How can that be I hear the alarmists among you cry? There is so much to be worried about. Predictions of impending catastrophe rain down from the environmentalists like herbal confetti at a green wedding.
It’s a bit of a bugger isn’t it when not only are we not starving but we’re managing to feed ourselves from less land. Not because of some watermelon inspired global thinking but because of millions of individuals finding cleverer ways to extract more from less.
Matt Ridley, the rational optimist, puts the record straight in this excellent article for The Times. Here are some extracts
New figures from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation show that the world’s cereal harvest, which provides more than half of the calories that humans eat, broke a new record last year at 2.54 billion tonnes — an astonishing 20 per cent higher than ten years ago. Thanks to better techniques and seeds, the world’s farmers (of which I declare I am one, in a mostly hands-off way) have provided a growing population with more food per head, year after year, largely without cultivating extra land or using extra water or chemicals.
Maize, rice and wheat — the big three cereals — each broke records in 2014. So why do we hear frequent cries that the world soon will be or is already struggling to feed itself?
“The world is closer to a food crisis than most people realise” headlined one newspaper in 2012. “The food-apocalypse is already upon us”, the same paper shrieked last year. “Rising temperatures reduce global wheat production” was the title of a widely cited academic paper in 2014.
As Africa, the gigantic continent whose average yields have barely budged in 50 years, gets access to plentiful fertiliser, global harvests will increase even faster. It’s not just plants that are getting better at giving us what we need thanks to science; so are animals. The rate at which cows, pigs and especially chickens convert grain into meat is also going up steadily.
Even as a richer world turns increasingly to meat and other luxuries, we can cut the human footprint on the planet.
The fault lies in European officialdom’s perpetual war on innovation in agriculture — its precautionary and bureaucratic de facto opposition, at the behest of what the former environment secretary Owen Paterson calls the Green Blob, to safer pesticides and genetic modification, both of which demonstrably boost yields, save inputs and spare land elsewhere in the world.
Cheer yourself up on a dull Saturday. Read Matt Ridley’s article in full. Who knows you might even get excited about the great future we would have if, indeed, the climate ever changes enough to warm the cockles of our hearts.