, the third advance estimates released by the agriculture ministry on Monday showed. Total foodgrain production in 2015-16 is estimated at 252.23 million tonnes, marginally higher than 252.02 million tonnes produced in 2014-15, the data shows. If the estimates hold up, it would imply that the damage to the agrarian economy is less than what had been initially feared; at the same time, it also reflects a degree of resilience of Indian agriculture to a deficit monsoon. —Sayantan Bera, Live Mint, 10 May 2016

How did Ethiopia go from being the world’s symbol of mass famines to fending off starvation? Thanks partly to some good fortune, but mostly to peace, greater transparency and prudent planning. Ethiopia’s success in averting another disaster is confirmation that famine is elective because, at its core, it is an artifact and a tool of political repression. Famine isn’t caused by overpopulation, and as Ethiopia’s experience shows, it’s not a necessary consequence of drought. Politics creates famine, and politics can stop it. –Alex De Waal, The New York Times, 8 May 2016

The downward slope of the famines graph contrasts with the upward slope of world population, which rose from about 1.7 billion in 1900 to 7.3 billion today. This surely refutes the pessimism of the early 19th century scholar and cleric Reverend Thomas Malthus, who feared that world population was outpacing the food supply. More than two centuries ago he wrote that “gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear [of population growth], and with one mighty blow, could level the population. In fact, the converse is actually happening. The end of the Cold War, the adoption of international human rights norms, and the rise of globalization are among the key factors that make it possible to eliminate famine for the first time in history. –Alex de Waal, 2015 Global Hunger Index

Before climate change, there was the population explosion. Predicting disaster for humanity and environmental doom became the means by which government power could be expanded, even if the record of such prophesies is dismal. The most alarming predictions, which garner the most headlines and have the most impact on public policy, never come to pass. Perennial pessimism is nothing but paranoid neurosis. Prophesies about the catastrophes that would follow population growth have long been both shrill and high-profile. Yet they simply failed to materialise. The prophets of doom wish they would be quietly forgotten, and for the most part they have been. But they shouldn’t be, when the very same fearmongers remain in positions of influence or power. –Ivo Vegter, Daily Maverick, 3 May 2016

We think of eugenics and forced sterilization as a right-wing Nazi program implemented in 1930s Germany. Yet as Princeton University economist Thomas Leonard documents in his book Illiberal Reformers and former New York Times editor Adam Cohen reminds us in his book Imbeciles, eugenics fever swept America in the early 20th century. Science writer Ronald Bailey tracks neo-Malthusians in his book The End of Doom, starting with Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 best seller The Population Bomb, which proclaimed that “the battle to feed all of humanity is over.” Many doomsayers followed. Worldwatch Institute founder Lester Brown, for example, declared in 1995, “Humanity’s greatest challenge may soon be just making it to the next harvest.” In a 2009 Scientific American article he affirmed his rhetorical question, “Could food shortages bring down civilization?” In a 2013 conference at the University of Vermont, Ehrlich assessed our chances of avoiding civilizational collapse at only 10 percent. –Michael Shermer, Scientific American, 1 May 2016