Monday, September 21, 2009

The Times Gets It Wrong [Or Maybe Not]

Unfortunately, urban myths circulate in many areas.  Sunday Andrew Martin of the NY Times wrote:
While the food supply grew faster than the world’s population from 1970 to 1990, as the Green Revolution’s gains took hold, the situation has now reversed itself. Productivity gains in agriculture have slowed, and since 1990, the growth rate of food production has fallen below population growth.
This, of course, is not true, even though it's a prevalent concept.  Via Wikipeda we learn that the rate of world population growth has  declined:

In 2000, the United Nations estimated that the world's population was growing at the rate of 1.14% (or about 75 million people) per year,[27] down from a peak of 88 million per year in 1989. In the last few centuries, the number of people living on Earth has increased many times over. By the year 2000, there were 10 times as many people on Earth as there were 300 years ago. According to data from the CIA's 2005–2006 World Factbooks, the world human population increased by 203,800 every day.[28] The CIA Factbook increased this to 211,090 people every day in 2007, and again to 220,980 people every day in 2009.

Globally, the population growth rate has been steadily declining from its peak of 2.19% in 1963, but growth remains high in Latin America, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.[29]

Meanwhile, USDA in 2008 wrote:
The annual growth rate in the production of aggregate grains and oilseeds
has been slowing. Between 1970 and 1990, production rose an average
2.2 percent per year. Since 1990, the growth rate has declined to about 1.3
percent. USDA’s 10-year agricultural projections for U.S. and world agriculture
see the rate declining to 1.2 percent per year between 2009 and 2017.1
The ERS publication shows an increase in per-capita production in the period 1990-2007 and projects it to continue for the next 10 years, although at a much slower pace.

[Updated: I had made my point in an email to the NYTimes. Mr. Martin wrote back a response which says the wording could have been improved but the thought was correct, citing a conversation with Ron Trostle of ERS.  I'll try to research further.]

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