Lesson #297 in Why We'll Never Feed the World
Searching For a Fourth Wife
Farid would take a fourth wife if he could afford one. This 29-year-old gravel supplier says he has already received a dozen calls from single women in his neighborhood who want to join his three current wives. He is something of a catch. His hillside house has no water or electricity, but his business hauling gravel provides a steady income. The fact that he has three wives and seven children, three of them sons, is a mark of his status in the community.
. . . “Neither I nor my wives come from a rich or well-educated family, so we value things different to the smart people in the city,” said Farid. “We want lots of sons, and for them to grow up clever and strong.”
You don't need to be a math major to see where this leads.
Unsurprisingly, Africa and the Middle East are where the population growth rates are three or four times the world average. That America and Europe are among the world's slowest-growing is not so astonishing, given their love of the good life, but it may amaze you that equally slow growers are China and Russia.
The cluttering of the world with people is like watching grass grow. The young accept the grass at whatever height it may be and deal with it. Few of us are around (or listened to) who actually date back to leaner times and can give anecdotal evidence of what's goin' on.
When I was a kid, living in Evanston, Illinois, farmland began three blocks west of my house. I was able to pheasant-hunt within a half-mile without fear of shooting anyone's window out. As kids, dugout forts and tree houses were hardly unknown, nor did they come from Handy Andy, nor did our fathers build them for us (after getting a city permit). We lived on bicycles and buses. Our moms were not soccer-moms, nor was the word yet invented, nor would I watch a family TV for another ten years or so.
We were intensely neighborhood oriented--our kid-world had a radius of about ten blocks, even though we ranged on our bikes for ten or twenty miles. The world had a population of 3 billion.
Last time I was back to Evanston, the family house still stood, well maintained and obviously loved and I showed my wife the garage roof I fell off of sixty years ago. Driving west from there, we encountered 60 miles of uninterrupted strip malls and suburban tangle before a farm field could be seen. Even so, it was all too obvious that the corn would be gone in a year or so, replaced by a warehouse or golf course.
Today we are perilously close to 7 billion world population and those of us who remember how it was at 3 are thinning. There's a point here and I'm getting to it, later rather than sooner.
Farid, at 29, has seven children and if we only count the sons, at the rate Farid is exploding his population bomb, he will be responsible for 100 or more progeny before the grave overtakes him. A 1,000 percent increase between womb and tomb.
You can't outrun that with genetic corn.
The other heartbreaking truth is that nations with exploding populations are not expected to feed themselves. That's the job of industrial agriculture-- those wonderful folks who have already given us feedlots that force grain on grass-eating animals until they can't stand up. Industrial grain farms support industrial fertilizer production, rip out those undesirable little plots of wild growth that support wildlife, pollute our streams and lakes until everything unplowable dies.
Wild is a no-no in the Farid four-wife future.
Corporate agriculture runs on the same principles as all corporate activities-- a need for expanding markets and, in this case, the market is the world's poor. More poor--more grain--more profits. One can only wonder who's sitting at the controls.
In Suck It Up and Starve, I criticize USAID for simply walking away from their commitment to world hunger because of a $141 million shortfall in funds (due to market conditions). Market conditions are an extension of corporate agriculture. But that's not the true complaint, the underlying cause of the planet's misery.
Final point. My old eyes have watched the world increasingly go to hell. It's not a matter of ill will or inconvenient truths--there are simply too many people on a planet built to sustain half its present population. Life was good in 1950s Evanston.
Life can be good in 2050s Calcutta and Beijing as well, but not if we insist on sustaining an unsustainable population growth. The world needs not only to stop, it needs to go back, as it is in Italy and France.
Somehow that point needs to be made to the Farids of the planet.