Paving The Way To Starvation

The visually unappealing mini-malls and tract homes that seem to be popping up like weeds in every available field worldwide should have citizens worried. According to "Shrinking Fields: Cropland Loss in a World of Eight Billion," a publication of Worldwatch Institute, government leaders in nearly every country are allowing land that could produce grain to go to waste, either by becoming paved over or be degraded by erosion. The total area of grainland now supporting each person in the world has fallen to less than one-sixth the size of a soccer field -- yet most officials are making little effort to combat the problem."In effect," says Worldwatch Paper Research Associate Gary Gardner, "policymakers are gambling that increases in grain yields equal to the dramatic gains of the last generation will continue indefinitely. But with a decade of faltering yields behind us, this is risky policy."Because grain production has not kept pace with food demand, the world has consumed half of its grain reserves since 1987, dropping the reserves to an all-time low of 48 days of consumption, the lowest level on record. "Shrinking Fields" says that unless we stop the rampant loss of farmland, it is unlikely we will be able to feed a world population that will increase by more than 4000 million people in the next five years.Urbanization of cropland is the most prevelant problem the world faces. Between 1982 and 1992, the United States paved over enough cropland to fill the state of New Jersey, and China lost five percent of their cropland to industrialization in just six years. As urban populations grow to more than 60 percent of the world population over the next 30 years, the situation will become more acute.Water depletion and diversion of irrigation water to support population growth also is becoming an issue. In many water-scarce regions, such as the Great Plains of the United States and the Arabian peninsula, farmers are taking water from aquifers faster than can be replaced by rainfall. Additionally, the unchecked growth of cities such as Tucson, Las Vegas and Beijing is diverting water away from farmers, forcing them to take irrigated cropland out of use. Land mismanagement, severe erosion and salination also has added to the situation. "Replacing lost land is likely to be more difficult than many officials think. By 2020, if current trends continue, each of the world's people will rely on an average of just one-eighth of a soccer field to meet his or her grain needs," says Gardner. "Despite the past successes in raising land productivity, this small area leaves no room for error. If we don't preserve our farmland, the next generation could pay for the cropland we lose with higher food prices or hunger."For a copy of the report, contact Gary Gardner: 202-452-1992, ext. 521, or email: ÑElizabeth Pepin

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