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Education And Debate

Averting a world food shortage: tighten your belts for CAIRO II

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 19 October 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:995
  1. Maurice King, honorary research fellowa,
  2. Charles Elliott, dean and chaplainb
  1. a University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT,
  2. b Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 1TJ
  1. Correspondence to: Dr M King, 1 bis Rue du Tir, Geneva 1204, Switzerland.
  • Accepted 20 August 1996

We are going to have to eat what the world will produce with all its failings, not what it could produce without them. Trends in global food production are therefore all important. These are now giving cause for anxiety, in that the rate of increase of global grain yields has been slowing seriously. Locally, the food security of some demographically trapped communities is so dire that, like China, they need one child families. The 1994 Cairo population conference (Cairo I) took future food supplies for granted and took no account of demographic entrapment: the conference should be recalled urgently as CAIRO II.

A photon (grain) efficient diet would share the world's food more equitably and ease our personal demands on the ecosystem

The world's population is set to follow a sigmoid curve and double or perhaps triple. Will the food it produces do the same—sustainably? Or do we need to think more seriously about population control, and if so what are the politics behind this? In November the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations will host a world food summit to discuss “the eradication of hunger and malnutrition and the achievement of lasting food security.” The critical indicator is grain (cereal production). Grain directly and indirectly provides about two thirds of all food energy, annual consumption varying between 200 kg per head in India and 800 kg per head in the United States; the world average is 327 kg per head.

The grain the world produces depends on the yield per hectare and the area on which grain can be grown. As the world's total cropland cannot be increased (gains being more or less matched by losses) cropland per head is steadily falling as the population rises; already there is only 0.6 acre (0.25 ha) for each of …

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