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World Population Growth and the Food Supply

I met Bob Engelman a few years back when we were both working on book manuscripts at the Mesa Refuge near Point Reyes in Northern California. Mine was Roadless Rules. His became More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want. Well, who should turn up in my mailbox this morning but the selfsame Mr. Engelman, now writing for The Solutions Journal. He's out with a new piece, which argues that 40 percent of worldwide pregnancies are unplanned and that we could slow and eventually reverse population growth by providing family planning and contraception services to everyone, avoiding the spectre of forced sterilizations and other intrusive government programs.

And the time for this is certainly upon us--and has been for a long while. The redoubtable Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute has a cover story in Foreigh Policy that reports that worldwide food prices are at their highest point in history and that surpluses and idle land that have provided cushions against shortfalls and weather problems are gone.

In the U.S. it's a minor problem--we spend 10 percent or less of our household budgets on food. But in the Third World, many people spend half or more of their incomes on food, and when the price of wheat doubles, as it has recently, it hurts big time. Same goes for rice. Les's piece is here. It's particularly timely: He argues that food is becoming one of the most important of international political drivers, at the forefront of unrest in North Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere.

Taken together, the two pieces make a powerful whole--and they make the recent congressional squabbling over whether Planned Parenthood should receive federal dollars look positively silly.

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