Thin on the Ground

Land Resources: Now and for the Future






363 000 people were born

154 000 died

World population increased by 209 000

Annual world population increase:
2008 77 M, 2009 80 M, 2010 78 M, 2011 76 M



Poverty, hunger and population policy: linking Cairo with Johannesburg

Governments and international institutions will fail in their efforts to reduce hunger and poverty, and to protect the environment, unless they place the reduction of population increase high on their agenda. Population policy should be treated as an integral part of development. This is the conclusion reached by Anthony Young writing in Geographical Journal (171, 2005, 83-95). Download

At the Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg 2002, the nations of the world undertook to reduce poverty and hunger to half their current levels by 2015. It is already clear that these targets will not be met. Evidence from developing countries, particularly Africa, show that advances made through agricultural research and investment in rural development are being counteracted, in some countries nullified, by the effects of population increase.

Spare land is not an answer

Contrary to estimates by FAO, in most countries there is no more 'spare land', areas which could be sustainably cultivated but are not yet under agriculture. Most of what remains is under rainforest, clearance of which is strongly opposed on environmental grounds. (See Spare Land)

Advances achieved through agricultural research, however, are slowing. The annual increase in crop yields, 2--3% during the Green Revolution, is now 1%.

Malawi: a case study

An example of a problem country is Malawi. Forty years ago its population was 3 million: it has now passed 11 million. Average farm size is less than 0.5 ha, soil fertility has been greatly reduced, farmers cannot afford fertilizer, so crop yields are low. There are simply no viable development options left to its Government nor to the rural people.

Awareness and policies of international institutions

There is an imbalance of attitudes. The UNFPA and other population-based institutions constantly stress the need to reduce rates of increase. But institutions concerned with hunger, poverty and environment (World Bank, FAO, IFPRI, UNEP, etc.) take future population increase as given, as an external variable.

What can be done? Linking Cairo with Johannesburg

The only long-term solution it to link the aims of the Johannesburg World Summit to the recommendations of the UN 1993 Cairo Conference on Population and Development. This set out an ethically acceptable package of measures for reducing population growth: improve the education and status of women, and make family planning services available to all.

Unless greater efforts are made to check the growth of population, then poverty, hunger and the suffering these cause will continue. A fundamental change in attitudes is needed. Governments, aid agencies and development instutions should follow the road from Cairo to Johannesburg.

Download the Geographical Journal paper (PDF)

Publisher's Note This is an electronic version of an article published in the Geographical Journal. Complete citation information for the final version of the paper, as published in the print edition of the Geographical Journal, is available on the Blanckwell Synergy online delivery service, accesible via the Journal's website at http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/journal.asp?ref=0016-7398 or http://www.blackwell-synergy.com.

Aprril 2005

* * * * *

Background on (topic of this page) is given in Chapter 14, Population, poverty and conflict and Chapter 15, Awareness, attitudes and action, of Land Resources: Now and for the Future.