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Overpopulation Case

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Its Economic Effects

         People are not scary when a prophet of doom tells them that the universe would end some 5 billion years from now.  That exactly what scientists have estimated as the time end when the luminous sun would blow up into dust and chunk pieces.  In reality, what people are concerned about is what pains them.  And one of the great concerns is on the occurrence of   huge denser population, or a sudden increase in population due to immigration, increased birthrate, or reduced death rate due to medical advances.  This natural phenomenon is dubbed as “overpopulation.” Briefly, this account tells about overpopulation and its attendant problems affecting the world in general and particularly the effects on the so-called LDCs or the least developed countries.

            This phenomenon occurs when the Earth can no longer nourish, sustain, or “carry” its inhabitants.   Beyond food supply, other sustaining factors have been considered such as shelter, clean water and air, availability of medicines, etc. Newer technological developments, however, have made possible extending further the Earth’s carrying and nourishing capacity.

Overpopulation or Draconian Policies?

At this point of time, nobody has yet proven that the Earth has reached the population saturation point.1  Some observers, however, assert that we are now at this point, which creates some consequential or incidental problems like poverty, famine, global warming, deforestation, air pollution, flora and fauna extinction, conflicts, revolutions, and ultimately wars. Others, on the other hand, feel that such problems have surfaced not due to the effect of having intrinsic or denser population but fundamentally due to bad or Draconian governments with unsound economic programs.  Optimistic observers have asserted further that with denser population, people concerned can find time to specialize and make ways technologically leading society to sustainable life.

Why we behave so scary about the overpopulation issue could be traced back some 200 years earlier when Malthus published his “An Essay on the Principle of Population” asserting that the world inhabitants multiply much faster than they can produce nourishment to feed themselves.  Whether Malthus’ foreboding is real or imaginary, “overpopulation’s” gloomy effects have appeared not threatening at all.

The past food production records have shown that the amount of food supply worldwide  have met the desired requirements, even have stockpiled some 50% surplus in 1990 for the developed nations and 17% for the developing countries.   This is based on FAO documents during the 1991 World Food Summit.  Some misplaced forethought about future famine, however, have failed to materialize such as that of Paul R. Ehrlich who popularized “The Population Bomb” concept.  One of his forebodings is the waning of the US population before 1999 ends, shrinking drastically the number from 250 million to barely 22 million.  As men of science specialized and developed scientific ways, agriculture was transformed when Green Revolution was launched, stockpiling world grain produce with 250% increase on the records. Ehrlich’s projection has indeed failed.

Nepal: Overpopulation or Underdevelopment?

One of the least developed countries (LDCs) 2 is Nepal, having a gross domestic product of only $5.6 billion in comparison with the USA having over $9 trillion. About 31% of the population is considered as below the poverty line.  With such features, Nepal could be used demonstratively as a pattern for least developing countries.  Currently, Nepal has begun experiencing population pressure from the hilly part of the Katmandu Valley (Fig. 1.).  Occurrence of food shortages in this country could be traced to lack of technological innovations and sound economic policies rather than caused by the speedy growth of population.  Population pressure, however, is only localized with strains recorded in the middle hill areas of Katmandu Valley where deforestation of forest covers have been observed.   Here, forest covers are used for food, fuel, and fodder (feeds).  Such depleted areas have shown erosion and flooding problems to low-lying, food-producing areas.

Though Nepal has a growing trade deficit, it has been maintaining a balance of payment surplus from its remitting workers abroad.  Its surplus has jumped from $79 million in 2005 to $355 million in 2006.  This could be more for the years ahead.  Downward economic trend has been due partly to the Maoist conflict undermining Nepal’s development activities.

The changing structure of Nepal economy from subsistence economy to what they call now as “remittance economy”, which serves as saver of economic burden, has been described by Nepal writer Manandhar (Majja.com).

As per the Nepal Living Standards Measurement Survey (NLSMS), between 1995/96 to 2003/04, from one-third to one-half of the poverty reduction in Nepal was a result of increased remittances coming into the country. It is estimated that 12 percent of GDP – US$ 794 million in 2003/04 – constitutes foreign payments. Similarly, the proportion of households receiving money from abroad has gone up from 23 percent in 1995/96 to 32 percent in 2003/04. In other words, one out of every three families in Nepal receives remittances. If remittances constitute 12 percent of GDP, then the overseas employment sector must be larger than tourism and the garment, carpet and the rest of the manufacturing industries combined. Because of the scarcity of cultivable land and overpopulation in the hills, out-migration has been a unique feature of the Nepali economy, acting as a safety-valve in the economic pressure cooker. More than 1,000 km of Nepal’s southern border with India remains open primarily to release this population pressure.

Another imaginary idea about overpopulation issue is on overcrowding.  When people see a crowding area, this may imply at once a sign of overpopulation, which is not the real picture.  People cluster in cities and in metropolitan areas naturally to make a living, to exchange merchandise, or to offer services. Flying over the vast track of lands shows that the world is still largely an empty open space, which in reality, man occupies no more than 3% of the cleared land areas.

Falling Fertility Rate

According to the United Nations Statistics, the world population growth has been rapidly declining.  In 1965 to 1970, the annual rate of change in world population fell by 2%.  In 1990 to 1995, the rate fell to 1.5%.  The 79 countries in the UN list comprising the 40% of the global population have experienced a very low fertility rate.  As to the number of children a woman could have in her lifetime, it fell from 5 children for the surveyed 1950 – 1955 period to less than 3 for 1990-1995 survey.  Even the worldwide forecasting of the global population targeted for 2050 have changed from over 10 billion to an estimate of 9 billion according to the World Bank and the UN projection.  A lower estimate has been anticipated in the offing (Table 1.).

Another imaginary idea that beclouds the overpopulation issue is on poverty, which surfaces resulting from having a denser population in a certain region or countries.  This notion could simply be ignored as plainly unreal or untrue. The culprit could be attributed to bad governance resulting to worse economic policies.  This has been the case so many times.  Governments confiscate farmlands or food stocks and the proceeds are forwarded to weapon merchants to purchase military artillery. When a certain government spends too much, levies high taxes on common farmers, tightens more the lid on commerce and trade, owns a bulky parts of the country, and restricts private economy, one is now sure to blame worse governance for having poor economy with impoverished people.  Some countries namely: Bulgaria, Uruguay, and Ecuador, on the other hand, despite their strict adherence to population control measures, have their economies continue to crash.  One may just ignore the myth and have the answer.

Overpopulation or Population Displacement?

Concerning Africa’s least developing countries (LDCs),3 environmental degradation has been traced not from “overpopulation” but from the consequences of population displacement resulting from civil war and natural causes.  According to researchers, when people use solid fuels like fuelwood, this contributes to deforestation, soil erosion, and air pollution.

3The Least Developing Countries (LDCs) are:  Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Haiti, Kiribati, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Vanuatu, Yemen, and Zambia.

Going back to Nepal, just like other LDCs, the outward symptoms like poverty,

Food shortages, air pollution, deforestation, etc that people have observed are allegedly caused by “overpopulation.” Dissecting the root causes as in the case of Nepal’s economy, the downhill factors have come from Nepal’s underdevelopment.  The downhill situation gets bad with the appearance of more “free riders” from the upcoming generation.  Nepal’s country profile pictures what makes it basically poor (MapZones).

The United Nations (UN) classifies Nepal as one of the least developed countries in the world. The nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) was $5 billion in 1999, with an around per capita GDP of $210. Several factors have contributed to Nepal’s underdevelopment, including its landlocked geography, rugged terrain, deficiency of natural resources, and poor infrastructure. China, India, Japan, the United States, and several European nations have made large investments in Nepal’s economy through foreign aid since 1952. Still, the nation’s economic growth has been slow. Nepal’s economy is characterized by heavy dependence on foreign aid, a narrow range of exports, increasing economic disparity between the mountain areas and the more developed Tarai region, excessive governmental control and regulation, and inefficient public enterprises and administration.

In addition, the economy has not kept pace with the nation’s high population growth. In particular, the slow growth of agriculture has resulted in food shortages and malnutrition for some of Nepal’s people. Landlocked, deficient in substantial resources for economic development, and hampered by an insufficient  transportation network, Nepal is one of the least developed nations in the world. The economy is heavily dependent on imports of basic materials and on foreign markets for its forest and agricultural products. Nepal imports essential commodities, such as fuel, construction materials, fertilizers, metals, and most consumer goods, and exports such products as rice, jute, timber, and textiles. The political and administrative system of Nepal has not made those changes in trade, investment, and related economic policies that would expedite economic development and attract foreign capital. The government’s development programs, which are funded by foreign aid, also have failed to respond directly to the needs of rural people.

Securing Food Sources

With the inevitable growth of population vis-à-vis the shrinking spaces, food security would be the top agenda for all nations for the years ahead.   In a shrinking world with much people and less arable lands, alternative technologies must be tried to produce enough if not abundant sources of nourishment for all life-forms inhabiting the Earth.  Even megacities have been expected to produce food crops.

In developing countries, researchers have estimated that consumers spend about 50 to 80% of their average salary on food.  Some surveyed cities from various countries like India, Egypt, Thailand, Bolivia, and others have revealed that around 69 to 89% of the resident income is spent on food, a study revealed.  And here comes city or urban farming.

The rise of city farming is affected by several factors.  According to researchers, urban farming is triggered by fast urbanization, poor food distribution system, reduced wages, inflation, negligent city regulations, drought, expanding population, and other factors.  The shift to a newer and effective technology from conventional farming has been reiterated by some emerging so-called vertical farmers.  They expressed (in The Vertical Farm Essay, online) that: “On the next 50 years, the human population is expected to rise to at least 8.6 billion requiring an additional 10 billion hectares to feed them using the current technologies.  That quantity of farmland is no longer available.”

In l993, statistics showed that about 200 millions of city population worldwide engaged in urban growing of foods.  These farmers supplied food and earning to about 700 million people.  In l980, records show that about 25% of all urban household in the U.S.A. were occupied in food production.  In African cities, same year, about 57% household in six Kenyan cities were in food production. Other cities including Moscow ranged from 32.6 to 70% households.  Today, even in developed country surrounded by obesity problems, urban food production has been flourishing across the country like in U.S.A (Mark, 2007).

More Foods from the City

                 City growers who produced their own food save cash as well as generate income from the produce.  Urban growers who fall under the lower-income bracket save cash that otherwise would be spent on food.  The amount of saving in household food ranges from l8 to 60% if the farmers produce their own.

To sustain food growing in the cities, growers make use of land unsuited for building and idle public lands.  They also use some bodies of water, household spaces, and some small, inaccessible vacant land areas.  They even cultivate stream sides and flood-prone areas. Each large city has under-used areas that are suitable for farming.  For instance, in l980, Metro Manila has about 203 km2 of such area; Bangkok has 338 km2; Bombay has 200 km2; Karachi has 4,850 hectares; and Sao Paolo has 600 km2.

Though large tracts of land are suitable for urban farming, this area, however, is not at all accessible to farmers.  On the other hand, zoning laws may hinder anyone who desires to farm his own or the neighborhood land.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (1996), although urban farming cannot become a wider solution to severe food problems in the cities, with right policies, city farming can potentially increase the volumes of food supply in the city as well as contributing nourishment to impoverished people worldwide.  With newer technologies coming like Sky Farming or Vertical Farming systems, green food production in the heart of cities worldwide may become an amazing reality.

More Foods from Landless Areas

Urban farmers may grow crops using the hydroponics method, which is growing crops in water or sand loaded with chemical food.  The use of this method in shrinking land space may alleviate the problem of growing food in the cities.  With hydroponics, plants are grown without soil; instead, these are grown in nutrient solutions with or without the use of artificial media that provide support for the roots.  The system gives the growing plants a more favorable root environment, optimum levels of mineral nutrients, water, oxygen, and warmth or coolness.  The system also provides good aeration, moisture and protection from possible pathogens and pests.

Growers worldwide use hydroponics due to lack of fertile land or the lack of sufficient and large water supply.  The popularity of this system for home growers is that they can grow fresh greens in compact space such as those found in apartments or balcony.  Weeding is not a problem in this system.  Properly grown plants are healthier, mature faster and earlier.

Aside from growing crops in ponds, backyards, on rooftops, roadsides, vacant lots, steep slopes, floodplains, on un-built land near major transportation corridors like railways, seaports, etc., urban farmers can also practice the so-called container gardening.  By this method, crops or vegetables are planted in empty pots, bottles, kerosene cans, plastic containers, cars’ tires, tanks and drums filled with fertile soil.  Once filled with soil, the containers are placed in the open to trap sunlight.

Container gardening is light and easy and has several advantages over conventional gardening.  There’s no plowing and harrowing involved and plant diseases and insect pests are negligible.  Besides, production cost is very low.

            Most recently, an innovative approach of producing more food for landless cities has come from an innovator Dickson Despomier, an aging microbiologist from Columbia University.  He proposes what is called Vertical Farming that injects hydroponics technology into the metropolis’ skyscrapers.  His system claims feeding millions while cooling the earth (Vertical Farmer, 2007).

 Works Cited

Elsis, Mark.  We Have Passed Our Sustainability. 1 May 2000.  Overpopulation.net. 10 December 2007.  http://www.overpopulation.net/popnews

Manandhar, Narayan.  The Money is Flowing. 03 December 2007. Majja.com. 10 December 2007. http://www. kantipuronline/kolnews.php

Map Zones.  1995-2007. Country’s Profile. 9 December 2007. http://www. mapzones.com/world/asia/Nepal/economyindex.php

Mark, Jason. Urban Farming: Coming Your City Near You. 26 March 2007.  Retrieved 10 December 2007. http://www. alternet.org/environment

The Vertical Farms. July 2007. Retrieved 10 December 2007.   http://www. vertical farmers/PopSci-Jul-2007.pdf.

Urban Farming. October 1996.  Retrieved 9 December 2007.  http://www.fao.org/News/

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