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Apocalypse when? Population growth and food supply in South Asia



Apocalypse when? Population growth and food supply in South Asia



Asia-Pacific Population & Policy: 1-4



Food demands for staple grains are expected to almost double over the next 25 years in South Asia, due to population growth and increased standards of living. Trends in the mid-1990s suggest that neither pessimism nor optimism prevails in the region. There is wide diversity among and within countries. Trends suggest that population densities are already the highest in the world, and the amount of arable land is declining. Urban growth has moved onto farm land and farmers have been pushed onto more marginal lands or have become landless. Land intensification has produced mixed results. Cereal production per capita has increased since the 1950s in India, with about 75% of the region's population, but Pakistan's increases were not sustained into the 1980s. Average daily caloric intake per person in the region of 2214 is below the level in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Bangladesh, levels are particularly worrisome at 2037. The environmental impact has not been easily quantified, but experts have suggested that pressure on farm land has contributed to loss of soil fertility and water resource loss. Further intensification of farming is feasible, but difficult and more expensive than in the past. Regardless of production problems and solutions, there is also the very real problem of poor food distribution and lack of purchasing power. Farm management skills must be utilized, if environmental degradation is to be avoided. There is the added unknown of what climate changes will occur and how agricultural production will be affected. The policy implications are that increased food production must be made a political priority. Policies must support agricultural research into improved technologies and support distribution of technological advances to a wider number of farmers. Rural infrastructures such as roads, market outlets, and credit agencies must be established. Policies must be removed that disadvantage farmers, such as inappropriate subsidies for irrigation water, inadequate tenure agreements, and price setting. Slowing population growth provides time to adjust to expanding production and saving the environment.

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