Why “Feed the 9” Doesn’t Add Up
For several years, some in Agriculture have been pushing the rallying cry, “Feed the 9!” It refers to the food demand of 9 billion people expected to be at Earth’s dinner table by the year 2050.
Catchy as the phrase might be, Agriculture should drop the slogan. Here’s why:
We’ve been wrong before
Many demographers predict a global population of 9 billion. But experts have been wrong about lots of things.
Remember the 1970s when secretary of Agriculture (and fellow Purdue Ag Economist) Earl Butts, told American farmers to plant from fence row to fence row? The world was starving for our product. Demand for our crops would never go away. Then came the 1980s. $1.60 corn, bankruptcy in the farm belt, and enough farm foreclosures to give Ag bankers a decade of ulcers.
What about expert predictions on oil? During the multiple “energy crises” of the 1970s, experts told us Earth would run out of gas in 40 years. It’s 40 years later and the tank’s nowhere close to empty.
So forgive me for being a skeptic, but when I see China reversing its one-child policy because they’ve approached negative population growth, it signifies a global population that might be close to peaking. You see, the more affluent a society becomes, the less babies are born. An expanding global middle class means one- and two-child families — or maybe couples who opt to not reproduce altogether!
Affluent consumers don’t care
Speaking of affluence, we still have lots of it here in North America. The United States has just 5% of Earth’s population, but 25% of global GDP.
We’re not just rich, we’re also fat. Two thirds of the country is overweight with a full 36% qualifying as obese. These people don’t comprehend starvation because they’ve not experienced it.
Sure, they’ll give lip service to feeding the world’s poor, but will they actually take steps to make it happen? We waste 30% of our food in North America. If “feeding the 9” was truly a consumer objective, we’d stop wasting our food and figure out a way to put those calories in the mouths that so desperately need them.
If we do get to 9 billion, they won’t be customers
Earth has 7.4 billion human inhabitants today. 800 million of them are struggling somewhere between starving and food insecure.
We could feed these people. Look at the surpluses, quota systems, and CRP programs designed to limit production here in the land of plenty. It’s generally not an issue of production, but of economics.
If Earth does grow by another 1.6 billion people, that growth will be in the absolute poorest nations on the planet. They’re not our customers now, and they likely won’t have money to be our customers tomorrow.
From “Remember the Maine” to “Yes We Can,” slogans have always motivated the people they’re intended to motivate.
While I’m one of the biggest cheerleaders for North American Agriculture you’ll ever meet, current prices indicate we don’t need motivated to produce more grain, meat, or milk at the moment.
Worse yet, “Feed the 9” never resonated with our consumers. It’s hard for them to grasp, and too foreign for them to care about. And so it goes with slogans. Back to the drawing board.
Damian Mason is an Agriculturist, Businessman, and extremely in-demand speaker. Find him at www.damianmason.com