By John Seager, Population Connection President
American farmers feed the world. But what happens to the world if they no longer can because of events beyond their control?
This might not be a hypothetical question much longer.
America’s growers are being devastated by the worst drought since the 1950s – and the hottest summer since 1936. Instead of the record corn crop farmers planted, we’re looking at record losses. A map from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that the breadbasket of the nation is over-baked indeed.
|Drought is ravaging corn crops in the Midwest. (Paul Bica/flickr)|
As Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, told the British paper, The Guardian: “Although the world was hoping for a good U.S. harvest to replenish dangerously low grain stocks, this is no longer in the cards. World carryover stocks of grain will fall further at the end of this crop year, making the food situation even more precarious.”
It’s not just our disaster. Hungry mouths around the world depend on our farmers.
In the past, the world has relied on advancing technologies – the so-called “Green Revolution.” New seed varieties and additional fertilizer and irrigation allowed for amazing increases in yield. But those increases in yield are slowing down. The best land is already in production. Returns on using more fertilizer are diminishing and subject to rising oil prices as concerns over fossil fuel emissions mount. And as the water needs of cities grow, the cost to irrigate crop land will keep on climbing.
Meanwhile, our human population keeps growing. There are 150 new mouths to feed every minute. Most of that growth is happening in the least-developed nations – the nations least able to feed themselves.
Keeping everyone fed – and avoiding a global disaster – is going to take a worldwide effort. American farmers will do everything they can – they always have. We can help them out by making sure every woman who wants to plan her family has the ability to do so.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, there are 222 million women in developing countries who want to avoid pregnancy but have no access to affordable and appropriate contraception. Right here in the United States, nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended. By meeting the need for family planning, we’ll be able to slow population growth, reduce the economic strain on individual families and help ensure that our farmers can continue to feed the world.
The United States has long supported voluntary international family planning – we invested $610 million in 2012 alone. But opposition is increasing in some political quarters. Reducing that investment now would be disastrous for families and our fiscal future. Estimates are that every dollar invested in family planning saves governments up to $6 in public service costs. Contraception pays for itself.
Americans will keep seeking agriculture innovations. But in the meantime, we need to keep investing in the world’s women. Because when women do well, so do families, communities and nations, and everyone can be fed.