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Daniel McCaffrey

A well fed world

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In 1968 the prevailing mental landscape of the western world changed politically and socially.

In the intervening 40 odd years a ruling political elite, the left wing clerisy have developed the concerns of the Hippy revolution of 1967, peace, concern for nature, individual freedom into it their mirror opposites.

In particular concern for nature led to the growth of self serving taxpayer funded tithe gathering environmental organizations promoting by modern propaganda methods a green religion with its central doctrine a self loathing of humanity.

This fed upon itself and led to the mindset – an age of impending catastrophes.

The world they said was doomed. We were going to run out of energy. We were going to starve. We were destroying the environment. We were all going to die in a searing heat of hellfire caused by global warming. We were going to die of horrendous plagues, wars for resources, shortage of water, acid rain, and desertification. The destruction of most species and other sundry apocalyptic and horrendous disasters were impending.

As Woody Allen puts it, down one road lay destruction and down the other disaster. We just had to choose between the two.

Furthermore everything was our fault.

And more to the point the only way this could be solved was to defer to their omniscient wisdom and part with trillions of taxes to their proposed solutions.

It is my belief that a change is coming much as it did in 1968.

The reason that there will be a change of view is that after 40 years of this constant melancholy drumbeat none of the catastrophes actually happened.

And the new generations coming along are starting to notice that fact.

We haven’t run out of energy, run out of minerals, food.  We aren’t going to starve, obesity is rampant, the world hasn’t warmed for 15 years, the environment in civilized countries has never been better, we are not running out of resources, acid rain has gone and there are far too many polar bears.

There is only one catastrophe penny left to drop and that I can assure you will not happen in the way they think it will.

The Malthusian mopes still insist that the world cannot cope with an extra two billion people projected to be on earth by the year 2050. Overpopulation has been a core catastrophe dear to the heart of the green religion.

I recently helped write a report for the International Society of Horticultural Scientists. (I merely did the writing; some very clever NZ scientists did the research)

I was invited to Sweden in February to answer the question, could horticulture feed the world sustainably in the foreseeable future.

My conclusion is that it will be very easy to feed 9 billion people. Increasing production to these levels is a solvable problem. Here is why.

Current world production of horticulture products is 2.4 billion tones.

To feed an extra 2 billion we need to move that production to 3 billion tones.

That is 600 million tones, a 25% increase. We could add perhaps another 20% to bring the consumption level of the world’s hungry to civilized levels.

It boils down as usual to supply and demand.

How many need to be fed and can possible supplies meet that demand.

First there is so much unused capacity in the current world production system.

Only 17 % of Africa’s agricultural land is utilized. There is 83% yet to use. Africa is much larger than you think. You can fit all of Europe, China, the United States and India into Africa and have room left over.

In reality, the amount of un-utilized rain-fed cropland is staggering. The unused cropland in Sudan alone, 75 million hectares, is more than enough to feed all of Africa.

There is more unused cropland in Africa (394 Mha) than there is under cultivation in Europe and Russia combined (314 Mha).

There is much more unused cropland in South America (413 Mha) than there is land under cultivation in North America (225 Mha).

In addition, there is 117 Mha of unused cropland in North America, and another 150 Mha available in Europe and Russia.

There is little available unused cropland in Asia.

But Asia is not using modern farming methods. Average rice yield in North America is 7.9 tonnes/ha … while in Asia overall it’s only 4.5 t/ha, in China it’s 6.7 t/ha, and in India it’s a pathetic 3.5 t/ha. So large increases in productivity are assuredly possible.

The savings possible from loss of existing crops is huge. In India only 2% of products that should be temperature controlled are and so 30% of the quantity of fruit and vegetables are lost on their way to the consumer.

In the developed world some 50% of all food is wasted, but none is lost.

The infrastructure of refrigeration and transport that we take for granted in the developed world is simply not there.

It is an opportunity to raise production by 30% without digging up another square meter.

Increases with different production methods are also possible contributors to world food production. Add to those resources the potential production from technology we already have to hand, and feeding the world is a no problem at all.

Hydroponics has the capability to raise production by hundreds of multiples. Cucumbers go from 3 tonnes in the field to 13 tonnes in hydroponic conditions, tomatoes from 5 to 10 tonnes in the field, to 60 to 300 tonnes per hydroponic hectare – stunning increases.  The Canadian tomato crop takes 27,000 hectare but could be grown in 4,000 hydroponic hectares. So that releases 23,000 hectares for something else. Genetic modification is increasing cereal yields reducing the use of pesticides and feeding the world.

If you factor that across the existing production areas in the world it is a staggering increase in potential production.

New technology will also contribute in ways we cannot contemplate.

We are getting early glimpses of it – like the plant in South Australia that blends sunshine, seawater in a self-sufficient mix to produce commercially viable vegetables.

So what is the population that is going to be demanding this food anyway?

Somewhere around 2045 – 2050 there will be nine billion people on the planet and the population is projected to decline after this. The latest UN projections have the population declining to about 6 billion by 2100 that’s one billion less than we have now.

The baby boomers, the largest cohort in history, will be long gone. All cohorts coming after us will be smaller. Japan Russia and Europe have rapidly declining populations.

The absolute growth in population peaked in the late 1980s at about 86 million babies per year.  It will remain above 60 million babies born per year until 2020 and will decline more steeply thereafter.

So that’s who has to be fed. As I said, the capacity is there, but what other external factors could hamstring the effort?

Feeding the world needs energy at affordable prices. Hydroponics is all about energy. Refrigeration transport needs energy at a price the trade can bear. The entirety of modern food production is all about energy.

Of course the green religion has done more to increase energy costs in the last decade than any other factor. Billions have been wasted on energy models that are sporadic and expensive.

When we get rid of the money destroying wasteful race for renewables, we can get back to using the best energy sources available at effective prices – be that coal, oil gas or thorium nuclear.

Africans have not used the hydro resources in the modest way that Norway and New Zealand did.

The energy problem is definitely solvable and that does not take into account any technology breakthroughs in 40 years.

The other barrier to feeding the world is the green religion doctrine of “sustainability”.

Sustainability is a politically correct weasel word that pollutes every discussion it enters.

It is a sort of all-purpose precautionary principle, which infers a perfectly predictable world without end. Those who wield it to prevent almost any development of any kind never state a time period. How long should something be sustainable – 500 years, 10, 000 years, 50,000 years?

Should our great great grandchildren be bound by laws and mantras on a “sustainability” doctrine dreamt up by humanity-hating catastrophe protagonists mandating a future they will never take any responsibility for?

Sustainability is used most often about environmental effects. Environmental problems are just one more problem in production and they have to and can be fixed.

Look around the world of 2013 and see that most of those environmental problems in 1968 have been attended to, in civilised countries anyway. The world is immensely environmentally better than it was forty years ago.

But the environmental externality has, under the green religion, come to trump every other consideration even when solutions are easy practical and underway.

The proponents of the doctrine of “sustainability” want us to go down the road of complicated laws and regulation, locking in their myopic vision of a world of finite resources where only their generation possesses the secret knowledge to make the laws that make production “sustainable”.

By making laws today for the imagined ills of 200 years from now, you risk substituting the experience and accumulated wisdom of those who actually farm the land, mine resources, deliver food, with the theories and ignorance of policy makers and bureaucrats fresh out of universities who themselves have never fed anything more than a cat, holding religious theories of “sustainability” for a future they cannot live in.

Sustainability grew from the notion that we will run out of resources.  Forty years ago the Club of Rome report said the world was going to run out of most core resources. This has proved totally wrong on every count.

Take copper. They said we ran out of copper in the 1990’s Well yes if you took the 1960’s projected growth of world copper use for plumbing and communications added a growing population absolutely you ran out of copper. And that’s not counting the unforeseen explosion of the World Wide Web.

Well a guy in Fresno California one night looked at his lava lamp and invented fibre optics. We run the immensity of the Internet and all communication on silicon. The world is full of it. Resources are not finite. Those who think they are assume that we cannot change which ones are used for what, which can be substituted for, which can be transformed and which can be used in a more economical way, and that we cannot invent whole new ones we cannot currently imagine.

Simple fallacies leading to complicatedly wrong conclusions on their part.

James Watt was looking at the kettle one day and he changed the world more than any other human being by inventing steam power.

Prior to Watt the only power in the world was contained in the amount of oats a horse needed to do a days work (6kgs). For the 100,000 years of human history no one had ever gone faster than a horse fed on grass and grain.

The Oat scarcity that loomed for Scottish porridge makers was avoided.

Inept systems of government masquerading under false concepts with unintended consequences will destroy more physical resources than any loose environmental practices ever could.

Communism meant the Soviet Union after 70 years and the immense resources that stretch from St Petersburg to Vladivostock and the hard work of 160 million people over that 70 years amounted to the same GDP as Holland – 14 million people living on a handkerchief.

We need flexible small-scale evolutionary development with the maximum intelligence of those actually involved in the problem being brought to bear. Not the myopic ideas generated by politically correct green tinged politicians fresh out of school with the life experience of a house fly spinning theories and blandishments and wasting billions on imagined disasters.

Sustainability is a concept best consigned to history. The better notion is viability. Will it work – including the environmental considerations?

To bring back an optimistic world prepared to honestly and courageously feed nine billion people we need the humility to confine our ambitions in policy to the human scale.

We cannot predict the future but if we can get it right for ten or twenty years of foresight, that will be a magnificent achievement. The next generation will take up the task as it always has since the beginning of the species.

To make God-like assumptions about the climate, resources is to say we have the wisdom of Gods and that our children are dolts and must confine their thinking to the narrow miserable visions of the apoplectic prophets of forty years ago.

So feeding the world is not about whether the factors of production are possible. We can produce the food. It’s every other damn thing that holds us back.

The principle reason why the world is not fed now and may not be fed in the future is politics, pure and simple. Bad governance and the destruction of wealth and prosperity by war and corruption will simply thwart it.

It’s a bit like asking an agronomist in the plains of Kursk in 1944 – with more than a million soldiers preparing for the biggest tank battle in history – to improve the pea crop. Are you going to get critical if he can’t? Or the horticulturalists of Cambodia during the Pol Pot regime.

The despoliation of the most marvellous covered irrigation system of Syria and Iraq and Persia, the quanats, was not as a result of a lack of expertise, of ability or effort, or even of bad Government. It was Timurlane and his armies who wrecked that system.

On page 43 of “Harvesting the Sun” we spelt out the critical success factors to feed the world: Good governance and that includes infrastructure; intellectual property protection; land tenure and credit provision; good agricultural practice; and of course Research and development.

Mikhail Zinshteyn pointed out why solving world hunger is so hard – bad governance, civil disorder, poor linkages between markets and growers, and low use of technology.

The governments who live on foreign aid and ignore their citizen’s needs – the five trillion dollars of aid given to Africa since the 1950’s has all been wasted. It made the situation worse.

Dictators who capture the aid totally, ignore the needs of their population. They are content to continue gorging on the natural resources that should benefit all citizens.

Armies who spend their time on the countries’ transport routes extorting bribes and stealing produce. Public services and politicians build regulations of such contortionist intricacy that they can extract a bribe at every step of the way – foreign aid cascading into the elites of the country, and free overseas food that destroys any broad scale build-up of viable agriculture. Corruption on a gigantic scale destroys the most valuable resource on the planet – second to the human brain – money. The accumulated capital of the populations of these countries is stolen.

BBC News Nuhu Ribadu reports Nigeria suffered the theft of $460 billion with nothing to show for it. One bloke took $140 million and the former governor of Bayelsa state took $400 million. Mobutu looted the Congo of $8 billion.

Corruption and spiteful destruction of farmland such as in Zimbabwe destroys anything that could be built.

It means no roads to get the fertilizer to the markets that need it. No electricity networks being built, and no development of human capital – the education and health of the people.

The uneducated child of a subsistence farmer is just a pair of hands and cannot raise productivity. The same child after 20 years of education could be an airline pilot or an agronomist or a software developer.

You see, the doom meisters in their definition of sustainability overlooked the most sustainable resource on the planet – money. The waste of it is a crime against humanity.

The reason the world is not fed and may not be fed is not for a lack of effort by hard working farmers, or scientists finding better methodologies, or unsustainable practices.

If we want to feed the world we must attack and remove corruption. We must stop destructive wars. We must develop the human potential of the people of the world.

Once the doom-mongers lose their credibility on the other havocs on which they have cried wolf, we could get down to tackling the real problems and solving the real impediments to feeding the world.

It won’t be easy but unless it is done there will always be areas of a well-fed prosperous world that thrive amid the rank injustice, exploitation and misery caused by misrule.

There is an old Chinese proverb: Let those who say the problem cannot be solved get out of the way of the people who are solving it.

This article is based on Daniel’s speech in Sweden launching the Harvesting the Sun report. The full speech can be read HERE.