causes of poverty, economics, poverty

The Causes of Poverty (31): Overpopulation and Food Shortages

I’ve made my views on overpopulation abundantly clear on this blog. In short: I think it’s a silly and simplistic explanation of the world’s problems, hysterical at best and damaging when it inspires public policy. I don’t deny that it can cause problems when we look at local areas: there can be too many people in a certain area compared to the locally available stocks of food and water. But the problems there aren’t caused by “overpopulation” but by inadequate distribution of goods, wasteful use of goods etc. But if you think all this is BS,  do go and read my previous posts for a more thoughtful discussion of the issues.

How is overpopulation a human rights issue? Well, if you believe overpopulation is a problem, you will probably have some of the following reasons for your beliefs:

  • Overpopulation may cause poverty, hunger and water shortages. And poverty, hunger and water are human rights issues – see here, here and here respectively.
  • Overpopulation may cause violence and war. No need to argue the link with human rights I believe.
  • Overpopulation may cause refugee flows. Immigration can cause a wide variety of human rights issues, going from xenophobia and discrimination to poverty and exclusion. More about this here.

Personally, I think that all of those problems are real, but that they have other more important causes. Take food shortages for instance:

[F]ood availability can be significantly increased, at minimal cost, by simply reducing agricultural waste … As an engineer, I regularly travel to sort out post-harvest problems and I am convinced that there is little benefit to be gained from merely increasing farm production without making considerable improvements to post-harvest systems and facilities.

The majority of grain and vegetable stores in east Europe date back to the 1930s, in design if not in construction, and they are truly and hopelessly insufficient, amounting to losses of some 15m-25m tonnes of grain annually. India loses 40m tonnes of fruits and vegetables as well as 21m tonnes of wheat a year because of inadequate storage and distribution. To put that in perspective, India’s wheat wastage each year is almost equal to Australia’s entire production of wheat.

In South-East Asia 37% of rice is lost between field and table; in China the figure is up to 45% and in Vietnam it can be as high as 80%. This loss of 150m tonnes of rice each year represents a waste of resources on a truly massive and unsustainable scale.

In America and Britain the buying habits of the big supermarkets actually encourage waste. They impose draconian penalties on suppliers for failing to deliver agreed quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables during the year, which force farmers to grow a much bigger crop than they need as a form of insurance against poor weather and other factors that may reduce their yield.

Even worse, 30% of what is harvested never reaches the supermarket shelf owing to trimming, quality selection, etc. Of the food that does reach the supermarket, up to half is thrown away by the consumer. David Williams (source)

Overpopulation isn’t the cause of food shortages, and population control measures, such as sterilization, offspring limitation, anti-sex policies etc. aren’t the solutions. And if you don’t believe me, read the work of Amartya Sen on the link (or better the absence of a link) between food supplies, population and famines (see also here):

Amartya Sen convincingly refuted the claim that either food supply or population had anything to do with famine.  Famines regularly occurred at times and places where food was plentiful, and in the most thinly populated places, like Darfur. Nick Cullather (source)


8 thoughts on “The Causes of Poverty (31): Overpopulation and Food Shortages

  1. Well, I don’t know.. I am a farmers daughter and I can tell you that a particular piece of land can support so many healthy organic cows, or maybe double the number skinny and tough meat Ethiopian type cows…

    If you don’t think we live on a planet with finite resources… I guess… maybe God will add more oil and maybe he will double the amount of rain, and maybe he will turn the sahara into the amazon.. just so those people who don’t want to control their libido.. or heaven forbid tell their poor people they wish to keep in poverty breeding more poverty at libidinious rates… to practice some family planning and ecological carrying capacity common sense…

    Anyway.. perhaps the earth is indeed flat? ;-)

    You ever read Gareth harden, or what are your views on Albert Bartlett and Exponential Functions, and the Laws of Sustainability?

  2. Hi Filip,

    I am aware how famines can occur where food is plentiful, i live in Africa; not Europe. People who live in Europe don’t understand how Africans think — and transfer their rational European logic, assuming that Africans think the same. In the country next to mine, the breadbasket of Africa, Mugabe is and has followed his plans for the extermination of white farmers (who were feeding black africans, and emplying them — because black africans do not want to farm, they want to live as hunter gatherers, or to just live off the state, to provide for them).. the breadbasket of africa now has starving masses, who are happy if they can find rats to eat…

    In all this, Europe has remained pretty much silent, as White FArmers are pretty much exterminated… The same is occuring in South Africa, where over 3000 white farmers have been murdered, many extremely brutally raped and tortured, where they were burnt with irons, or their genitals removed while they were alive (for african withcraft muti-murder ritual purposes, etc)…. Most of the farms that have been handed over to black farmers, are in total ruin…

    Again Europe remains largely silent about this genocide, of White Farmers, whose deaths are in the range of 313, per 100,000. They are the highest at-risk group of professionals (far higher than soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan) from being murdered. While Genocide Watch President, Dr. Stanton has called this a genocide — Europeans remain largely silent.

    So, yes I totally agree there are distribution issues, and other issues, that affect the resource allocation of food, etc; which affect famines.

    However, there are many circumstances where water shortages are as a result of overpopulation.

    You don’t live in a society that views children as future objects that can be sold, for money, or be used as sex objects; or be used as economic slaves. Your concept towards breeding, and towards children is that children are consumed for love, to be cherished and nurtured. You may wish to step out of your western box, and notice that not all think that way..

    You did not answer my question about your opinions about the writiings of Harden and Bartlett? I’d be interested in hearing your views..


    • Hi Boycott. Regarding Harden and Bartlett, I’m only superficially aware of their work, and not enough to express myself. While I’m sure your knowledge of African conditions is far better than mine, I do think you draw the distinctions somewhat too sharp. Attitudes are perhaps not a different as you state. I don’t believe everyone in Africa views children and procreation as an economic opportunity, and trafficking and exploitation do occur in Europe and elsewhere as well.

      Regarding Zimbabwe, I wholeheartedly agree. It’s a horrible situation, and the reaction of the world has been disgraceful. I can just point out that we did what we could on this blog. See here: .

  3. Sorry Correction in CAPITALS:

    You don’t live in a society that views children as future objects that can be sold, for money, or be used as sex objects; or be used as economic slaves. Your concept towards breeding, and towards children is that children are PROCREATED for love, to be cherished and nurtured. You may wish to step out of your western box, and notice that not all think that way..

  4. Pingback: Overpopulation Again… « P.A.P. Blog – Human Rights Etc.

  5. Pingback: Overpopulation isn’t a very important problem | pratichesociali

  6. Pingback: Overpopulation Discourse and the Alarmism of Fake Accuracy | P.a.p.-Blog | Human Rights Etc.

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