Population growth, environment and food security: what does the future hold?

Population growth, environment and food security: what does the future hold?

What effect will population growth have on the environment and on food security?

Is population growth the elephant in the (development) room? Some commentators assert it is the most pertinent development issue the world faces, but one which policy makers – for fear of impinging ‘human rights’ – are unwilling to address. What is certain, however, is that unchecked population growth places an ‘ever-increasing’ strain on finite global resources.

So what would be the future implications of such growth? What impact would population expansion have for the environment and, in turn, for food security? Furthermore how would pertinent climatic factors – climate change and changing weather patterns – mitigate or impact ‘future’ scenarios?

This pilot ‘horizon-scanning’ issue considers the future implications of population growth on the environment, and on food security, and details the critical issues confronting development and practice.

Issues covered include:

  • Population growth: urbanisation; changing demographics; international migration
  • Environment: water; energy; biodiversity; climate change
  • Food security: growing ‘consumption’, falling production; depletion of arable land; the need for agricultural innovation

The brief also offers a number of policy recommendations, including:

  • Set up a global system for identifying, assessing and managing possible risks and consequences, linked to national and regionally-integrated information systems
  • Donor agencies need to promote family planning, and increase access to family planning commodities - the UN estimates that at least 350 million women worldwide lack access to relatively cheap family planning procedures
  • Levy environmental taxes on international travel, carbon and urban congestion, and introduce selective water pricing
  • Regulate the prices of commodities and larger cereal stocks and provide food ‘safety nets’ – direct and indirect transfers, such as micro-finance, to boost small-scale farming activities
  • Minimise the loss of food energy during harvest, processing and consumption, and through recycling: recycling waste and using fish discards instead of cereal in animal feed could free up food energy for over 3 billion people.