Published in the Financial Guardian – perhaps the financial section of The Guardian – some time in 1979. This is the only publication information we have.
In the UK today, the world population explosion is seen as a Third World problem. It may affect India and Bangladesh, but not us – a very dangerous illusion.
Britain, at the moment, must import 50 percent of the food needed to feed its massive population. Some of this comes from Third World countries that can ill afford to sell it to us.
To do so, vast areas (25 percent of the arable land of Santo Domingo for instance and 55 percent of that of the Philippines) which should be producing food for the chronically undernourished local population, are used to produce cash crops for export.
And what, we might ask, do Third World countries get in return? The answer is foreign currency to build office blocks, motorways, and the other capital-intensive trappings of modern industrialism together with largely unnecessary manufactured goods that only a minority can afford.
In the meantime, the population-food gap is steadily widening. Every year, there are over 60 million extra people to feed in this evermore crowded world, and there is now but very little suitable land left to bring under the plough.
Under these conditions, it must be apparent that we can only continue to import food from the Third World at the cost of increasing malnutrition and famine. Are we willing to do this? Even if we were, for how long are the people of the Third World going to allow us to do so? Probably not for very long. If this be accepted, we must ask ourselves where we can buy our food from?
The main possibility is from the US and Canada from where 75 percent of world cereal imports are at present obtained. But can these countries continue to export food on the present massive scale? Unfortunately not.
Present levels of production have been achieved at intolerable ecological cost. The American corn belt has already lost about half its top-soil and what remains is going fast.
In hot and dry areas like much of California, large scale irrigation has caused serious soil salinisation, and in parts of Texas in particular, massive water abstraction has led to such a dramatic fall of the water-table that in certain areas agriculture is already being abandoned.
Agricultural land is also being lost very rapidly to urbanisation, that is, to motorways, airports, housing estates, factories, etc. All in all, the US may be losing as much as four million acres of agricultural land a year.
At the same time the population is increasing quite rapidly, a fact that is not reflected in official population figures because the main cause of the increase is illegal and hence unrecorded immigration from Mexico, at a rate of something like one and half million people per annum.
If one takes these factors into account, one is forced to the unpleasant conclusion that within a few decades the US will have ceased to be a food-exporting country.
This in turn forces us to the still more unpleasant conclusion that if by then, we have not achieved a high measure of self-sufficiency in food, we shall starve.
But how, we might ask, can we feed ourselves? It seems indeed very difficult. We have about 15 million acres of arable land, a similar amount of permanent pasture and some rough grazing. This is not very much, but it could produce a lot of food if properly used.
Modern agriculture is geared to maximising productivity per unit of labour which, we seem to forget, can only be achieved by increasing capital inputs and hence correspondingly reducing productivity per unit of energy and resources, and contrary to what most people think, per unit of land.
Indeed, it is now generally known that it is not large scale capital-intensive monoculture that produces the most food per acre. On the contrary, very much more food can be grown by labour-intensive methods on much smaller farms each producing a great variety of foodstuffs.
To feed ourselves, in fact, we must transform our agriculture, radically reduce the size of holdings and return people to the land.
We must also prevent any further urban encroachment on our dwindling stock of agricultural land which probably also means reducing the scale of industrial undertakings.
It must also mean radically changing our diet. We must learn to eat far less meat, as much more land is required to produce animal than vegetable protein.
It must also mean reducing our grossly inflated population, and unfortunately there is no magical formula for doing this. All that can be done is to erode the problem by applying a host of small measures which, when viewed separately, may amount to very little.
This could include making generally available safe methods of contraception, facilitating abortion, encouraging adoption, shifting the accent from family allowances to other forms of aid and perhaps providing old people with larger pensions if they have no more than one child.
It would also include reducing immigration. Indeed, it seems very irresponsible to encourage more people, from whatever ethnic group to settle in this grossly over-populated country in the face of a now inevitable world food crisis.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the policy required to enable us to face this great challenge is that its adoption would help solve many of the other major problems that face us today.
For instance, it would reduce our dependence on energy and resources that are likely to be ever less available to us at a price that we can afford.
It would also provide the most effective means of combatting crime, delinquency, vandalism and the other symptoms of social disintegration by providing people with a new sense of purpose and a way of life that would favour the re-emergence of the family and the small community as viable and self-reliant social units.
·Ω·Back to top