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Demographic growth, food, fertilizer and Pakistan

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To meet the food requirements of the projected population in 2020, annual cereal production will need to increase by 57 %

By Dr. S.M. Alam, NIA
 Tandojam
July 16 - 22, 2001

One the highest challenges facing the world today is feeding its ever-increasing population. For a world that cannot adequately feed over 6 billion inhabitants today, the picture appears to be somewhat gloomy. In many developing countries including Pakistan's high population growth has a dual effect on food balance. World population has risen at the rate of 2.0 % per year since 1960, but food production has grown at 2.8 % per year due to the application of better crop production techniques.

Most of the future population growth will occur in developing countries, those with limited ability to feed their growing populations or import food. Application of chemical fertilizer to soil systems for increasing production and maintaining soil fertility has been essential to increasing food production and will be essential in future. By the year the world population is expected to be 8 billion people. To feed this population, the food grain production will have to increase from the current level of about 2 billion tons per year to over 3 billion tons. To achieve this level of crop output, intensification of the output on existing land must account for most of the growth, and the amount of fertilizer use will need to increase 123 million tons of nutrients in 1994/95 to over 300 million tons in 2020. This requires substantial increase in fertilizer production capacity, which will only occur if relatively stable agricultural markets are established in the countries with expanding populations. The situation in Africa is particularly difficult with poor input and output markets, thus declining yield levels due to the lack of nutrients and constant population growth.

At present, the population of the world continues to grow at a high level in the most food deficit countries, while the world grain reserves are at their lowest levels in 20 years. With excess food production in developed countries, and the success of increasing grain production in many developing countries, especially in India and China, there has been a reduced interest in increasing in food production capabilities of the developing countries. Soil productivity is also decreasing due to mismanagement in the use of fertilizers. At the beginning of the last century, the world population was estimated to be less than 2 billion. The population reached to 2.5 billion in 1950 and 3 billion in 1960. The world population began to increase even more rapidly after 1960, due to continued high birth rates with decreasing death brought about by improved medical care and disease control. Many developing countries had 2.3 % annual growth rates of their populations.

Consequent, the population of the world become more than doubled between 1950 and 1995. The world population in 1995 was estimated to be 5.7 billion people and has crossed over 6 billion after 2000. It will be expected that from 1995 to 2025, the world population was expected to increase by 1.4 %, per year to 8.5 billion people. It has been estimated that more than 95 % of the anticipated population growth will occur in the developing countries of Asia, Africa and South America. The continued population of these regions will increase from 4-6 billion people in 1995 to 7.3 billion people in 2025. For feeding, these burgeoning population of the world, there is an urgent need to produce food grain. It is not an easy task for the human beings, because food production requires inputs such as fertilizers, good quality seeds, insecticides and irrigation water. Continued and sufficient quantities of fertilizers use will be required to sustain food production in the developed countries, but also reduced per capita area of land available for food and fibre production. Now with the application of known and modern technologies increased population not only increases the demand for food and fibre production, the world will be able to feed about 8 billion people in 2020 and that the population growth will slow only when poverty has been reduced. Food production by the year 2020 will have to increase about 50 % on top of the present levels to satisfy need of around 8 billion people estimated to be on the Earth by that time. Most of the increase of food products would have to come from the intensification of agricultural production. Judicious nutrient management, including fertilization has been critical in increasing food production to present levels, and will be essential for maintaining soil fertility and food production in the future.

It has been known that the increased food and fibre production in the developing world, particularly Asia was brought about through using the slogan of "Green Revolution" and by the developing and adoption of improved crop varieties, irrigation, fertilizers and crop protection chemicals. From 1961 through 1990, world food production increased at an annual rate of 2.8 %, while the population increased at 1.9 %. This increase in production induced a long-term decline in crop prices, which helped poor people to buy food at lower costs. In absolute numbers, world cereal production increased from 876 million tons in 1961 to 1,950 million tons in 1990. Because cereal provide 60-70 % of the average per capita calorie intake, they are treated as an indicator of food production. In addition, production of fibres, tubes, fruits, vegetable oil seeds and fibres also increased significantly, and will need to increase in the future. Despite the unprecedented growth in food production over the last 25 years, about 786 million people in the developing countries currently suffer from huge malnutrition and 40,000 people die daily as a result of poor nutrition. In order to feed the growing world population, agricultural crop production has to increase considerably. To attain this, efforts should be focused on increasing crop yield per hectare rather than increasing the area for agricultural production.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has estimated that to meet the food requirements of the projected population in 2020, annual cereal production will need to increase by 57 %, from the current 1950 million tons to an estimated 3,066 million tons. In addition, production of other food items would need to increase similarly. Accord to World Bank Projections about 50 % of the sub-Saharan Africa's population and 37 % of South Asia's population will be living in poverty in the year 2000. If adequate nutrition is to be provided to the people living in poverty, an additional 400 million tons of cereals will be needed. Based on estimates, world production of cereals will used to increase by 57-103 % to meet the food requirements of 8.0-8.5 billion people in 2020-2025. Similarly, production of non-cereal food and fiber crops should increase by 73-82 %. The increased cereal production in the past 25 years that brought about by both an increase in the area cultivated and an increase in crop yield, but the increase in yield contributed relatively more than the increase in cropping area. Yields of major cereals wheat, rice and maize-increased by 50-70%.

The higher crop yields played a major role in many regions, including Asia and North America, where the cultivated area decreased and per cereal production greatly increased. While the improved crop varieties increased the yield potential, the use of fertilizers alongwith irrigation and crop protection chemicals enabled realization of that potential without the application of fertilizers, the high/yielding varieties (HYVS) do not produce higher yield than traditional varieties. Based on the information available from FAO and other sources and they have estimated the fertilizer's contribution to grain production and pointed out, that 10 tons of cereal grain is produced for every ton of N use in developing countries and 15 tons of cereal/ton N use in the developed countries, 65 % in developing countries and 50 % of additional N use in developed countries devoted to grain production. Annual global fertilizer use increase from 27 million nutrients tons in 1959/60 to 143 million nutrient tons in 1989/90 of three fertilizer nutrients, N has shown the largest absolute and relative growth, increasing from 10 million nutrient tons in 1959/60 to 79 million nutrient tons in 1989/90.

Pakistan is basically an agricultural country and its economy is mainly agrarian. It is the biggest sector of the economy and earns about 35-40 % of the National income from it. Yield per hectare and per unit area of various crops are very low. Inspite of the fact that our country is blessed with a galaxy of climate, soil condition and sufficient irrigation water. The country is totally dependent on agriculture for the supply of food and fibre. Therefore, it is imperative to increase food and fibre production to cope up not only ever growing requirements of the country, but for the sake of foreign exchange earnings and to attain self-sufficiency. Presently, the country is in the grip of population explosion of severe intensity. Hence, it is essential to make all out efforts to fulfil the food and fibre requirement, of rapidly growing population. For the achievement of our agriculture production targets, development of improved agriculture technology is essentially a prerequisite.

At present, eight children are born per minute in Pakistan, 12,055 children per day, 366,667 per month and 4,400,400 per year. But, since at the same time, 2 persons die per minute i.e. 1,237,500 persons every year, the net addition in population is 6 children per minute or 3,162,500 per year. The addition of 3.16 million people per year, means induction of the population of Albania or New Zealand or the combined population of Faisalabad and Multan in the population of Pakistan every year. This is a dangerous ratio of increase in population as compared to other developing countries including big Islamic states. Therefore, with a population of about 140 million and with a population growth rate of 2.2 per cent, Pakistan ranks as the seventh highest country population-wise in the world. The continuous rapid growth in the country is a bitter fact, which should compel us to give serious thought to it. We cannot afford to ignore the problem. The objectives of population control cannot be achieved through damage-control measures. We need sustained and long-term policies based on the objective assessment of the situation. Something must be done to control the population before it is too late. This is essential so that development plans and efforts are not neutralized.

Pakistan offers varieties in its landscape from the breath-taking beauty of the high mountains ranges of the North to the colourful intermountain valleys, rich irrigated plains, stark deserts and rugged plateaus of Balochistan. Pakistan has a total geographical area of 7,96,096 x 103 hectares (or 803943 square kilometers). The reported and the average cultivated area is placed at 77,088 and 20,760 x 103 hectares, respectively. Pakistan is a tropical and semi-arid country. There is a great variation in soil types of the country. The soils of valleys and plains, which constitute country's major agricultural areas are alluvia and recently deposited. The alluvial soils are deep, fertile and generally permeable, but have slow underground drainage. Calcium carbonate is present in abundant amount. The total water supply available in Pakistan is met from three main sources: rainfall, surface water and groundwater. The mean annual rainfall varies from less than 100 mm in the Sindh to more than 750 mm in the toot-hills and northern mountains. About 60 % of the rainfall come during the monsoon season (July to September). The total cultivable crop area is about 21 million hectares. Out of this about 16.0 million hectares or 75 % is irrigated through canals, 19 % through rain-fed and rest by tube-wells and other sources. Pakistan's agriculture contributes over 25 percent of the national income, provides employment to 55 percent of the total labour force and three-fourth of the country exports. Crop production accounts for about 70 % value of agriculture product in Pakistan. It is vitally important both in providing domestic food and fibre supplies and serving as a major source of foreign exchange earnings through export to both raw materials and processed crop commodities. The country produces wheat, rice, cotton, sugarcane, maize and other cereal in suffcient quantities. Wheat is the leading food grain in Pakistan. Now the wheat production has reached to over 21 million tons annually. Rice is the second most important food grain. It requires irrigation and is grown as a Kharif crop. Maize is mostly grown in Kharif season. Cotton is an important cash crop of the country. It is exported in sufftcient quantity. Other crops of food products millet, sorghum, soybean, dry beans, chickpeas, tomatoes, pepper, tobacco. The important fruits are date palm, apples, citrus, mangoes, bananas. The production of all major food commodities in Pakistan have shown as upward trend, but the increase was most significant in the case of poultry meat, fruits, eggs, red meat and vegetables. Pulses also showed substantial increase in production. Pakistan's major imports of food commodities include edible oils, sugar, tea, dry milk and pulses. The country however, is a major exporter of rice and cotton and other exports include fruits and some vegetables. Pakistan has extensive systems of science and technology institutes, that serve scientific research in order to boost up the agricultural productivity in the country.

General conclusion: The world population has increased from less than 2 billion people at the turn of the century to 5.7 billion in 1995, and it is expected to reach 8.5 billion in 2025. This unprecedented growth in population will create tremendous pressures on the natural resource base to produce enough food and fibre to meet human need and desirable wants to fulfil the daily requirements. The application to improved crop production technologies has resulted in a global supply, which kept ahead of food demand and requirement during the 1960-90 period. Many of the shortage countries of the world, particularly in Asia, greatly improved their ability to produce more food stuffs during a period when food prices have been relatively low. Chemical fertilizers all over the world played a pivotal role in this achievement, and will be definitely critical in meeting future food-commodities requirements.

Fertilizers not only increase food production to feed population, but also largely contribute to the preservation of the natural resource base and bio-diversity. Application of fertilizer results in more biomass production, which improves soil fertility and acts as soil cover to application of fertilizers, in 1940 the farmers in the US. In most of the agricultural countries, lack of proper incentives, infrastructure problems, and rapid currency devaluation have greatly discouraged fertilizer use in agricultural soils all over the world. It is a vital fact that adequate food supplies in the future will require food grain production to increase from current levels of 1,950 million tons to 3,100 - 3,500 million tons by 2020.

Similarly, the production of root and tuber crops, fruit, vegetables, oilseed and fibre crops must also increase by 40-45 %. There is limited scope for expanding the cultivated or irrigated area in most agricultural regions of the world, so the additional food and fibre must come from increased crop yields on the existing arable land in raising crop yields on the existing arable land. In raising the crop yields for burgeoning world population, the use of chemical fertilizers will be indispensable. Global fertilizer production and use will need to increase from 123 million nutrient tons to over 300 million tons in 2020 to meet food needs.

There are still many ways for improvements in fertilizer use, its production, sale, marketing and fertilizer related policy that could greatly contribute to food security, allevation of poverty and resource conservation in developing countries, it is urgent need to find out root causes for the soil fertility decline and soil degradation in order to improve the soil fertility worldwide. There is tremendous need for both the scientific and non scientific communities to realize that blanket recommendations for fertilizers cause inefficient use of fertilizers and detrimental to soils and the environments. Since the soil testing has not been used to monitor fertility changes, these trends are not known and it is difficult to determine the reason for yield stagnation or decline, such has been occurring with irrigated rice in Southeast Asia.