MYTH OF THE FOOD FAMINE
In his Population Bomb(1968), the environmental
pessimist, Paul Ehrlich, predicted that millions of people would be starving to
death in the 1970’s and billions by the end of the century. This was doomsday
talk of apocalyptic dimensions, certainly the end of the world as we know it.
The Stanford hysteria-monger even went on Johnny Carson’s talk show to offer an even money wager that Great Britain would not exist by the year
There is a silver lining to the darkest
cloud. The world was reeling from the oil crisis (that was artificially
produced) and ridden by fears of running out of oil – subsequently found to be
no more likely than stone age men running out of stones. But this climate of
fear about running out of oil made Ehrlich’s predictions about running out of
food even more believable. Had not this Stanford genius demonstrated that the
population explosion would mean that there would not be enough food to go
around? It was soon to be a case of
saying, “Move over you oil-rich Arabs for the food-rich Australians.” If you were
a lucky farmer in those days, it was a case of buying up as much farmland as
you possible could for the unprecedented bonanza in food prices that was just
around the corner.
food prices did change quite dramatically, not upward however, but downward. In
the 1980’s food prices kept falling so sharply that many farms in the United States began to go out of business. The
nation became obsessed with a debate about the tragedy of the disappearing
farms. In all, 53 million acres of land was retired from agriculture during the
1980’s and went back into woodlands.
This would surely put the price of food through the roof – or did
it? No, the U.S. was to become awash with the
greatest surplus of food and fibre it had ever seen,
only matched by the mountains of surplus agricultural products being dumped
around the world by the subsidized European producers. And what about the
hundreds of millions of people expected to be starving in the developing world?
Their food production was to treble, and they were to have less rather than
more people who were not getting enough to eat.
What happened? It was a phenomena
known as “the Green Revolution,” and it had nothing, as the name might suggest,
to do with the Greens or the environmental doomsayers. It represented the
greatest advance in agricultural technology since the move from hunter-gatherer
to agricultural settlement about 10,000 years ago. The father of the Green
Revolution was a young North Dakota farmer by the name of Norman Borlung. After receiving his doctorate in agricultural
science, he went out to teach high-yield agriculture to third world countries
on three continents over a period of over 40 years. Winner of the Nobel Peace
Prize and 45 honorary doctorates, he is widely credited with saving more human
lives than any man who has ever lived. Some even think he is the greatest human
being alive on this planet today. It was Borlung’s
work which led to new varieties of grain that quadrupled world grain production
within 30 years. He both sponsored and inspired research into rust resistant
varieties of wheat and varieties of rice which increased crop yield four-fold.
This led on to other plant breeding technologies and to a whole series of
advancements in irrigation technologies, fertilizers, pest control, weed
control, and other efficiencies that changed the face of agriculture forever.
Food production in both developed and undeveloped countries doubled and then
tripled. Food prices kept falling so
much that it is now hard to believe that today food prices around the world
(including Australia) are only 1/3rd of
what they were just 46 years ago. It’s all in the statistics!
Australia lags a few years behind the
agricultural trends in the United States. It seems that they are over
their debate and their angst about the disappearing farms. Food is not dearer
because so many little inefficient farms in marginal areas have disappeared.
Food is cheaper because they have disappeared. To understand this history and
these trends is to understand the debate and the angst about the disappearing
farms in Australia. They are being wiped out by the
inexorable progress of humanity toward less farmers and cheaper food. You can
take it as a general rule that the less food growers a society supports per
capita to maintain its food supply, the better off that society has become.
Those who cannot understand these trends, or worse, spend their efforts trying
to resist them, are yesterday’s men who cannot see through the fog of their