Are We Overstating the World’s Overpopulation Problem?

Every spring, our company hosts a Market Summit, which brings together the editors, artists, and sales folks from all of the Meister Media Worldwide media brands to share ideas and information about the various agricultural markets we cover.


One topic we discussed was the often cited challenge of feeding a global population expected to grow to 9 billion people by 2050. I have written about it often and even dedicated a cover story to topic in 2015. Not to dismiss the challenge at all, but I have wondered if we’ve relied on the talking point too much in pitching the importance of agriculture to the public. Several of my fellow editors expressed the same thoughts during our company meeting.

With all the talk about “fake news” in the past year, I have found myself questioning just about everything I read, see, or hear. It has made me think more about the challenge of feeding 9 billion people. We have cast much of this discussion around producing higher and higher yields to meet global demand. And, honestly, that is a pretty good pitch from those who sell you seed and all the other inputs you need to grow a crop — and even us — who deliver you magazines and other forms of media content.

Growing high yields with exceptional quality is great, especially when prices are strong. But, it is becoming clear we should place more focus on your return on investment rather than placing so much attention on yields. After all, you can produce the highest yields around, but if you are not making money, you are not going to be farming much longer. And, if growers can’t achieve a fair return on investment and stay in business, it won’t matter what the population is in 2050. We all will be trouble.

Besides just production, there are other ways to ensure we can feed a growing population. Just a few would include reducing food waste, improving food distribution, and increasing the productivity of farms in developing countries. There is much work being done in all of these areas already.

And consider this: What happens in countries as they become more prosperous? Their birth rates go down. In developed countries, the fertility rate has fallen well below the 2.1 births per woman to maintain population equilibrium. According to an article by Slate magazine titled “About That Overpopulation Problem,” Germany’s birth rate is only 1.36, which has given rise to the term there “Schrumpf Gesellschaft” or shrinking society.

Even in countries expected to drive population growth like India, Mexico, and Africa, birth rates are falling. This demographic transition is happening all over the globe. More than half the global population is reproducing below the replacement rate. So, while we will surely grow well beyond our current 7 billion inhabitants on the planet, maybe we are not on the precipice of a population bomb.

And there is more good news for specialty crop growers because growing incomes and emerging middle classes around the globe will demand a more diverse diet — one rich in fruit and vegetables. That means more customers for your products.

That brings me back to your profitability, which I am sure causes you more sleepless nights than the far-off concept of feeding 9 billion people in the next 33 years or so. We as a company have launched an initiative to focus on how you can harness the rapidly emerging technology sector to not only produce high yields and great quality, but also grow in a way that is sustainable and makes you money. Genetics, robotics, data management, precision agriculture, and the Internet of Things are converging in agriculture and we are committed to help you sort through the many claims of performance and find smart technology fits for your farm.

Stay tuned for more on this initiative.