NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Feeding The World

November 18, 1996

Experts say that while delegates to the United Nations World Food Summit in Rome last week were debating whether there would be enough food available to feed another several billion people in the next century, there was abundant evidence that there would be.

  • Data developed by Julian L. Simon, author of "The Ultimate Resource 2," show that there is now 40 percent more food being produced per capita worldwide than there was as recently as 1950.
  • This does not even take into account the increase in the amount of food that reaches consumers as a result of improvements in transportation and storage.
  • The fall in the market price of wheat adjusted for inflation over the past two centuries (despite a growing world population and rising incomes) provides further evidence that supplies are trending ever upward.
  • Even more startling, the price of wheat relative to wages in the U.S. has fallen to perhaps 1/20th of its level two centuries ago.

Simon points out that long-term progress began in the westernized countries in the mid-1700s. By the second half of the 1800s, daily food intake in Norway, France and Germany had risen from much less than 2,000 calories per person to more than 2,000. And the amount of animal protein per person had doubled or tripled.

Worldwide, the proportion of the labor force devoted to agriculture has decreased, as productivity per worker and per acre have improved -- thanks to power machinery and biological innovations induced by increased demand, better transportation and expanding economic freedom.

Doomsayers predict that the Earth is running out of room for agriculture. However:

  • When one realizes that the Earth's entire population could be housed eight to an acre in Texas, the perspective changes.
  • Each family could feed itself nicely by devoting perhaps one-fifth of its space to raising food with artificial light and hydroponic agriculture.
  • Seventy-five square feet grows enough food to sustain one person.

Source: Julian L. Simon (Cato Institute), "What the Starvation Lobby Eschews..." Wall Street Journal, November 18, 1996.


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