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Can we feed more than 8 billion people, Economist?
A daily chat about tomorrow / #20
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P: Good morning, Economist.
E: Good morning, Photographer.
P: Have you seen the horrible pictures of the collapse of the Kakhovka dam in Ukraine?
E: I have.
P: I have a question aside from the current human disaster.
E: Let’s go.
P: Tens of thousands of hectares of agricultural land in southern Ukraine will be unusable for years, they say. Is Ukraine facing a famine?
E: I don’t think so. Firstly, only a part of Ukraine's acreage has become unusable. Secondly, there is a possible supply from abroad for Ukraine.
P: But Ukraine itself is a big producer of grain for the world market.
E: It is. But in relation to the total world production, it is relatively small. According to the European Commission, Ukraine accounts for 10 per cent of the world wheat market, 15 per cent of the corn market, and 13 per cent of the barley market.
P: That’s not a little.
E: That’s true. Russia's war of aggression has caused world market prices for grain to rise rapidly. They hit a record high in 2022.
P: And now the dam burst. Plus, a steadily growing world population. Eight billion humans are living on planet Earth! The share of starving people must be increasing, right?
E: Wrong. There is a long-term decline of undernourishment. Have a look at this chart.
P: But if the world population continues to grow, won't we eventually run out of acreage?
E: Probably not. Due to improvements in yield, cereal production has increased steadily without a significant land expansion.
E: Today, the world can produce almost three times as much cereal from a given land area than in 1961.
P: Yet malnutrition persists.
E: It does. The distribution of food production is crucial to food security. Where no food is delivered because of a lack of money or because transport is difficult due to armed conflicts, there is still hunger, disease and starvation.
P: And how will things continue?
E: The United Nations estimates that population growth will peak in about 50 years.
P: So if there were no wars, the world population could be well supplied with food.
E: I assume so.
< silence >
P: Have you ever gone hungry for a long time?
E: Never. But I remember my grandfather. He was a German soldier in World War II and a Russian prisoner of war. During this time, he had to starve a lot. That had a big impact on him. I remember, as a child, watching him eat in amazement. He ate faster than anyone else at the table. He could bring a spoon or fork to his mouth with a speed that I thought was fit for a circus.
P: I wish you a hunger- and thirst-free day, Economist.
E: Same to you, Photographer.
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