Malthus and Africa Africa, being a third world country with much economic oppression, is currently being debated in the General Assembly about whether or not it should have population control. Many experts believe that, if not controlled, the rate of the increasing population of Africa will have disastrous effects. Over two hundred years ago, a man by the name of Thomas Robert Malthus wrote an essay on the effects of population and the food supply titled “An Essay on the Principle of Population.” This essay dealt with the growth of population and if not restrained, how it would destroy man’s subsistence here on Earth (Geyer 1). Much of what he wrote applies to not only Africa, but also the entire world today. Currently, the population growth in the Western Nations is approaching zero.
This means that each family is having 2.1 children, enough to replace the current population. For North America to double, it would take one hundred years, for Europe, two hundred. But for Africa to double, it would take only twenty-four years. There are many factors as to why Africa, and many other third world countries, reproduces at such a rate. Lack of contraceptives, traditional values, high infant mortality, and poor education are a few of these factors (Duffey 2). “It is a lot easier for a country to deal with its problems if it has less people,” says Brian Hailwel, who studies Malthus’s theories (Kolasky 1).
Carl Haub who stated, “It is almost impossible for a developing country to move from the Third World to the First World when their population is rising so rapidly” supports Hailwel’s statement. Malthus believed that the evolution of mankind existed in cycles. Good times occurred when there were high wages and good living conditions, which led to early marriages and rapid population increase. Then come the bad times. Disease, low wages, and epidemics lead to population decrease and a restored balance between population and resources. This cycle then repeats (Stundbia 4). He also felt that the Poor Laws, which attempted to support those whose incomes were too low to support themselves, were in the long run more harmful than helpful.
This just leads to lower wages and families that can not support the children they already have bearing more. Many people seem to think that war, famine, and plague will help keep the world’s population restrained. These disasters are one of the two checks on the growth of population that Malthus identifies in “An Essay on the Principle of Population.” He called these two checks positive checks and preventative checks. Positive checks are famine, disease, and wars while preventive checks are celibacy, abortion, and late marriages. Africa participates very little in the second check Malthus identifies due to previously stated reasons. When Malthus wrote his essay, he did not take into account the impact technology would have on food production.
Due to the “Green Revolution” which brought about the tractor, refrigeration, chemical fertilizers, and genetic engineering, there was a tremendous increase in food production. Until the mid-eighties, food production kept up with population growth. Since then, it has been steadily declining. Grain production is declining due to soil erosion, waterlogging and salting of irrigated land, air pollution, water shortages, and overuse of land (Berntsen 3). Technological advances compensated for the loss of farmland. Even though less land can be used, more food is being produced.
Unfortunately, there are many indications that the world is, at present, producing the maximum amount of food it is capable of. The combined effect of the loss of farmland and the peaking of yield per acre impose limitations. The same problem is in occurrence for the meat production. Nearly all of the world’s rangelands are in use. Seventy-percent of the world’s annual meat is range fed while the other thirty-percent is grain fed.
The only room for growth is in the grain fed, and that is estimated to only grow another forty-two percent (Berntsen 2). Fish are also on the decline as a reliable resource for food. The destruction of spawning grounds and the use of mile-long nylon nets has caused the overharvesting of the ocean. A five- percent increase is optimistic (Berntsen 3). The result of the present being the peak in food production while the population is still growing is frightening.
If food were to be distributed equally, the food supply would be ten pounds per week. Currently, Americans eat seventeen pounds of food per week. When the world population reaches approximately eleven billion in the year 2050, the food supply will be six to seven pounds per week, which is below the level of food people eat who live in poverty today (Berntsen 1). Malthus believed that three things cause the decline of living conditions: the overpopulation of young; the inability of resources to keep up with the rising human population; and the irresponsibility of the lower class (Simison 2). Malthus suggested a regulation on the size of families of the lower class to fight this.
Tunisia, which is located in Northern Africa, has introduced birth control with remarkable results. If overpopulation is not checked, it leads to the crowding of people and the fight for food and water. This, in turn, leads to genocide and other means that are normally considered inappropriate as acceptable (Geyer 2). Equilibrium is what Malthus thought population should achieve. This is where the birth rate equals the death rate. When this is reached, wages will stay the same and any disturbances caused will have compensating changes (Stundbia 5). Malthus, who is credited for this idea, did not think the human population would ever achieve it. He figured that it would be exceeded, a positive check would result, and the cycle would start all over again.
Taking Malthus’s theories into account, the only thing that will help Africa economically is for the population to be repressed. In fact, for the next generation or two, the reproduction level should be below the replacement rate. This dramatically decreases the population, therefore increasing the chances it has to grow and develop. If Africa’s population is not repressed, there will not be enough food to feed the people living there. Even First World countries will be unable to help, because they will need all the food they can produce.
A gruesome famine will occur, with thousands dead. Africa will experience a major setback and may possibly never recover. I believe that much of Malthus’s theory is correct. Much of the data he used in the seventeen hundreds was incorrect, but his ideas still apply. The cycles he explained have proven to occur. Almost all of the world’s land that can be used is being used to produce the maximum yield.
Scientists have predicted the world’s growth to reach eleven billion by the year 2050 if left unchecked. Many have also agreed that the maximum food supply is being produced. If countries such as Africa, whose population tripled from 1950 to today, do not curb their population growth, there will not be enough food to feed them, much less countries that are considerable better off economically. I also think that if Africa were to be educated and there was less oppression, the result would be a lower population growth. The idea of allowing families to have only a certain amount of children is morally wrong. Some people seem to think that Malthus’s ideas are extinct and do not apply to the world today.
They consider him and what he thought to be dead. But, as Pablo Neruda once said, “Everything that is buried is not dead” (Geyer 1). He is still alive because his theories can still be applied to today. The consequences of not considering Malthus’s theory as a real threat are too great. For life to exist as we know it, population must be repressed. If not, man’s subsistence will be extinct.
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7 March 1999. Garnet. “Malthus and Neo-Malthusians” Western Europe- Population Assignment. On-line. Internet.
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“Africa, We Have a Problem” On-line. Internet. 7 March 1999. Simison, W. Brian. “Thomas Malthus” Thomas Malthus.
The University of California Museum of Paleontology, 1994. On-line. Internet. 7 March 1999. Stundbia, Mabvydas.
“Thomas Malthus on Population and Consequences on Economics Theory” On-line. Internet. 7 March 1999.