overpopulation - 30-37 population3:28-33 Lappe 6/17/09 6:12...

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wenty years ago, farmers looked out at the tropical woodlands and savan- nahs of Uganda and saw endless vir- gin territory. A young man, upon starting a family, would clear a patch of wilderness near where he was raised and plant his own fields of sorghum, millet, groundnut, plantains, or cassava. Now, after decades of unprecedented population growth, the land is running out. In southern Uganda, as in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, farm communities are bumping up against one another and against dry lands, mountains, and rain forests. Pockets of arable land can still be found, but only in malaria-ridden hinter- lands where nobody wants to live. Many farmers, rather than relocating long dis- tances, are clearing rain forests near their homes, despite the fact that a tropical for- est’s acidic soil is poorly suited to growing grains, fruits, and vegetables. Other farm- ers are subdividing their parents’ land, reducing the typical-sized farm plot in some parts of Africa to half an acre. “That’s too small to feed a family,” says economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, who directs Columbia’s Earth Institute. Africans will never be able to grow enough food for themselves, Sachs argues in his latest book, Common Wealth: Econom- ics for a Crowded Planet , unless they start having fewer babies. Subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa today raise an average of six children, which is causing the popu- lations of some nations to double every 20 years. Few of these farmers are able to feed their children properly, let alone afford their education. Children thus grow up desperately poor and have huge families of their own. Shrinking farm plots add yet another burden: Food production on a per-capita basis is declining and malnutri- tion is worsening, which means that chil- dren are likely to grow up even less healthy and less productive. “The poorest places in the world right now are stuck in a demographic trap,” says Sachs. “A family of subsistence farmers with six or seven kids doesn’t stand a chance.” The only way to break this cycle of overpopulation and misery, Sachs writes in Common Wealth , is for wealthy nations to provide birth control to the world’s poor. Sachs recommends that rich countries quadruple foreign assistance for reproduc- tive health programs to roughly $25 billion annually. That’s enough money, he esti- mates, to provide birth control, as well as maternal health care and STD treatment, to some 200 million women who lack it; most of them live in rural Africa. The prospect of giving poor people contraceptives so they can lift themselves out of poverty might not seem particularly controversial, aside from the opposition that might be expected from some reli- gious conservatives. Yet Sachs is the first T OVERPOPULATION?
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This note was uploaded on 12/26/2009 for the course LSP T07.5005.0 taught by Professor Caseyking during the Fall '09 term at NYU.

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overpopulation - 30-37 population3:28-33 Lappe 6/17/09 6:12...

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