African wheat:
Twelve countries in Africa have been studied and together they produce about 25 million tons of wheat a year.  (Trend Watch NATURE vol. 490 no. 7419 October 11, 1012 page 149)  The population of Africa is a little over a billion.  The article did not mention just which countries were referred to, but for rough calculation we shall assume that their combined population is about a half billion, recognizing that our estimates may be off by a factor of two.  Those same countries consume about 50 million tons of wheat a year.  The amounts of both have increased a lot over the past fifty years and the ratio has been fairly constant.

Compare that with the annual wheat production in the United States production of about 60 million tons a year.  Africa is a major producer as well as a major consumer of wheat.  When one thinks of US wheat one imagines wheat fields in the Midwest stretching to the horizon and giant combines reaping.  One thinks of irrigation using fossil water that is not going to be replaced and using highly evolved strains of wheat, massive fertilization and every other high tech trick applicable.  Yes, we produce a lot of wheat.  But Africa does, too.  Assuming that fifty percent of Africa or five hundred million people are producing less than half what the US produces with the US having 300 million people, and our per-capita production is not to be scorned.  It is obvious why we use all those tricks.

So if 50 million tons, or 100 billion pounds of wheat are being divided by 500 million people, that should come out to 200 pounds per person per year.  We shall assume that what rots in the fields, which happens everywhere that wheat is grown, has been excluded, the average person has about half a pound of wheat a day.  That should be about 360 kilocalories a day.   If an active man in his prime burns 2400 kilocalories then that much bread alone should provide him with 1/7th of his needs.  Others of course need less.  What is locally produced would then be about 7% of his needs. 

A straight bread diet is hardly a balanced one, but calories are a good place to start.  It would be nice to increase that amount of food value.  Of course one imagines introducing snorting combines, diesel oil, high end seed stocks, massive fertilization and irrigation.  But that is not the only way.

According to the article they have found that wheat is produced in 10 to 25% of the land where it could be grown without irrigation.  (Emphasis mine.)  Call it 20%.  In other words that 7% could be increased to 35% using no new irrigation and no methods that are not already being used.  That would make the difference between marginal nutrition and adequate nutrition for a lot of people.

Of course there are health problems and political problems in Africa that need to be addressed.  But in terms of feeding the population there is a lot of reserve.

This greatly relieves my mind.  I have long thought that Africa, still thought to be the original home of our species, is our species’ best hope for continued fertility.  If there is anywhere that fertility can be stabilized it is Africa.  Others are facing plummeting birth rates or are already below a birth rate that they (we) can survive.  But I have been nagged by the question, “In the short run, there is great suffering there.  In the long run perhaps this can all be worked out.  But in the intermediate future, how can you feed those children?”  Now there is an answer.  Farm more land. 

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