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Population & Food

The American environmentalist, Lester Brown, is the leading doomsayer who predicts a huge grain shortage in the East, particularly China, over the next few decades, that no one will be able to meet. This pessimism is based not on any real fall in production but the observation that Asians with more money to spend would like to have more and better food. The cut, for instance, goes like this: “A common Chinese could expect to eat about 8 kilograms of meat in 1977; he now eats 32 kilograms. In terms of chicken meat, where meat/grain conversion ratio is 1:2, it means a fourfold increase in demand of grains used for feed.” Reckoning increase in consumption on such a scale, a question is then asked, “who can supply so much grain?” And spontaneous reply then given is, “no one.”

As noted earlier, the pessimists have continuously been refuted by historic advances that have always overcome such warnings. The world population was about 3 billion in I960 and will be close to double in the next few years. The rate of food production during I960 to 1990 has outpaced population growth by 20 percent. That increase was considered enough to cause a 60 percent drop in real prices of food commodities. It shows there is little reason to worry.


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Hunger has not disappeared. The World Bank estimates that some 750 million people in the world were still malnourished, but the chance of outright famine today is only 10 percent of what was feared during the ‘60s. The global calorie intake has increased by 25 percent during the same period, indicative of better health and nutrition.

A strong and persuasive agency like FAO, the torchbearer of Malthusian school, once used to assert that “a lifetime of malnutrition and actual hunger is the lot of at least two-thirds of mankind. In its World Food Report (1986), FAO had to admit: “In Asia 20 years ago, half of mankind lived on a quarter of the  world’s food, and the prospects of that area ever producing sufficient food looked bleak indeed. Yet, today food self-sufficiency is close at hand in many Asian countries.”   

The Pakistan economy and food situation is said to be constrained due to population which has increased about four limes since independence. The statement, however, proves baseless when we look at the figures of food availability over the past five decades. A few important indicators, as given in the Economic Survey (1994-95), may be seen in the following Table:

Table

Food availability in pakistan

Items                                                                (kg/capita/year)

 

1949-50

1979-80

1989-90

1994-95

Cereals

139.3

147.1

164.74

157.40

Sugar

17.1

28.7

27.02

31.95

Milk

107.0

94.8

107.60

118.38

Meat

9.8

13.7

17.27

20.40

Eggs

0.17

1.22

2.10

2.35

Edible oil

2.30

6.30

10.33

11.85

Calories/day

2078

2301

2534

2618

Protein/day (grm)

62.8

61.5

65.47

67.62

Figures in the table are self-explanatory. Although agriculture sector in Pakistan has not received due attention and gross mismanagement has lagged us far behind against comparable economies, the food supply situation indicates a better and sustained growth to more than offset the effect of increase in population.

 

Source: Poverty Alleviation in Pakistan: Present Scenario and Future Strategy, Mohibul Haq Sahibzada. Republished with permission.