National Geographic : 2009 Jun
Agricultural Research are wrestling with right now. This is the group of world-renowned agricultural research centers that helped more than double the world s average yields of corn, rice, and wheat between the mid-1950s and the mid-1990s, an achievement so staggering it was dubbed the green revolution. Yet with world population spiraling toward nine billion by mid-century, these experts now say we need a repeat performance, doubling current food production by 2030. In other words, we need another green revo- lution. And we need it in half the time. EVER SINCE OUR ANCESTORS gave up hunting and gathering for plowing and planting some 12,000 years ago, our numbers have marched in lockstep with our agricultural prowess. Each advance---the domestication of animals, irriga- tion, wet rice production---led to a correspond- ing jump in human population. Every time food supplies plateaued, population eventually leveled off. Early Arab and Chinese writers noted the relationship between population and food resources, but it wasn t until the end of the 18th century that a British scholar tried to explain the exact mechanism linking the two--- and became perhaps the most vilified social scientist in history. Thomas Robert Malthus, the namesake of such terms as "Malthusian collapse" and "Mal- thusian curse," was a mild-mannered mathema- tician, a clergyman---and, his critics would say, the ultimate glass-half-empty kind of guy. When a few Enlightenment philosophers, giddy from the success of the French Revolution, began pre- dicting the continued unfettered improvement of the human condition, Malthus cut them o at the knees. Human population, he observed, increases at a geometric rate, doubling about Workers in India's fertile Punjab pull an overstuffed load of rice stalks to a farm where they will be used as animal feed. High-yielding varieties, along with subsidized fertilizer and irrigation, have helped India stave off famine for decades. Joel K. Bourne, Jr., is a contributing writer. John Stanmeyer s photographs on malaria for National Geographic won a 2008 National Magazine Award.