National Geographic : 1975 Jul
fenced off with barbed wire from the sur rounding desert. Inside, other fences divide the ranch into five sectors, with cattle grazing a single sector at a time. Though the ranch has been in operation only seven years, the rotational grazing has made the difference between pasture and desert. Therein, feels Dr. MacLeod, lies one chance for the battered Sahel. How Near to the Limits of Population? No "maximum-load" sign on the spaceship earth spells out its population capacity. But questions of what earth's limit may be, and what to do about it, obviously go to the heart of the food problem. "It took the world a million years to achieve its present population of nearly four billion," notes Dr. J. George Harrar, Presi dent Emeritus of the Rockefeller Foundation. "In less than 40 years it will double at the present rate of increase." Each second, two more humans populate the earth. Malthus expounded that population tends to increase up to the limits of the means of subsistence. Here, happily, he has proved wrong. "Pop ulations do not inevitably rise to absorb the resources available to them," observes British economist Barbara Ward. "At a certain level of health, wealth, and literacy their numbers cease to grow and they begin to approach sta bility or 'zero population growth.' " The United States, most European nations, and Japan are nearing ZPG, with Luxembourg and East Germany almost there. Few demog raphers doubt that the rising population curve must eventually level off, even in developing lands. They differ over how this will come about. Through lower birthrates? Or higher death rates? Last August experts and political lead ers from 135 governments gathered in Bucha rest, Romania, to grapple with the population problem. Debate, often acrimonious, reflected the sensitiveness of an issue that bears direct ly on national aspirations, religious con victions, resource allocation, survival itself. They adopted the World Population Plan of Action recommending, among other things, that all countries "Respect and ensure . .. the right of persons to determine, in a free, in formed and responsible manner, the number and spacing of their children." Many believe government possesses no right to such a role; others believe the plan recommends too little too late. Yet, in one form or another, many nations already have programs to reduce their birthrates-a trend that began in India. "In 1952 India adopted the world's first nationwide population-control policy," ex plained an official at the Department of Family Planning in New Delhi. "With a mas sive budget, our program mobilized the media -radio, billboards, press, films-all sup porting the idea of small families. We gave away free contraceptives. And our vasec tomy campaign! Offering hundred-rupee bounties for voluntary sterilizations, we Food, but for a price: Sacks of wheat pile up behind a middleman at a grain market in India's Punjab. Burdened by a ballooning population, India finds shortages aggravated by self-defeating policies. To provide cheap food for the urban poor, farmers must sell part of each crop to the government at below-market prices. Result: Sales shift to the black market, where prices soar beyond the reach of the needy. Can the World Feed Its People?