Posts Tagged ‘population’

Feb26

Agricultural Population Growth Marginal as Nonagricultural Population Soars

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The global agricultural population—defined as individuals dependent on agriculture, hunting, fishing, and forestry for their livelihood—accounted for over 37 percent of the world’s total population in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available. This is a decrease of 12 percent from 1980, when the world’s agricultural and nonagricultural populations were roughly the same size. Although the agricultural population shrunk as a share of total population between 1980 and 2011, it grew numerically from 2.2 billion to 2.6 billion people during this period.

The world’s agricultural population grew from 2.2 billion to 2.6 billion people between 1980 and 2011. (Photo Credit: UNDP)

Between 1980 and 2011, the nonagricultural population grew by a staggering 94 percent, from 2.2 billion to 4.4 billion people—a rate approximately five times greater than that of agricultural population growth. In both cases growth was driven by the massive increase in the world’s total population, which more than doubled between 1961 and 2011, from 3.1 billion to 7 billion people.

It should be noted that the distinction between these population groups is not the same as the rural-urban divide. Rural populations are not exclusively agricultural, nor are urban populations exclusively nonagricultural. The rural population of Africa in 2011 was 622.8 million, for instance, while the agricultural population was 520.3 million.

Although the agricultural population grew worldwide between 1980 and 2011, growth was restricted to Africa, Asia, and Oceania. During this period, this population group declined in North, Central, and South America, in the Caribbean, and in Europe.

In 2011, Africa and Asia accounted for about 95 percent of the world’s agricultural population. In contrast, the agricultural population in the Americas accounted for a little less than 4 percent. Especially in the United States, this is the result of the development and use of new and innovative technologies as well as the increased use of farm machinery, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation systems that require less manual labor.

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Sep28

Bridging the Gap: The Need to Unite Global and Grassroots Approaches to Sustainable Development

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By Sophie Wenzlau

“Human actions are rapidly approaching or have already transgressed key global thresholds, increasing the likelihood of unprecedented ecological turbulence,” according to a report co-authored by scientists from the STEPS Centre, Stockholm Resilience Centre, and Tellus Institute. The report cites an urgent need to promote Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) uniting global and grassroots approaches to sustainable development.

The international community has neglected to emphasize community-led responses to sustainable development (Photo Credit: Antonio Lacerda/EPA)

At the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, officials endorsed a document, Agenda 21, emphasizing the need for community-led responses to sustainable development challenges. However, in the 20 years that have since passed, local responses to sustainable development challenges have seldom been acknowledged at the international level.

In general, high-level international panels on sustainability have promoted development from the top-down, focusing on, “particular forms of technological fix, whereby advanced science and engineering are harnessed towards solutions that can be rolled out at a large scale—whether in biotechnology (to produce high yielding crops to feed 9 billion people), or geo-engineering and low carbon energy technologies (to mitigate climate change).” The international approach has tended to ignore small-scale, grassroots innovations. It has, “related only sporadically, if at all, to the array of innovative grassroots initiatives springing up in farms and forests, villages and municipalities, factories and homes,” around the world.

According to a press release from the STEPS Centre, “the targets, indicators and approaches being used to pursue progress towards sustainable development at Rio+20 are counterproductive,” because they rely on large scale technological solutions. Scientists at the STEPS Centre, Stockholm Institute, and Tellus Institute, are actively promoting the idea that the principles of sustainable development should emphasize a diversity of solutions, embracing both small-scale grassroots and large-scale technological innovations in a multidimensional way.

To effectively address food insecurity, for instance, these scientists suggest the dual promotion of large-scale innovations, like plant breeding and biotechnology, and small-scale innovations, like soil and water conservation education for indigenous farmers. They recommend dialogue that brings farmers, scientists, businesses, and policymakers together, for they believe it can help, “to clarify the roles of these different innovation pathways in addressing diverse national and local sustainability priorities.”

According to Professor Melissa Leach, director of the STEPS Centre, “science, technology and innovation can help avert catastrophic developmental and environmental damage. But only if we move beyond outdated notions of whose innovation counts, to empower the vital contributions of poorer people’s own creativity in building green and fair economies and contributing to resilient socio-techno-ecological systems.”

Sophie Wenzlau is a research associate with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Jun22

Al Jazeera Video: “G20 Leaders Discuss Brazil’s Slums”

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Nourishing the Planet Director Danielle Nierenberg was featured on Al Jazeera English where she called for increased emphasis on women’s health and reproductive rights at the Rio+20 Conference.


“If women have access to the resources they need…they can make a real impact,” said Nierenberg. “Study after study shows that the more women are educated, the fewer children they have.”

The 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, took place this week just miles from sprawling slums like Manguinhoes, where lack of access to contraceptives or reproductive health services has caused rapid population growth.

What innovations or programs do you know of that are advancing women’s health and reproductive rights?

Mar28

World Scientists Tackle Food Insecurity

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By Dr. Christine Negra

Dr. Christine Negra is the Secretariat of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change.

Nearly one billion people in the world are undernourished, while millions suffer from chronic diseases due to excess food consumption. Global demand for agricultural products is growing and food prices are rising, yet roughly a third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. Climate change threatens more frequent drought, flooding, and pest outbreaks, and the world loses 12 million hectares of agricultural land each year to land degradation. Land clearing and inefficient practices make agriculture the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution on the planet.

Investments in sustainable agriculture, such as financial and technical assistance to improve smallholder food production, are needed to address food insecurity in the face of climate change. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Clearly, humanity must transform the way food is produced, distributed, and consumed in response to changes in climate, global population, eating patterns, and the environment. “To operate within a ‘safe space’ for people and the planet, we need to balance how much food we produce, how much we consume and waste and how much agriculture contributes to further climate change,” explains South African Commission Professor Bob Scholes of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

To address these alarming patterns, an independent commission of scientific leaders from 13 countries released today a detailed set of recommendations to policymakers on how to achieve food security in the face of climate change. In their report, the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change proposes specific policy responses to the global challenge of feeding a world confronted by climate change, population growth, poverty, food price spikes, and degraded ecosystems. The report highlights specific opportunities under the mandates of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Group of 20 (G20) nations.

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Feb17

UNEP and IWMI Advocate Agroecosystems to Improve Food, Water Security

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By Dana Drugmand 

With the world population already at 7 billion, producing food in environmentally sustainable ways will be one of the key challenges we face this century. Investing in the connections between ecosystems, water management and food production will be an important part of the solution to reducing hunger, poverty, and ecological degradation, according to a report produced jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

Maintaining ecosystem services will be critical to ensuring long-term food security, according to the report from UNEP and IWMI. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

An Ecosystems Services Approach to Water and Food Security, which was launched during World Water Week in Stockholm back in August, addresses the question of how it is possible to boost food security without severely depleting water resources and while keeping healthy ecosystems intact. The report notes that water scarcity is one of the key factors limiting food production. At the same time, current agricultural practices are putting huge strains on water resources. Groundwater levels, for example, are declining rapidly in major food producing regions such as the North China Plains, the Indian Punjab, and the western United States.

As UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner writes in the report’s preface, “ensuring food security, managing water resources and protecting ecosystems must be considered as a single policy rather than as separate, and sometimes competing, choices.” The report recommends managing agricultural areas as agroecosystems, which provide ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling, soil formation, water purification and flood control that are critical to ensuring a sustainable and stable food supply. Measures such as diversifying crop production, implementing agroforestry, and improving rainwater collection should boost crop yields and build resilience to make agriculture less vulnerable to climate change. The report also offers specific recommendations for a more holistic approach to managing drylands, wetlands, crop systems, fisheries, and livestock systems. And maintaining ecosystem services in agroecosystems will require collaboration among multiple sectors, including agriculture, water, forestry, fisheries, livestock and wildlife management.

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Feb08

What Women Really Want for Valentine’s Day

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By Robert Engelman 

Valentine’s Day has long celebrated love with caring notes, decadent chocolates, and romantic arrangements of flowers. But this Valentine’s Day, perhaps it’s time to celebrate with a gift many of the world’s women desperately want and need: reproductive health.

Many women are not empowered to make their own decisions regarding if or when to have children. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 1,000 women die every day due to pregnancy or childbirth, or one woman every 90 seconds. Ninety-nine percent of these deaths occur in the developing world, 90 percent in Africa and Asia. A handful of complications account for 80 percent of these maternal deaths—severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure, obstructed labor, and unsafe abortion—and the bulk of these deaths are preventable.

Reproductive health, including access to the information and means to plan a family, is a human right the world’s nations have recognized in various forms since 1968. Access to family planning and other reproductive health services safeguard the lives of women and their children and promote families that are emotionally and economically healthy.

In my book, More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want, I explore centuries of reproductive history and concludes that, if given the chance to do what they really want, women on average have smaller families, with childbirths later in their lives. This pattern is safer for women and children, and promotes environmental sustainability through the slower population growth that lower fertility rates and later births bring about.

The Health of Women and Children

The UNFPA report Women and Girls in a World of 7 Billion notes that poverty, marginalization, and gender inequalities based on culture are key challenges to reproductive health. The report relays that women own less than 15 percent of the land worldwide; their wages, on average, are 17 percent lower than men’s; and they make up two-thirds of the world’s 776 million illiterate adults.

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Dec05

Who’s Counting?

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By Cary Fowler

The following blog, written by Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group member Cary Fowler, was adapted from the Global Crop Diversity Trust’s Crop Diversity Topics.

World population just surpassed the big round number of 7,000,000,000.

Feeding another billion people will require many changes in our current food production system. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Mankind reached its first billion just as the 19th century got underway. That feat of fecundity required eons. It took us just 12 years, however, to tack on the last billion. We’re definitely on a roll.

Predictably, the latest milestone is passing by as a one-day news event. As long as I can remember, the media’s cursory coverage of population growth has been coupled with references to Malthus, who in 1798 famously asserted that population would inevitably outstrip food production. That was before the first billion.

Could the world feed so many people? The answer was obviously ‘yes’.

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Nov12

Four Billion New Reasons Why Food Will Become a Local Government Issue

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well-being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. 

Last week, the flashbulb explosion met the population explosion, as news cameras clicked at several newborns identified as the seventh billion humans in the world. Now that the global birthday party is over, it’s time for new thinking about preparing food for a party of seven billion.

As our population continues to grow, improving urban policies are key to ensure food security in cities. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Any amount of food multiplied by seven billion is going to be a big number. Resources required will be almost seven times higher than when Thomas Malthus wrote his famous essay on human population, with its doomsday prediction that food production could never expand as rapidly as population growth, thereby condemning large numbers to hunger and want. And there’s little doubt the number will get larger, likely nine billion by 2050.

Human numbers have climbed from about 200 million in Christ’s time, to about a billion at the time of the American and French Revolutions, to some 3.5 billion during the 1960s era of birth control pills and “sexual revolution”—the term “population bomb” was coined in that decade—and then started hitting new growth plateaus every decade, not every other century or millennia. Nine billion people are expected for the birthday party in 2050.

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Oct26

As Global Population Surpasses 7 Billion, Two Clear Strategies for a Sustainable Future

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As the global population surpasses 7 billion people sometime around the end of October, addressing the challenges associated with a still-growing world population will require a two-pronged response. The combined measures of empowering women to make their own decisions about childbearing and significantly reducing global consumption of energy and natural resources would move humanity toward rather than further away from environmentally sustainable societies that meet human needs.

A two-pronged effort is necessary to address the challenges that a growing population will bring. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Roughly 4.5 billion people have been added to the world population in just the last 60 years, according to United Nations estimates, putting increased strain on the world’s ecosystems and resources. Because humans interact with their surroundings far more intensely than any other species and use vast amounts of carbon, nitrogen, water, and other resources, we are on track not only to change the global climate and deplete essential energy and other natural resources, but to wipe out thousands of plant and animal species in the coming decades. To some extent, these outcomes are now unavoidable; we’ll have to adapt to them. But in order to improve the likelihood they will not be catastrophic, we need to simultaneously work to influence the future path of population and to address the environmental and social impacts that continued population growth will have.

Earlier this year, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched 7 Billion Actions, a campaign to highlight positive actions by individuals and organizations addressing global development challenges. By sharing these innovations in an open forum, the campaign aims to foster communication and collaboration as the planet becomes more populated and increasingly interdependent.

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Sep07

Nourishing the Planet TV: “Re-Greening” the Sahel through Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration

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In this week’s episode, research intern Graham Salinger discusses the natural regeneration methods being used in the Sahel region of Africa to bring back indigenous trees and improve the livelihoods of traditional farmers.

Video: http://youtu.be/7cZ-ClIeK0M

To read more about farmer-managed natural regeneration, see: Innovation of the Week: “Re-Greening” the Sahel through Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.