[1] The rich countries are here defined as OECD members except for the Czech Republic, Hungary, Mexico, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Turkey. In 2004 their per capita consumption was 5.49 toe. For the poorer countries per capita consumption was 1.13 toe. See IEA 2006a: 48 57.

[2] The term “feudalism” is used here loosely to mean a society where most people engage in small-scale agriculture and are ruled by lords who live off them.

[3] FAO 2002: 15

[4] WHO 2002: 53

[5] WHO 2002: 54

[6] WHO 2002: 54-55

[7] WHO 2002: 86

[8] Smil 2000: xix.

[9] Haupt and Kane 2004:50.

[10] United Nations figures.

[11] It should not be too off the mark to assume that the 15 per cent who live in developed countries are consuming 30 per cent of grain (i.e., a per capita share twice that of developing countries). This would mean that of the 1.8 billion tonnes of grain produced every year, 1.26 billion tonnes goes to developing countries. If the population in these countries increases by 65 per cent, doubling their per capita consumption would mean increasing their total consumption 3.3 fold. Multiplying 1.26 billion by 3.3 gives 4.158 billion. Adding the 540 million tonnes consumed by developed countries gives a total of around 4.7 billion which is 2.6 times the original figure of 1.8 billion. If the population in developing countries increases by 50 per cent, grain production would need to increase 2.4 fold.

[12] Grain production is currently just over 1.8 billion tons.

[13] Bruinsma (ed.) 2003: 315 – 316.

[14] Bruinsma (ed.) 2003: 315

[15] Alexandratos 1988: 383-4, FAO 2002: 50.

[16] Reynolds et al. (eds.). 2001: 3, 25, 160..

[17] FAO. 2004.

[18] People’s Daily Online 2005. “Hybrid wheat breeds new hope” April 4.

[19] People’s Daily 2003. “China Breeds World’s First Hybrid Soybean,” 17 January 2003

[20] For wheat see: CIMMYT. 2000a For rice see:; Mitchell 1997: 60, Conway 1997: 142


[22] Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology 2001: 32.

[23] Guin undated, p9 and Avery 1995: 217

[24] Lin 1995

[25] Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology 2001: 24.

[26] Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology 2001: 22.


[28] The discovery of the gene that protects potatoes against late blight and its cloning by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was reported July 14 2003 in online editions of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

[29] Avery 1995: 217

[30] The Economist, August 21, 2003. Rich Pickings: A New Research Centre in Uganda will Study the Banana; and Saving the World’s Bananas

[31] Saving the World’s Bananas

[32] “Hairpin RNA’ beats plant viruses” CSIRO Media Release – Ref 2001/150 – Jun 20 , 2001

[33] James 2003, p. 153.

[34] This research by CSIRO was terminated because of allergy concerns.

[35] Avery 1995: 218.

[36] CIMMYT 2000b.

[37] CIMMYT 2001b: 10.

[38] Pew Initiative 2001: 24, 26

[39] Pew Initiative 2001: 27

[40] Pew Initiative 2001: 27


[42] Fox 2003.

[43] Fighting Against Resistance – Christof Fellmann,, January 24, 2003.

[44] Phadnis, Chitra. “Monsanto begins gene pyramiding in Bt cotton seeds.” Financial Times May 10, 2002

[45] CIMMYT 2000b

[46] CIMMYT 2002: 9.

[47] CIMMYT 2002:9.

[48] Scientists work on drought-proof rice. Australian Associated Press April 29, 2003.

[49] CIMMYT 2001b: 14.

[50] Genetically Modified Plants Can Survive Drought, Find Scientists – Cordis News Service, August 12, 2003-08-12.

[51] Kleckner 2003

[52] Abebe et al. 2003.

[53] Reynolds et al. 2001: 3.

[54] FAO 2003: 27.

[55] CIMMYT 2001b: 13.

[56] FAO 2003: 27-28.

[57] Reynolds et al. 2001: 142

[58] CIMMYT 2000b.

[59] CIMMYT 2001a: 11.

[60] Reynolds et al. 2001: 124.

[61] Reynolds et al. 2001: 26.

[62] CIMMYT 2001b: 7.

[63] Science Daily 2002 “Fried Green Tomatoes: Transgenic Tomatoes Reveal Critical Component Of Thermotolerance” 20 June.

[64] Fumento 2003: 234.

[65] Fumento 2003: 234

[66] Fumento 2003: 235.

[67] Reynolds et al. 2001: 108.

[68] Bruinsma 2003: 318.

[69] Rana Munns, CSIRO Plant Industry and Ray Hare at Enterprise Grains Australia.

[70] “Firm Creating Salt-Resistant Crops”, The Arizona Republic by Kerry Fehr-Snyder July 15, 2002; Plant Scientist Eduardo Blumwald to Receive Humboldt Award. University of California, UC Davis News and Information July 7, 2003

[71] “China cultivates salt-resistant cloned tomatoes, rice, soya, poplars.” Asia Intelligence Wire September 15, 2002.

[72] Fumento 2003: 237.

[73] Reynolds et al. 2001: 219.

[74] Reynolds et al. 2001: 221.

[75] Reynolds et al. 2001: 219.

[76] Reynolds et al. 2001: 219.

[77] Reynolds et al. 2001: 235.

[78] Reynolds et al. 2001: 227.

[79] Fumento 2003: 240.

[80] CIMMYT 2000b: 16.

[81] Reynolds et al. 2001: 176

[82] Reynolds et al. 2001: 176

[83] CIMMYT 2001b: 16.

[84] CIMMYT 2001b: 16.

[85] Avery 1999.

[86] Bruinsma 2003: 318.

[87] Pew Initiative: 31.

[88] The Politics of Biotech Foods AEI Newsletter American Enterprise Institute July 25, 2003.

[89] Fumento 2003: 245.


[91] Wood et al. 2000: 21.

[92] Dyson 1996: 193.

[93] Smil 2000: 14.

[94] FAO 2002: 58.

[95] FAO 2002: 60.

[96] Smil 2000: 164-169.

[97] Smil 0201: 306.

[98] Conway 1997: 156.

[99] Smil 2000: 164-169.

[100] Avery 1995: 217.

[101] Smil 2000: 164-169.

[102] Smil 2000: 164-169.

[103] “Blocking Burping Beasts”

[104] Smil 2000: 164-169.

[105] Pew Initiative 2001: 36.

[106] “Sheep thriving in GMO feeding trial” CSIRO Media Release, Wednesday, 22 November 2000 Ref 2000/310

[107] Conway 1997: 153-158.

[108] Alexandratos 1988: 203.

[109] Guin undated

[110] FAO 2002: 61.

[111] FAO 2002: 62.

[112] Conway 1997: 151.

[113] Conway 1997:.153-158

[114] Pew Initiative 2001: 74.

[115] Pew Initiative 2001: 74.

[116] Smil 2000: xx.

[117] Smil 2000: 162.


[119] “Are Foods Developed from Recombinant DNA Safe to Eat?”

[120] Rowett Research Institute:

[121] Fumento 2003: 281-282.


[123] Pew Iniative 2001: 34.


[125] Pew Initiative 2001: 40.

[126] GM Potato ‘Could Improve Child Health’ BBC News, January 1, 2003

[127] GM Potato ‘Could Improve Child Health’ BBC News, January 1, 2003; Pew Initiative p. 34

[128] Pew Iniative 2001: 34.

[129] “Scientists Create Tomato to Reduce Cancer Risk” Yorkshire Post June 24, 2002.

[130] Fumento 2003: 251.

[131] Fumento 2003: 251.

[132] Health Food, Biotech style- Robert Wager, The Globe and Mail, Oct. 17, 2003

[133] Health Food, Biotech style- Robert Wager, The Globe and Mail, Oct. 17, 2003

[134] Fumento 2003: 194-195.

[135] Fumento 2003: 194-195.

[136] Fumento 2003: 197.

[137] Fumento 2003: 197.

[138] Fumento 2003: 45.

[139] “GM Plants to Fight Allergies” Sydney Morning Herald, August 28, 2003.

[140] Fumento 2003: 36-37.

[141] “GE Grass Good News for Hayfever Sufferers” Royal Society News, June 19, 2003


[143] Fumento 2003: 15-16.


[145] Land-mine Detecting Plants Created 10 October 2005. Gizmag Emerging Technology Magazine.

[146] Biotechnology and Genetic Diversity

[147] Biotechnology and Genetic Diversity; “Study Says Transgene Unlikely to Spread among Wild Sunflowers.” Life Science Weekly June 23, 2003

[148] AgBioview August 9 2005:

[149] For a discussion of the various studies done on the issue see Gatehouse et al. 2002.


[151] Martina McGloughlin Ten Reasons Why Biotechnology Will Be Important To The Developing World AgBioForum Magazine Volume 2 Number 3 & 4 Article 4


[153] Fumento 2003: 212-213.

[154] Fumento 2003: 266.

[155] “GM Cotton Crops Halve Pesticide Use” Sydney Morning Herald August 1, 2003

[156] Fumento 2003: 212-213.

[157] Fumento 2003: 221-223.

[158] Conservation tillage refers to any planting system that leaves more than 30 per cent of the soil covered with crop residue to prevent erosion, compared to less than 15 per cent with conventional tillage. Biotech crops help farmers control weeds without tillage, thus making conservation tillage systems practical. Globally, ‘no till’ conservation practices have increased by 35 per cent since biotech crops came on the market in 1996. In fact, almost all no-till acreage occurred where biotech crops have been employed. By using conservation tillage, farmers have been able to cut their production costs by 10 per cent or more. Importantly, the crop mulch in conservation tillage systems shades the ground and slows evaporation. The improved soil structure resulting from less ploughing actually increases the movement of water into the soil following rain or irrigation and holds it there, which means less irrigation is necessary. Also, less ploughing means less money spent on fuel.


[160] Above note and

[161] Fumento 2003: 313-314.

[162] Poison-Craving Plant, Germ Designed to Suck up Pollutants ‘Bio-Remediation’ Shows Promise. USA Today. October 8, 2002

[163] “Superbug to the Rescue!” – Katharine Mieszkowski,, August 28, 2003.

[164] Fumento 2003: 306-307.

[165] Fumento 2003: 316.

[166] Bruinsma 2003: 127.

[167] Cited in Table 3.2 of Crosson and Anderson 1992.

[168] Borlaug 1997.

[169] UNPD 2002: 1.

[170] FAO 2002: 41.

[171] Alexandratos 1988: 16-17.

[172] Cited in Rosegrant and Hazell 2000: 292.

[173] Scherr 1999: 16.

[174] Scherr 1999: 16.

[175] “Will Sprawl Gobble Up America’s Land? Federal Data Reveal Development’s Trivial Impact” Ronald D. Utt. Backgrounder #1556

[176] Vesterby and Krupa 1997.



[179] Crosson and Anderson 2002: 7.

[180] FAO 2002: 41.

[181] Scherr 1999: 16.

[182] Crosson and Anderson 2002: 7.

[183] Because of their structure and composition tropical soils tend to have a lower inherent fertility and be more susceptible to degradation pressures and they are also subject to more degradation pressure from the climate – higher temperatures, greater high and low extremes of rain fall, and greater rain fall intensity typical of the tropics. leaching of nutrients, faster decomposition of organic matter.

[184] Dyson 1996: 145.

[185] FAO 2002: 43.

[186] Crosson and Anderson 1992: 34.

[187] Pingali and Rosegrant 2001: 385, 386.

[188] Sanmuganathan 2000: iv.

[189] Smil 2000: 76-77.

[190] Con 1997: 253.

[191] Gruin et al. 2000

[192] Gruin et al. 2000

[193] World Bank 2003: 12.

[194] Singh 2001.

[195] Cosgrove and Rijsberman 2000: xx. We can assume that all pumped ground water is for human use.

[196] FAO 2002: 4.

[197] World Commission on Dams 2000.

[198] UNESCO 1999 table 8 and World Bank 2003: 12.

[199] Sanmuganathan 2000: 43, 70.

[200] World Water Vision Commission (undated): 13.

[201] World Water Vision Commission (undated): 13.

[202] Cosgrove and Rijsberman 2000: table 1, xxii.

[203] Cosgrove and Rijsberman 2000: 40.

[204] Smil 2000: 127-130.

[205] Gleick et al. 2002: 20.

[206] Smil 2000: 126-127, 132.

[207] Gleick et al. 2002: 20.

[208] FAO 2003: 49.

[209] Smil 2000: 132.

[210] Smil 2000: 132.

[211] WRI 1994.

[212] Cosgrove and Rijsberman 2000: 9.

[213] California Energy Commission, undated.

[214] Gleick et al. 2002: 4.

[215] Fumento 2003: 302; See

[216] ‘Advanced Water Treatment Technologies May Bring Purified Water to San Diego’,

[217] Sanmuganathan 2000: 91.

[218] Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security 1999: 10.

[219] Cosgrove and Rijsberman 2000: 41.

[220] Water Science and Technology Board 2004:12.

[221] Semiat 2000: 54.

[222] Desalination and Water Purification Technology Roadmap 2003: 52.

[223];; Beck 2002: 1.

[224] San Diego County Water Authority

[225] Buros 2000: 5.

[226] Beck 2002: 6f.

[227] Beck 2002: 10.

[228] Glueckstern (undated)

[229] Beck 2002: 10.

[230] Semiat 2000: 63.


[232] PRRC Biannual Newsletter Volume 16, No. 1/Winter 2000.2001, Petroleum Recovery Research Center

[233] Desalination and Water Purification Technology Roadmap 2003: 56.

[234] Risbud 2006.

[235] Cosgrove and Rijsberman 2000: xxii.

[236] 2500 km3 of water weighs about 2.5 trillion tonnes.

[237] “North American Company Patents Ice Berg Towing” The World Today – 22-11-01.

[238] Rosegrant and Hazell 2000: 312.

[239] Wood et al. 2000: 69.

[240] Smale, M et al. 2001:.6.

[241] CGIAR and Global Environment Facility 2002: 6.

[242] Rosegrant and Hazell 2000: 312.

[243] Smil 2000: 171-2.

[244] Conway 1997: 276.

[245] Vannuccini 2003.

[246] Alexandratos 1988: 247.

[247] Smil 2000: 12.

[248] Projection of World Fishery Production in 2010


[250] Wood et al. 2000: Introduction/3.

[251] Smil 2000: 175.

[252] “Fish Farming the Promise of a Blue Revolution” The Economist Aug 7th 2003.

[253] Genetic Modification of Aquatic Organisms for Aquaculture, SeaWeb Aquaculture Resources

[254] “Fish Farming the Promise of a Blue Revolution” The Economist Aug 7th 2003.

[255] Smil 2000: 161.

[256] “The Blue Revolution a New Way to Feed the World.” The Economist Aug 7th 2003

[257] “Fish Farming the Promise of a Blue Revolution” The Economist Aug 7th 2003.

[258] Smil 2000: 50.

[259] USGS 2006: 125.

[260] USGS 2006: 125.

[261] Lomborg 2001: 144.

[262] USGS 2006: 125.

[263] USGS 2006: 165.

[264] USGS 2006: 165.

[265] USGS 2006: 129.

[266] USGS 2006: 129.

[267] Smil 2000: 50.

[268] Avery 1995: 230.

[269] Smil 2000: 50.

[270] Avery 1995: 170.

[271] Avery 1995: 171-2.

[272] Avery 1995: 171-2.

[273] Avery 1995: 30.

[274] CIA Fact Book, 2004 estimate.

[275] Average income here refers to GDP per capita not income per worker. The figures used are for 2004 and come from the on-line CIA Fact Book.

[276] “The Great Divide,” The Economist, Mar 3rd 2005

[277] World Bank, 2006: 8.

[278] World Bank 2006: 8.

[279] World Bank 2006: 8.

[280] World Bank 2006: 8; The Groningen Growth and Development Centre: .xls

[281] The Groningen Growth and Development Centre: .xls

[282] IEA. 2006a: 48. Primary energy is the energy content of a resource at the point of extraction. In the case of coal, geothermal and uranium it is their thermal energy prior to their being converted into electricity, and oil prior to refining. For wind, solar panels and hydropower it is the electricity produced.

[283] The rich countries are here defined as OECD members except for the Czech Republic, Hungary, Mexico, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Turkey. In 2004 their per capita consumption was 5.49 toe. For the poorer countries per capita consumption was 1.13 toe. See IEA 2006a: 48‑57.

[284] EIA 2006: 1.

[285] EIA 2005: 1.

[286] The US per capita level is 7.91 toe. See IEA 2006a: 57.

[287] EIA 2006: 83.

[288] IEA 2006a: 6.

[289] IEA. 2006a: 6.

[290] US Geological Survey World Petroleum Assessment 2000 – Description and Results, US Geological Survey Digital Data Series 60.

[291] In 2005 we consumed 29.6 billion barrels. See BP 2006: 8.

[292] Key advocates of this view are Colin J. Campbell, Kenneth S. Deffeyes and Jean Laherrere.

[293] One of the more renowned optimists is Michael Lynch of Strategic Energy & Economic Research Inc.

[294] The term ‘oil’ has, to date, been synonymous with conventional crude oil, a liquid mixture of hydrocarbons that percolates through porous strata and flows readily up drilled boreholes.

[295] Alberta Chamber of Resources 2004: 41.

[296] Alberta Chamber of Resources 2004: chapter 4; Athabasca Oil Sands Web Page:

[297] National Energy Board 2004: 4.

[298] Natural Resources Canada:

[299] US Geological Survey, “Heavy Oil and Natural Bitumen – Strategic Petroleum Resources”, USGS Fact Sheet FS-070-03, August 2003.

[300] Email communications with Alberta oil sands executive.

[301] Bunger et al. 2004.

[302] A figure of 2.6 trillion bbls. is given by Bunger et al.2004. A figure of 3.5 trillion bbls. is given by Williams 2003.

[303] Williams 2003:20

[304] Bunger et al. 2004.

[305] IEA 2001a: 52.

[306] Jalonick, Mary Clare, “Bill contains incentives for new coal-conversion plant”, Associated Press, 30 September 2005.

[307] Iran Daily, “Indians Look to Make Oil From Coal”, July 30 2005.

[308] IEA 2006a: 6, 24.

[309] IEA 2003: table 6.8.

[310] Goldemberg 2000: 148.

[311] IEA 2003.

[312] Goldemberg 2000: 148.citing BGR (Bundesanstalt fur Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe [Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources] 1998. Reserven, Ressourcen und Verfugbarkeit von Energierohstoffen 1998 [Availability of Energy Reserves and Resources 1998]. Hanover, Germany.

[313] IEA 2006a: 6

[314] EIA:

[315] US Geological Survey World Petroleum Assessment 2000 – Description and Results, US Geological Survey Digital Data Series 60; International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2001, p. 142.

[316] USGS, Coal-Bed Methane: Potential and Concerns, USGS Fact Sheet FS-123-00 October 2000.

[317] USGS, Coal-Bed Methane: Potential and Concerns, USGS Fact Sheet FS-123-00 October 2000.

[318] US Geological Survey Energy Resource Surveys Program, Coalbed Methane – An Untapped Energy Resource and an Environmental Concern, USGS Fact Sheet FS-019-97.

[319] Kuuskraa and Bank 2003: 34.

[320] Kuuskraa and Bank 2003: 34.

[321] Bundesministerium fur Wirtschaft und Arbeit 2002. Reserves, Resources and Availability of Energy Resources 2002, short version, page 9.

[322] World Energy Council, New Technology for Tight Gas Sands,

[323] Goldemberg 2000: 147.

[324] United States Geological Survey, Natural Gas Hydrates – vast resource, uncertain future, USGS Fact Sheet FS–021–01, March 2001

[325] United States Geological Survey, Natural Gas Hydrates – vast resource, uncertain future, USGS Fact Sheet FS-021-01, March 2001.

[326] IEA 2001a: 397.

[327] United States Geological Survey, Natural Gas Hydrates – vast resource, uncertain future, USGS Fact Sheet FS-021-01, March 2001.

[328] US Congress, Report of the Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee on Methane Hydrate Issues and Opportunities Including Assessment of Uncertainty of the Impact of Methane Hydrate on Global Climate Change, December 2002, p.8.

[329] Coal contains about 80 percent more carbon per unit of energy than gas does, and oil contains about 40 percent more. Congressional Budget Office 2003: 11.

[330] Mahlman 2001: 10.

[331] Mahlman 1998: 88; Mahlman 2001: 8.

[332] Lomborg 2001: 269.

[333] Lewis jr 2004: 6.

[334] De Freitas 2002: 304-6

[335] De Freitas 2002: 305; Essex and McKitrick 2002: 139.

[336] Lewis Jr 2004: 7.

[337] De Freitas 2002: 306.


[339] Soon et al. 2001: 11.

[340] Michaels 2004: 232.

[341] Michaels 2004: 232

[342] Reuters October 26, 2002

[343] Doran et al. 2002.

[344] Virtual Climate Alert May 21, 2002 Vol. 3, No. 16

[345] Joughin and Tulaczyk, 2000.

[346] Pittock 2003: 35; Mahlman 2001: 17.

[347] Cited by Michaels 2004: 55.

[348] Cited by Michaels 2004: 60.

[349] Michaels 2004: 60.

[350] Cited by Michaels 2004: 58-59.

[351] Chylek 2004: 201.

[352] Michaels 2004: 6.

[353] Lewis Jr 2004: 22.

[354] Michaels 2004: 37-8.

[355] Michaels 2004: 38-9.


[357] ‘The Climate Himalayan Snow Job” March 17, 2005

[358] Michaels 2004: 94.

[359] Sherwood and Idso 2004: 44, 47.


[361] Michaels 2004: 42-43.

[362] Michaels 2004: 33.

[363] IPCC. 2001: 33.

[364] Lewis Jr 2004: 9.

[365] Michaels 2004: 118.

[366] Michaels 2004: 172-3)

[367] Romanovsky et al. 2002.

[368] Kasper and Allard 2001.


[370] Correspondence Nature 428, 601 (April 8, 2004)

[371] Richard Seager of Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and David Battisti of the University of Washington. See Tobin, Mary. Columbia Research Dispels 150 Years of Thinking – Mild Winter Conditions in Europe Are Not Due to the Gulf Stream, Columbia News, Feb 05, 2003.

[372] Stern 2006: 170.

[373] At the time of writing, methane levels in the atmosphere appear to have stabilized.

[374] Stern 2006: 170. Stern gives a figure of 42 gigatonnes of CO which equals 11.45 GtC. 57 per cent of that figure gives 6.53 GtC.

[375] Lackner et al. undated: 4.

[376] Loftus 2003: B.5.A.

[377] Australian Coal Association 2004: 29.

[378] Lackner et al. undated: 6; American Energy Independence Web Site, “CO2 Recycling Capturing Carbon Dioxide Directly from the Air”

[379] Lackner et al. 1999; American Energy Independence Web Site, “CO2 Recycling Capturing Carbon Dioxide Directly from the Air”

[380] Project Facts, US Department of Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory, “Recovery & sequestration of co2 from stationary combustion systems by photosynthesis of microalgae”, 11/2003.

[381] Goldemberg 2000: 289.

[382] Goldemberg 2000: 289.

[383] Goldemberg 2000: 289.

[384] Yegulalp and Lackner.2004.

[385] Lackner 2003; Winters 2003.

[386] Herzog et al. undated: 4.

[387] Goldemberg 2000: 276.

[388] World Energy Council 1994: 77.

[389] Rushing 2001.

[390] It is called the Australian Solar Tower Project and at the time of writing was at the final feasibility stage.

[391] The technology is being developed and tested by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US

[392] In 2004 world electricity production was 15,985 TWh and per capita consumption in rich countries averaged 9,710 KWh. See IEA 2006a: 48. The rich countries are here defined as OECD members except for the Czech Republic, Hungary, Mexico, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Turkey.


[394] KPMG, Bureau voor Economische Argumentatie, 1999.

[395] IEA 2006a: 55. There are a billion kWh to a TWh.



[398] The Dutch figure is 6823 kWh. See IEA 2006a: 55.

[399] 10 per cent of 1505 multiplied by 20 = 3010 which is 31 per cent of 9710.

[400] IEA 2006b: 11.

[401] Renewable Energy Policy Project, 2003: 5.

[402] Grubb and Meyer 1994 and World Energy Council 1994.

[403] “Study of Offshore Wind Energy in the EC”, Garrad Hassan & Germanischer Lloyd, 1995, cited in European Wind Energy Association and Greenpeace undated.

[404] Hagerman 2001: 1

[405] World Energy Council 2001a; Fredriksson 2003: 4.

[406] World Energy Council. 1994.

[407] Thorpe 1999: 13.

[408] Thompson et al. 2001 or later: 6.

[409] Fredriksson 2003: 4.

[410] Ocean Power Delivery Ltd:

[411] IEA 2006a: 18.

[412] Goldemberg 2000:155.

[413] This section draws for its information entirely on Goldemberg 2000: chapter 5.

[414] IEA 2006a: 24 and 6. The primary energy equivalent of nuclear electricity is calculated by assuming a 33.3 per cent conversion efficiency from heat to electricity. See IEA 2006a: 59.

[415] Italy imports from France electricity which is produced from nuclear power.


[417] Hore-Lacy 2000.

[418] As well as commercial energy generation, there are about 280 small reactors, used for research and for producing isotopes for medicine and industry over 400 small reactors powering ships; mostly submarines. See Hore-Lacy 1999: v.

[419] NEA 2001: 15.


[421] NEA 2001: 138.

[422] IEA 2001b: 130.

[423] Cohen 1990:163-164.

[424]; Hoffman 2001.

[425] Hoffman 2001.

[426] Wardell 2001.

[427] Abraham 2002: 5; Wardell 2001.

[428] Grimston and Beck 2000: 29.

[429] UIC 2006a.

[430] 441 reactors currently produce 28.78 EJ. (687 Mtoe) of energy (Electricity/ 0.0333).

[431] NEA 2004: 13-22.


[433] NEA 2004:.20.

[434] This was only $95 million in 2002, NEA 2004: 9.

[435] NEA 2004:20.

[436] Garwin and Charpak 2001: 166.

[437] NEA 2001: 30.

[438] UIC 2003.

[439] NEA 2004 22.

[440] NEA 2004: 22.

[441] NEA 2004: 22.

[442] NEA 2004: 22.

[443] NEA 2004: 22.


[445] Hore-lacy 1999: 39.

[446] This follows from fact that the current 6.5 per cent share requires 65,000 tonnes of uranium.

[447] Daley 1997: 60.

[448] Cohen 1990: 183.

[449] American Nuclear Society 2001: 7.

[450] Sims 1990: 40-41.

[451] Garwin and Charpak 2001: 85.

[452] Walker 2000: 48.

[453] IEA 2001b: 171.

[454] Cohen 1990: 114.

[455] van der Zwaan: 20.

[456] Hore-lacy 1999: 59.

[457] Cohen 1982: 73; Walker 2000: 141; Hodgson 1999: 64.

[458] Sims 1990: 85.

[459] Sims 1990: 85.

[460] Cohen 1990: 69.

[461] Rutherford 2002b.

[462] Rutherford 2002a: 19.

[463] GAO 2000: 10.

[464] Kaku and Trainer 1982: 29.

[465] Cohen 1998:525.

[466] Chernobyl Forum 2003-2005: 7.

[467] Hodgson 1999: 68.

[468] Hodgson 1999: 68.

[469] Oliver 2001.

[470] Kursunoglu 1998: 39.

[471] Hodgson 1999: 63-65.

[472] American Nuclear Society 2001: 7.

[473] Hodgson 1999: 65.

[474] Chen 2004.

[475] 300 millirems in the US.

[476] van der Zwaan. et al. 1999: 259; Cohen 1990: 205.

[477] Walker 2000: 52; Sims 1990: 40.

[478] Walker 2000: 31; Sims 1990: 40.

[479] Sims 1990: 243. Walker 2000: 117.

[480] Cohen 1990: 54.

[481] Walker 2000: 139.

[482] Walker 2000: 139.

[483] Sims 1990: 108.

[484] Garwin and Charpak 2001: 171-172.

[485] Hodgson 1999: 79.

[486] Kaku and Trainer 1982: 82-83.

[487] Nero 1982: 87-88.

[488] Cohen 1990: 86-89.

[489] Cohen 1990: 80.

[490] Cohen 1990: 86-89.

[491] Cohen 1990: 77.

[492] Cohen 1990: 86-89.

[493] UIC 2006b.


[495] UIC 2006b.

[496] Hoffman 2001.

[497] Wardell 2001.

[498] IEA 2001b: 175.

[499] IEA 2001b: 197.

[500] Sims 1990: 175.

[501] Hore-Lacy 1999: 32.

[502] Sims 1990: 164.

[503] IEA 2001b: 197.

[504] Hore-Lacy 1999: 56.

[505] Holt 2003: CRS-5.

[506] IEA 2001b: 195.

[507] Hodgson 1999: 70-2.

[508] Holt 2003: CRS-6.

[509] Holt 2003: CRS-6.

[510] Hore-Lacy 1999: 46.

[511] IEA 2001b: 196.


[513] Cohen 1990: 206.

[514] IEA 2001b: 196.

[515] IEA 2001b: 51.

[516] Hodgson 1999: 73.


[518] Cohen 1990: 179.

[519] Cohen 1990: 179.

[520] Cohen 1990: 179.

[521] Cohen 1990: 184.

[522] Cohen 1990: 184.

[523] Cohen 1990: 184.

[524] Hore-Lacy 1999: 48.

[525] Cohen 1990: 184.

[526] “Nuclear Energy Industry Salutes Senate for Approving Yucca Mountain.” PR Newswire July 9, 2002.

[527] Cohen 1990: 221.

[528] World Energy Council 2001b

[529] US Geological Survey, Geothermal Energy: Clean Power from the earth’s heat, Circular 1249, 2003, p. 17.

[530] World Energy Council 2001b.

[531] World Energy Council 2001b.

[532] Energy and Geoscience Institute University of Utah 2001 or later: 4.

[533] Energy and Geoscience Institute University of Utah 2001 or later: 6.

[534] US Geological Survey, Geothermal Energy: Clean Power from the earth’s heat, Circular 1249, 2003 p. 21.

[535], page 3-40.

[536] Mock et al. 1997.

[537] Mock et al. 1997.

[538] Armstead and Tester 1987: 51-52.

[539] Armstead and Tester 1987: 56.

[540] The estimate takes into account the fact that hotter countries would have no use for low grade heat for space heating and would only be interested in rocks hot enough for electricity.

[541] Mock et al.1997 Table 1.

[542] Armstead and Tester 1987: 44.

[543] The 10 kilometers beneath each square kilometer provides 0.0215 quads for a 1oC drop in temperature and so 0.001075 quads for a 0.05oC drop. Dividing 445 by 0.001075 gives 413,953.

[544] Duchane 1996: 3.

[545] Duchane 1996: 4.

[546] This is using the USGS’s concept of reserve base which includes those resources that are currently economic (reserves), marginally economic, and some of those that are currently uneconomic. The uneconomic part would require some rise in prices or the adoption of some technology improvements. See USGS 2006: 195.

[547] Present iron ore and bauxite would last into the 2080s or 90s with an average annual growth rate of 2 per cent. This provide a 6.5 fold increase in annual consumption which would be more than enough to ensure abundance in a world of 10 billion people. Potash and phosphate, which are used in fertilizer, have present reserves that would last into the next century at that growth rate. However, it is likely that food abundance will not require such a large increase. See USGS 2006.

[548] Lomborg 2001: 140.

[549] Lomborg 2001: 141.

[550] Lomborg 2001: 142 and 145.

[551] USGS 2006: 129.

[552] USGS 2006: 125.

[553] USGS 2006: 183.







[560] Depletion of oxygen in a nutrient-rich body of water by growth of too much plant life, leading to death of animal life.


[562] International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine 2004.




[566] Lomborg 2001: 194.

[567] Lomborg 2001: 195.

[568] International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation,

[569] Beijing, March 12 (Xinhuanet

[570] Xinhua News Agency, October 19, 2004


[572] Xinhua News Agency, March 23, 2005


[574] Xinhua News Agency, March 23, 2005



[577] This paragraph relies on Lomborg 2001: 191-192.


[579] Lomborg 2001: 180.

[580] According to FAO 1997: 21, “the widespread death of European forests due to air pollution which was predicted by many in the 1980’s did not occur.” Cited in Lomborg 2001:180.

[581] Lomborg 2001: 217.

[582] Lomborg 2001: 217.

[583] Edwards et al. 2005.

[584] American Cancer Society, Breast Cancer Facts and Figures 2005-2006

[585] Lomborg 2001: 221.

[586] American Cancer Society, Breast Cancer Facts and Figures 2005-2006

[587] Lomborg 2001: 225

[588] Lomborg p. 225 citing NCI statistics.

[589] Colborn, T. et al. 1996.

[590] Safe 1999: 193-194.

[591] Safe 1999: 193.

[592] Safe 1999: 191-192.

[593] Lomborg 2001: 238-241.

[594] Lomborg 2001: 240.

[595] Safe 2001: 198.

[596] Lomborg 2001: 241.

[597] FAO 2005: 137.

[598] FAO 2005: table 3.

[599] Depletion figures derived from FAO 2006: table 4.

[600] Hollander 2003: 128.

[601] FAO 2006: table 4.


[603] Martin 1999: 207 suggests a range of 5-10 million current species, with a greater likelihood of being closer to 5 than 10. Here is another view: “For the more conspicuous birds and mammals, the number of species is known quite accurately, both for tropical species as well as temperate ones. It is estimated that at least 98 per cent of birds have been discovered. For birds there are 2-3 times as many tropical species as temperate ones. For other organisms most of the named species (1.4 million) are from temperate countries. If we assume that the same factor applies to other organisms as to birds, then there are 2-3 times this many tropical species (2.8-4.2 million, giving an estimated total species of 4.2-5.6 million.”

[604] Lomborg 2001: 250.

[605] Lomborg 2001: 252.

[606] Conservation International, Biodiversity Hotspots, Atlantic Forest:

[607] Lomborg 2001: 254.

[608] Easterbrook 1995: 559.

[609] Martin 1999: 208-210.

[610] Simons 1996: 446 citing Reid and Miller 1989.

[611] Lomborg 2001: 250 gives a figure of 4,500 mammals and 9,500 birds; 1/14,000 multiplied by 10 million equals 714.

[612] Reporting on the work of UC Berkeley geologist James Kirchner,

[613] Lomborg 2001: 249.

[614] Ayittey 1992: 105)

[615] Ayittey 1992: 112

[616] Betrayed 0023 252

[617] Ayittey 1998: 144-145

[618] Ayittey 1992: 342

[619] Ayodele 2005: 2.

[620] Ayodele 2005: 1.

[621] Ayittey 1992: 255

[622] Ayittey 1992: 245

[623] Ayodele 2005: 3.

[624] Ayittey 1992: 239

[625] Ayyittey 2002: 9.

[626] Hope and Chikulo 1999: 122.

[627] Ayittey 1992: 0019.

[628] Ayittey 1998: 177.

[629] Ayittey 1992: 0015.

[630] Ayittey 1992: 0024.

[631] “Sub-Saharan Africa Survey” The Economist Jan 15th 2004.

[632] Ayittey 1992: 0031.

[633] “Sub-Saharan Africa Survey” The Economist Jan 15th 2004.

[634] “Sub-Saharan Africa Survey” The Economist Jan 15th 2004.

[635] Ayittey 2002: 10.

[636] The Economist, 20 Oct 2005

[637] The total foreign debt of SSA governments today stands at $350 billion. (Ayittey2004:2) and of this about half is owed by the 34 Sub-Saharan countries described as Heavily Indebted Poor Countries, the real basket cases. (Cato Institute 2005: 698) The vast bulk of the debt is owed to Western governments and multi-lateral financial and development institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the UNDP. Currently debt service obligations absorb a large proportion of export revenue.

[638] These include Bono and Bob Geldoff.



[641] National Center for Education Statistics 2005:161




[645] This is called the Flynn Effect. See

[646] It is, of course, problematic to talk about socialism having employment, full or otherwise, given that workers are now owners rather than employees. It is used here as a matter of convenience given the difficulty of coming up with a more suitable word.

[647] In the mathematics of game theory, this is an example of the so-called prisoner’s dilemma problem where the ‘rules of the game’ are such that each individual player is forced to adopt a non-cooperative strategy that delivers to them an outcome that is inferior to the one they would receive in a ‘game’ that enforced a cooperative strategy.

[648] At the other end of the spectrum, people with abilities in high demand will get what is effectively a negative subsidy. Organizations will bid a “shadow” wage for the labor based on the value they place on it. However, the worker should only receive what is required to induce him or her into that position. Economist refer to the difference as a rent which can be taxed without affecting economic decisions.


[650] Miller et al. 1996.



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Chapter 4: Capitalism, the Temporary Tool of Progress


As the discussion so far makes clear, the flow of abundance ultimately depends on only one resource ‑ us ‑ our effort and ingenuity. So reducing obstacles to its fullest and most effective use has to be our primary concern. In poor countries this means eliminating obstacles to the full development of capitalism. In the rich countries where this has already been achieved, capitalism itself has become the primary obstacle. There, it is becoming an increasing impediment to economic progress as technology transforms work from a chore into an activity worth doing for its own sake. Under these conditions we need a system where the means of production are collectively owned by those who do the work, an arrangement that will prove both more economically efficient and more congenial – but more on that later after a discussion of the poor countries.

The following are a few of the more notable impediments to capitalist development often found in these countries:

·         their economies are dominated by firms owned by the government or by the cronies of political leaders. These receive preferential treatment and are protected from internal and external competition. Recently many government firms have become crony ones through carefully stage-managed privatization programs;

·         they often have governments that continually verge on bankruptcy, because they borrow for consumption or bad investments and raise insufficient tax revenue. This leads to restricted access to credit for anyone except government and the biggest firms, and the theft of savings through inflation and currency devaluations;

·         business is deterred by burdensome regulation and associated corruption, and by a judicial system that lacks independence and is invariably corrupt and ineffective. Laws often greatly restrict foreign investment; and

·         there is a failure to give sufficient priority to raising the general level of education.

These capitalism-unfriendly conditions will significantly delay affluence for many countries, especially the poorest ones which may have to wait more than a century to substantially overcome their backwardness. For more on growth prospects see the discussion at the beginning of chapter 3.

Among the countries affected there are two groups worthy of special comment. Firstly, there are the countries of the former Soviet Union, such as Russia and the Ukraine, where economic problems are misconstrued as due to too much capitalism rather than not enough of it. Secondly, there are the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa which make up the least developed region of the world. Here extreme internal backwardness and misconceived outside ‘help’ have created a toxic mix that poisons most economic activity. We will look briefly at the former Soviet Union and then at more length at Africa. After that we will turn to the rich or developed capitalist countries and the prospects for collective ownership.

Soviet Hangover

The collapse of the Soviet Union can be best described as an incomplete process and many of the hangovers from that old regime have much in common with other less developed societies. Most large industries continue to be inefficient, protected monopolies whether state or privately owned. Businesses have very insecure property rights. The law has not kept up with the new forms of ownership, and do not provide the basis for legally enforcing contracts and ownership rights. At the same time there is an epidemic of organized crime and corruption which brings rampant theft, fraud and extortion. Indeed, most businesses are thought to pay protection money. Firms face a daunting array of fees and delays for countless licensing and permit requirements. These can often be avoided but only with the payment of a bribe. Organized crime often plays the role of middleman in these situations, facilitating transactions between businessmen and corrupt government officials.

Organized crime and corruption is very much a legacy of the old regime. The underworld had extensive connections to Soviet officialdom and played a critical role in distributing scarce goods and resources (often stolen state property) to those with money and influence. At the same time it was normal for bureaucrats and other state employees to sell favored treatment. Goods arriving at retail stores were set aside for preferred customers who paid extra and those who controlled the distribution of motor vehicles, housing etc were often in a position to extract additional payments from consumers. The black market, bribery or favor swapping were an almost daily experience for the average Soviet citizen.

Legal reform in the area of trade practices and property rights plus deregulation and privatization of the economy are needed if the economy is to be stirred into action. However, for the moment the ruling-elites in the successor countries appear unable or unwilling to carry out these changes.

Africa: More Capitalism Please

The most notable feature of Sub-Saharan Africa is that the ruling cliques who control most of the wealth are nothing remotely like a capitalist class. Their primary aim is the consumption of capital rather than its accumulation. They have found a host of ways for ensuring that funds that ought to have been devoted to economic development are wasted. In this they are reminiscent of the rulers of ancient Rome or Egypt, and nothing like a modern bourgeoisie. Like the ancients that they emulate, they have both domestic and external sources of wealth. Locally they engage in the time honored practice of screwing the peasant through either heavy taxation or compulsory crop acquisitions at below market prices. From the outside world, instead of tribute from vassals, they receive aid, loans and resource royalties. Funds are then spent on palaces and luxuries, on prestige projects that make no economic sense or diverted into Swiss bank accounts and various offshore investments. The term ‘kleptocrat’ has been coined to describe this class of people.

The wealth looted by some of the rulers has been staggering. People like Mobutu in Zaire, Moi in Kenya, and Babangida and Abacha in Nigeria, all amassed fortunes worth billions of dollars. Typical in extravagance was Mobutu who ruled Zaire from 1965 to 1997. He built about a dozen palaces and even linked some of them with four-lane highways. He also acquired grand estates and chateaus in Belgium, France, the Ivory Coast, and Spain, as well as vineyards in Portugal.[1]

Like the emperors of Rome and Pharaohs of Egypt, they also wasted vast resources on monuments to enhance their prestige and impress the populace. The continent is littered with grand conference halls, new capitals and show airports. President Felix Houphouet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast in the 1980s built a $360 million basilica to match the best in Rome[2], while Nigeria’s generals wasted billions of dollars of oil revenue building a brand new capital at Abuja.[3]

Delusions of grandeur has also motivated a lot of what were ostensibly productive investments. They have tended to be big showy symbols of development that make no economic sense under the backward conditions into which they were introduced. They were not accompanied by the necessary development in other areas such as transport and power infrastructure, management and education. Factories were built that never produced anything. Vast amounts of sophisticated agricultural machinery were imported and then abandoned in the field when they broke down.[4]

Then we have the billions of dollars spent every year on the military to provide the wherewithal for competing parasitic elites to fight over the loot. These are often from different tribes or ethnic groups.[5]

These kleptocrats are not totally spendthrift because they also squirrel away billions. However, even these funds have not been put to productive local use but instead exported for investment in the rich world – Swiss bank accounts being a favorite destination. The amount of capital which has fled the continent is staggering. The capital held by Africans overseas could be as much as $700 billion to $800 billion.[6] This exceeds the more than $500 billion in foreign aid pumped into Africa between 1960 and 1997.[7]

The techniques for siphoning off wealth are many and varied. The least imaginative is to pay yourself an horrendously large salary. In the case of Mobutu, his personal budget allocation was more than the Government spent on education, health and all other social services combined.[8] This is not including the revenue from diamond exports which went directly into his pocket.

Contracts for major projects do not go to the lowest bidder but rather to whoever offered the largest bribe. In one notable case in the late 1980s, a contract for a hydroelectric dam in Kenya costing hundreds of millions of dollars was cancelled and bidding reopened when the winner refused to pay a bribe to a leading crony of President Arap Moi, the ruler of Kenya from 1978 to 2002. The eventual winner paid the bribe but put in a bid much higher than the original one.[9] When kickbacks on public contracts do not supply enough cash, politicians award themselves fake ones.[10]

Padding the cost of projects is another method of achieving the same outcome. For example, the Nangbeto dam project in Togo was costed at around $28 million. However, this was increased to $170 million so that funds could be diverted into the pockets of the ruler and his cronies.[11]

Anything requiring government approval can be the source of bribes. These include permits to do just about everything, and most importantly licenses and concessions for mining natural resources. In Nigeria, Abacha, who ruled until his death in 1998, ensured that no oil deal or decision was made without his approval and that always required a ‘fee’,[12] while Ghana’s Minister of Trade in the 1960s used to charge a commission for import licenses equivalent to 10 per cent of the value of the imports.[13]

Owning businesses can be particularly profitable when you are a ruler or high official. The numerous business concerns of President Arap Moi always managed to win huge government contracts and charge the state exorbitant fees and prices. He also owned a cinema chain with monopoly control over movie distribution in Kenya.[14]

Having privileged access to goods can be a good earner when you sell them on the black market. In Rwanda, President Habryimana ran lucrative rackets in everything from development aid to marijuana smuggling. He also operated the country’s sole illegal foreign exchange bureau in tandem with the central bank. One dollar was worth 100 Rwandan francs in the bank or 150 on the black market. He took dollars from the central bank and exchanged them in the exchange bureau.[15] In Zimbabwe top government officials used their influence to buy trucks and cars at the artificially low official price from the state-owned vehicle assembly company and then sold them on the black market for enormous profits.[16]

Fictitious external debt has reaped vast funds for corrupt officials, with ‘repayments’ going into their overseas bank accounts. At one time over $4.5 billion of Nigeria’s external debt was discovered to be fraudulent.[17]

The economic impact of kleptocrats is not confined to ripping off most of the wealth that should have gone into development. They also make it difficult for everyone else to be productive. Most horrific of all is the destruction from their civil wars which have ravaged much of the continent. In 1999, a fifth of all Africans lived in countries battered by wars, mostly civil ones.[18]

Whatever limited infrastructure such as roads, schools, hospitals, power telecommunications is not destroyed in wars has often been allowed to deteriorate. Once bribes have been extracted at the construction stage, kleptocrats do not care if the resulting infrastructure falls apart through lack of maintenance. Besides, money for maintenance is money that can go into their pockets. Zaire (now Congo) was a classic in this respect. Agricultural produce intended for market often rotted on the ground because the transportation system had broken down. While the country had 31,000 miles of main roads at independence from Belgium in 1960, by 1980, only 3,700 miles were usable.[19]

Just registering a business in Africa is an ordeal. In a typical developed country it generally takes a day or two and costs a few hundred dollars, but in Africa it involves long delays and high costs. In Congo for example, it takes about 7 months, costs close to nine times the average annual income per person, and firms must start with a minimum paid-up capital of more than a third of that exorbitant fee.[20] Furthermore, the poor legal framework in which businesses try to operate adds to the cost and unpredictability of running a business. Soldiers and police often feel free to impose their own impromptu forms of ‘taxation’ and trucks carrying goods are constantly stopped at road blocks by police who help themselves to some of the load. Governments can behave in all sorts of capricious and discriminatory ways. Property might be seized or a firm’s license to operate suddenly revoked because the president of the country dislikes the owner’s political views or ethnicity; or you might discover one day that you are now in competition with a business run by the ruler or one of his cronies. Contracts are not readily enforceable because the courts are slow, expensive and frequently corrupt. As a result there is a strong tendency for businesses to deal only with people they know.[21]

The extremely low level of private foreign investment in Sub-Saharan Africa is a stark indication of how economically unattractive the region is. It gets about 1-2 per cent of the funds flowing into developing countries, and most of that goes to South Africa.[22] And of course the fact that the kleptocrats do not invest in Africa tells the same story.

Given the current state of Africa, modest progress is perhaps the best we can hope for over the next quarter century. Nevertheless, there are two positive developments particularly worthy of note that may bode well for the future: a number of countries have achieved some degree of democracy and political accountability; and there has been a drop in the extent of civil warfare.

In the 1990s a dozen political leaders were peacefully voted out of office – a previously unheard of method of departure. In 2004, 16 out of the 48 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa had governments that were described as democratic with elections and a level of civil rights for opponents of the government. Although in some cases the changes lose some of their shine when you take into account election rigging and the lack of independence of the judiciary and media, and neutrality of the armed forces.

In the last five years there has been a significant decline in the number of civil wars. The fighting has stopped in Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, Burundi, Sudan and Senegal. The war in the Congo is over, although marauders still plague the east of the country, and the one in northern Uganda appears to be spluttering out. These wars have been horrific in terms of deaths, devastation and duration. The death toll in the Congo was 3 million and in Sudan 2 million. The wars in Sudan, Senegal and northern Uganda lasted for two decades while in Angola even longer. This decline in internal conflict has been due to a mix of exhaustion, one side winning and external pressure. Where there is a victor, they are usually no worse than the vanquished and sometimes better. Whether this decline is temporary or long term remains to be seen given the potential for old conflicts to be rekindled and new ones ignited.

On the economic front, there is also the occasional bright sign. For example, a South African company has taken over the debt ridden and rundown government-owned railway line that runs from Kampala in Uganda to the Kenyan port of Mombasa. They plan to invest $322 million over the next 25 years overhauling the line and its rolling stock.[23]

If these tentative developments prove to be more than a false dawn, they can be attributed in part to the end of the Cold War during which the superpowers propped up those despots that aligned with them or bankrolled equally appalling rebel armies for the same reason.

Any progress will also be assisted by a transformation of the whole aid and lending regime. Historically, it has done nothing to help Africa. Not only have the funds been misused in the ways already discussed, but they have also helped to keep the kleptocrats in power. External funding makes it is easier for governments to be unaccountable and to withstand popular opposition. Luckily the World Bank was not around at the time to prop up bankrupts like Charles I of England and Louis XVI of France! When programs fail the usual response has been to attempt to salvage them with injections of even more funds, rather than to do a critical reassessment. In the case of lending this is made possible by the fact that the World Bank and other development banks are not commercial institutions that will go out of business if their loans do not perform. They are simply provided with more funds by rich country governments. Improving the situation has to mean a strong connection between aid and the quality of governance, and a far greater focus on helping agriculture, the main form of economic activity.

Democratic institutions need to be established that are more than a facade – there needs to be constitutions, elected government, civil liberties, the rule-of-law and the separation of powers. Dismantling some of the machinery of corruption is also important. This includes increased transparency in financial dealings and getting rid of regulations that only exist so that officials can be bribed to ignore them. The less progress in these areas the less aid.

The cancelling of external debts can be better handled in this context.[24] The regimes that are more likely to simply accumulate new and equally unsustainable debts are given less chance to do so. Where they are deprived of all new funds the extra scope for waste is limited to the debt repayments avoided which they now get to keep.

Agriculture is the predominant sector of Africa’s economy and is critical to its development. The sector has to retain the economic surplus it needs to introduce improvements and to move from communal (i.e., feudal or pre-capitalist) to private ownership of land. Africa would also benefit from the US, EU and Japan opening up their markets more to agricultural imports. At present they are heavily protected. With the opening up of trade, it would not take long for some farmers to move into producing the crops and livestock desired by these markets. Furthermore, the elimination of the high protection of processed food could see food-processing industries develop in Africa. A lot of humanitarian aid can also have the added longer term benefit of assisting agriculture. Efforts to reduce the impact of AIDS, malaria, TB and malnutrition not only reduce death and misery but ensure more people are well enough to perform productive farm labor. The necessary measures include new medical treatments, strengthened healthcare systems, higher yielding and more robust seed varieties and the development of farmer advisory services. Unfortunately, even programs directed specifically at the rural poor are not immune to corruption as evidenced by the many cases of medicines being diverted onto the black market. And no matter how well run, an assistance program has the problem that it may be freeing up local funds that would have been used for the purpose and which can now be wasted.

The dire state in Sub-Saharan Africa naturally prompts a ‘we must do something’ response. At the moment there is a rock star led campaign calling for debt forgiveness and large increases in aid.[25] There are also various studies and proposals circulating among rich country governments. While some of this concern is informed by the considerations expressed above, it could also rekindle the tendency to simply throw money around and repeat past disasters.

Capitalism Outgrows Itself

Now let us look at the rich or developed countries. In their case mature capitalism is creating the groundwork for its successor, a far more dynamic and congenial economic system where the means of production are collectively owned by those who do the work. Capitalism has this effect because the machines that result from capital accumulation not only create increasing abundance but also make work less and less like work and more and more like an activity that could be performed for its intrinsic value.

Under these new emerging conditions, we no longer need profit driven capitalists controlling the means of production and forcing us to work for them. And as we will discuss shortly, the combination under collective ownership of self-motivated and highly accountable workers and production for use rather than profit would ensure a far greater rate of economic progress than capitalism.

Our greatest achievement so far in taking the work out of work has been to eliminate a lot of the really hard and dangerous jobs. These include swinging a pick and shovel as they used to do down the mines, and in the construction of buildings, sewers, drains, roads and railways; and also lifting heavy loads in manufacturing and transport.

At the same time there has been a large increase in the proportion of people with professional and managerial jobs. In the US, over 30 per cent of workers belong in this category. This includes teachers, workers in business and financial operations, healthcare professionals and managers who each comprise between 4 and 5 per cent of the workforce. The expansion of this kind of work is also reflected in the increasing levels of education in the US. There, 29 per cent of people aged between 25 to 29 years in 2004 had a bachelors (4 year) or higher degree.[26] In 2003, 38 per cent of 18 to 24 years olds were enrolled in degree granting institutions[27] while 57 per cent of 25 to 29 year olds had completed at least some college.[28] In the same year just over 40 per cent of Americans in their 30s and 40s had been enrolled in a career or job related part-time or short course.[29]

It is true that a lot of routine and menial work still remains. However, it is not hard to envisage much of it disappearing over the next quarter century. Most factory work will vanish once we develop a new generation of robots that can do finicky assembly work. These will need to be better able to distinguish between different kinds of objects and find them wherever they are rather than simply being pre-programmed to pick up something from a particular location. Then they will need the dexterity of the human hand to manipulate and assemble these better understood objects. At the moment robots are mainly confined to fairly simple tasks such as spot welding, spray painting and moving things around.

Likewise, most of the unskilled jobs created with the expansion of the retail and hospitality sectors will go. Virtual shopping will be a big job killer in retailing. Web sites will get better at graphically displaying their wares and become easier to use. Customers will be able to make better choices as they can easily access product and price information from a host of suppliers and third parties. Perhaps shoppers will be able to upload a body scan to on-line clothing shops which can then display a virtual ‘you’ wearing different garb. This will give you a much better idea of what you will look like. You can ensure the best off the shelf size or even ensure a perfect fit through an alteration service or one-off production. Online grocery orders will be filled at a warehouse rather than a supermarket by shelf picking machines. The boxed groceries will be either picked up at local centers by the consumer or home delivered. Labor can also be reduced in conventional shopping with the addition of in-store computers providing information about products to customers and automated check-outs.

Bar service and coffee making can already be provided without humans. The machinery just needs to become cheaper or the labor more expensive. Coming up with a technology to provide automated table service should not be a daunting challenge. You could place an order directly to the kitchen through some electronic device on the table or your own hand-held computer or mobile phone. The order could even be made before you arrive. Maybe machines on the ceiling would lower the food onto your table. In the case of kitchen workers, they are generally doing work that is just as amenable to automation as tasks performed in manufacturing.

Making an appointment to see a doctor, dentist, physiotherapist, accountant or tax adviser will be done online much like we now make hotel and airline flight bookings, except the website will present you with unfilled timeslots to choose from. When you visit an office the computer at the front desk will validate any necessary ID, announce your presence and provide any necessary directions. When you put in an order to a supplier for components or materials the information will be sent directly to the robot in the warehouse which will select it from the shelves. At the same time you will automatically receive an electronic invoice which requires no handling or filing. In many cases even the decision to put in the order can be left to a computer which monitors stock levels and rate of usage.

Snail mail surprisingly still survives but it must go eventually, and with it will go those responsible for handling and delivering it. The typist is another anachronism who will vanish as executives who cannot type retire and voice to text software improves. Then there is that other dinosaur, the bank clerk, who is there to help the old and confused and will disappear with, if not before, the arrival of electronic money.

The jobs we have mentioned make up about a quarter of the total in the United States, and can be broken down as follows.[30] The clearly menial and readily automated marketing and sales occupations make up around 6 per cent. Waiting, bartending and other food and beverage service occupations are another 5 per cent. Short order and cafeteria cooks plus dishwashers are just under 3 per cent. The less skilled machine operators and process workers whose jobs are the most amenable to automation make up between 4 and 5 per cent. The types of office and administrative support jobs mentioned above are 5 per cent of all jobs and almost 30 per cent of all jobs in that category.

Automation will also impact on more skilled work. However, generally speaking the greater the intellectual content of a job the harder it is to automate and the more likely that at least initially any impact will be confined to the more routine aspects of the task. For example, you still need a surgeon for keyhole surgery but there is less cutting and sewing up.

There is some concern that as the average intellectual content of work increases, a large number of people with less natural ability will be left out in the cold with fewer and fewer jobs that they can perform. This is a rather pessimistic view when we look at what the great previously-unwashed have managed to achieve in recent times and what we can expect in the future. Education levels are a good indicator of the current general achievement. In developed countries school leavers who fail to finish high school are a shrinking minority. In the UK, Finland, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden the figures is less than 10 per cent while it is in the low teens in the US, France and Germany.[31] Just living in a modern industrial society seems to make people smarter as they are confronted by increasingly brain nourishing activities. A few examples will illustrate the point: applying for a job, buying a house, dealing with the healthcare industry; organizing your retirement; cutting through the retail hype to choose a new car, home entertainment system or air conditioner; renovating your house; organizing a holiday on the Internet; trying to figure out how a new electronic appliance works; playing video games; putting in a tax return and deciding who to vote for. Even routine jobs can be more demanding. For example, they generally require you to read and write, carry out a range of verbal interactions with other human beings and be able to use a whole range of machines and appliances without special training. IQ tests seem to confirm that people are getting smarter.[32] We can also expect improved performance in the future as a lot of the conditions that cause stunted development change for the better. These include lack of family support, peer pressure to be an idiot and an inadequate education system. We will also benefit from an increasing understanding of human development and what causes learning difficulties. And over the longer term we can expect to see artificial improvements through mind-enhancing drugs, genetic engineering (induced evolution) and brain link ups to computers.

What about the “Communist” Countries?

Any case for collective ownership, of course, has to address the experience of the mislabeled “communist” countries. These are the regimes that used to exist in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the ones still hanging on in China, Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea. The conclusion generally drawn is that socialism is inherently flawed, and you are bound to end up with economically inefficient police states where the old capitalist exploiters were simply replaced by ‘socialist’ ones.

However, all that we can really conclude is that it is inherently very difficult or even impossible to successfully establish socialism in societies that are poor and backward, that are more feudal than capitalist. As the experience of other backward countries shows, even getting capitalism off the ground under these circumstances is hard enough, let alone socialism.

The socialist transformation achieved was very limited. True, the capitalists were expropriated. However, the position of workers was as you would expect in the early phases of industrialization. Most work was arduous and repetitive manual labor and the education level and background of typical workers left them ill-equipped for involvement in the mental aspects of production.

Both these factors made for a sharp division of the workforce into a large group who were simply operatives and a minority who did the thinking and deciding. These were the managers, engineers and officials – generally referred to as ‘cadres’. With their different role came the need for higher incomes that raised them above the prevailing poverty. To do their job they needed motor vehicles, telephones, and freedom from normal hardships that would hinder their work. Then there were morale boosters such as good food and alcohol, and rejuvenating trips to holiday resorts. On top of that were performance bonuses that widened the gap even further.

It is not hard to see how under this class structure, the revolution was prone to getting stuck and then diverted along the wrong track. Members of the elite had a vested interest in entrenching their privileged position and were unlikely to encourage an invasion of their domain as workers became more skilled and educated and industry more mechanized nor to willingly start to take upon themselves a share of the more routine forms of labor.

Once career, wealth and position are the primary impulse, economic results take a second place to empire building, undermining rivals, promoting loyal followers, scamming the system and concealing one’s poor performance from superiors. The opportunity for workers to resist these developments was limited by the lack of a democratic culture, a condition inherited from backward pre-revolutionary society. Then there is the culture of subordination which drains away confidence and initiative. This can be very strong even in the absence of political tyranny as we can see in any liberal capitalist society. At the same time, one can imagine that any rank and file worker with special abilities or talents would tend to be more interested in escaping the workers’ lot by becoming one of the privileged rather than struggling against them.

Mao Zedong referred to this process, once heavily entrenched and endorsed at the top, as capitalist restoration and those encouraging it as revisionists and capitalist roaders. The Chinese Cultural Revolution that he led in the late 1960s is the only attempt to beat back this trend. However, the capitalist roaders were able to seize power in China after his death in 1976.

Notwithstanding their real nature, the Soviet regime and its satellites in Eastern Europe had no trouble characterizing themselves as socialist. Socialism was equated with state ownership and its present task was simply to achieve economic development and provide a certain level of economic security while such matters as eliminating the division between routine and elite forms of labor were relegated to the far distant pie in the sky future. In China, where such a regime still survives, keeping up the pretense must be more difficult given that they scrapped the communes, reintroduced the profit motive in state enterprises and allowed capitalists to set up businesses. They call it ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’.

Economic Calculation without Capitalism

It is generally accepted that the efficient resource allocation in a complex modern economy requires decentralized decisions based on present and expected future costs or prices. There is also a general misconception that such a decentralized system of allocation requires market exchanges and as a result socialism could not make use of it and would instead have to rely on some cumbersome and grossly inefficient system of centralized allocation.

The first point to make is that socialism will still make use of some markets. In the initial phase, there will be a strong connection between the individual’s entitlement to consumer goods and the amount and quality of work performed. In other words society will exchange these goods for work. As the connection loosens it is less of an exchange and more a simple allocation or entitlement. The latter would be denominated in what is better referred to as tokens rather than money because it is no longer facilitating a market exchange but simply putting a limit on the individual’s overall entitlement. The movement of goods across political borders will also generally involve a market exchange of exports for imports because collective ownership for most if not all things will end at political borders. Exceptions would be goods owned at an international level, disaster relief and aid from richer to poorer regions. Over time as the level of economic and social development converges and economic integration increases the number of political borders will diminish.

Where you will not find markets under socialism is in the transfer of intermediate inputs between different production units within political borders. These inputs are the raw materials, energy, services, buildings and machinery that go into making the final goods and services purchased by consumers. This transfer does not involve a market exchange because there is no transfer of ownership. Both the supplier and the user of the input have the same owner, the society of producers. However, this does not rule out decentralized pricing and costing, and the use of this information to make decentralized decisions as to what to produce and what inputs to use.

Just as under capitalism, those given the responsibility for making production and supply ordering decisions will act on whatever information or expectations they have about the demand for the products under their charge and the costs of alternative inputs. The process can be described in the following way. Estimates are continually being made of the quantity demanded, at present and into the future, at different prices for all final consumer good and services. These would be based among other things on past consumer behavior, consumer surveys and demographic predictions. The level of demand then determines the maximum that producers of the consumer goods and services can bid for the intermediate inputs they require in production. Within that constraint they would choose inputs that minimize costs. In turn their input suppliers are estimating the demand for their own output. This will be affected not only by the demand for the final consumer product but also by expectations about changing technologies and substitute inputs. A few examples, should make this clear: producers supplying fuel, power or raw materials may find demand is sensitive to changes in the price of alternatives; production units using obsolete and costly technology will only be needed for demand that newer plants cannot meet; and those providing spare parts for a technology that is being phased in will see demand increase accordingly. With demand determined, these suppliers also chose production methods to minimize costs. These then have suppliers who in turn have suppliers and so on down the line. Each has to make similar economic decisions.

Because the transfer of intermediate goods and services from producers to users does not represent a market exchange, there is no transfer of money to the producer unit. The revenue (and profit if demand exceeds supply) is simply a book-keeping entry and does not belong to the unit. It is not a fund from which anyone can draw an income. Nor is it “retained earnings” entitling the unit to obtain fresh production inputs. The funds available to the unit for future inputs will be continually adjusted in line with changes in demand and supply conditions. This process is no more complex or mysterious than what happens under capitalism, when new funds are provided, either from elsewhere within the firm or from the capital market, for operations that need to expand, and when management reduces funds or does not seek fresh loans for operations that need to contract.

The price/cost mechanism we have described does not provide perfect outcomes. People’s preferences can change at short notice and even if they did not there is a limit to the accuracy of demand predictions. Also what people are willing to pay for a given quantity of a good will depend on the prices of other goods which substitute for or complement it or compete for the consumer’s limited budget. These are all uncertain to varying degrees. And the further into the future you are planning production capacity, the more room for error. At the same time costs to producers can be affected in unexpected ways. For example, there can be: unanticipated technological breakthroughs or failures; new production capacity coming on stream earlier or later than expected; and abnormally severe weather conditions. So, output is not what it would be with perfect knowledge and foresight. One consequence of this is that some goods will face insufficient and others excess demand at their cost of production. The former will have to be allocated at a price below cost and the latter, above cost.

Collective Ownership will be More Efficient

Identifying why collective ownership will be more efficient than capitalism is a fertile, if presently abandoned, field of research. So the following taxonomy of reasons is incomplete and the details of each of the suggested categories needs to be delved into in far more detail. However, it is still a reasonable start.

The five categories are: (1) the greater productivity of more motivated workers, (2) the greater accountability of individuals and organizations, (3) the elimination of unemployment, (4) the better flow of information and (5) the elimination of various resource wasting activities associated with wheeling and dealing, and with the activities of government.

Being Motivated

Workers who collectively own the means of production are going to be far keener about what they are doing than employees who “just work here”. It will make a difference knowing that their efforts meet the needs of their equals rather than make a few people rich or richer, and will not be frittered away through avoidable inefficiencies. Even the more routine work will seem less irksome under these conditions, especially when it is shared more equitably. Attitudes to innovation will also change. Knowing that surplus labor will be reassigned rather than thrown out onto the street will remove a current disincentive for workers to come up with and support labor saving improvements to production processes.

Supervision, Inspection and Accountability

Even with far greater self-motivation there will still need to be a high level of supervision and accountability. Some people will still be inclined to shirk and there will be the temptation to misuse resources for one’s own personal benefit. Some people will attempt to protect or promote a particular project or technology in which they have a lot personally and emotionally invested even though it has turned out to be uneconomical or otherwise lacking in sufficient merit. Workers will have to be assessed to determine whether they should be appointed to or retained in a particular position. Individuals and organizations will require feed back on how they are doing their job so that they can improve; and the way tasks are performed and organizations function needs to be continually under scrutiny so that they can be continually redesigned.

While capitalism is limited to top-down supervision, socialism is able to also employ the horizontal and bottom-up modes. The horizontal mode refers to workers at the same level mutually assessing each other’s work. This category includes individuals or groups redesigning their own jobs to increase efficiency. Under capitalism workers generally have no desire to perform this kind of supervision and would invite hostility if they did, given the antagonistic nature of production relations under capitalism, including the threat to people’s livelihood. The bottom up mode refers to workers assessing those at a higher level. This scarcely happens under capitalism because of the tyrannical powers the latter have over their subordinates, and why should people care anyway.

Also top down supervision will be more effective than under capitalism. Those in leading positions can expect greater cooperation and less of the passive resistance often found in the present relationship between leaders and the lead. Also top down supervision from outside an organization will be more effective. This includes better supervision by users, be they other industries or final consumers. Organizations will have no ownership walls to hide behind. There will be no such things as commercial secrecy or confidentiality.

Socialism will also retain the positive features of competition. Different production facilities will have to match each other’s price and quality. New entrants with cheaper production methods or a better product should have no trouble receiving approval from a funding agency. And, ultimately, if nobody wants to use a product because there are better or cheaper alternatives, production will cease and resources be re-assigned. In the case of large one-off products such as a production process or construction project, tenders might be invited if there are alternative providers. There would also be design competitions for major projects. Funding earmarked for research challenges such as a cure for a new disease threat or a better way to turn water into hydrogen, might be allocated to a number of separate organizations. This would help keep people on their toes; and having different approaches to a problem increases the likelihood of success. Even where organizations are not competing, their performance can be compared – e.g., providers of services in different locations will be expected to learn from the industry leaders.

Eliminating Unemployment

Socialism will not have the unemployed labor which is endemic to capitalism. Its main causes are: lack of market demand for output, mismatch between supply and demand of different types of labor, welfare disincentives and the battle over income share between labor and capital.

Under socialism unified ownership can always ensure sufficient effective demand for the output of a fully employed economy, while a capitalist government is mainly confined to the very blunt instruments of fiscal and monetary policy; and with these it has to rely on economic information that is skimpy, inaccurate and out of date.[33] This limited power of economic policy is sometimes described by economists as pushing on string. At the same time a socialist government does not have separately owned companies acting at cross purposes to each other. In a capitalist economy this appears to be a major problem in times of crisis or economic downturn when companies cut back on purchases and call in their debts as they try to shore up their financial position.[34]

Where a change in output or technology leaves some workers with skills that are in low demand, there would be far greater commitment to the various adjustment measures required. Leaving people to rot is acceptable under capitalism but not under collective ownership. Measures include retraining allowances where necessary and wage subsidies or lower wages while learning on the job. At the same there will be greater ability and willingness to learn new skills helped along by the elimination of the narrow division of labor which relegates many workers to restricted functions defined by others. The dole as we know it in most developed capitalist countries will be abolished and individuals will not be left to sink into an unemployable torpor.

People who for whatever reason cannot keep up with expected education and skill levels, can have their wages subsidized so that more primitive technologies that require their less skilled labor can be retained or re-adopted.[35] Where the subsidy is less than 100 per cent of the wage, there would still be a net gain to society of not leaving their labor idle. Beyond that point it is pretend work, which still may be appropriate in extreme cases. This should be a declining problem as learning ability improves with each generation .

The struggle between labor and capital over wage share can affect unemployment in a number of ways. On the one hand, governments will adopt economic policies aimed at slowing economic growth to prevent threats to profits from wage increases that generally occur in a tight labor market. On the other hand organized labor may manage to push wages above market clearing levels through industrial action and political support for minimum wage laws, trading off some unemployment for increased income for workers as a whole. Once there are no capitalists, there will be no struggle over “share”. Wages will equal the full social product. Only then are taxes and levies deducted for investment and social spending such as pensions. And these deductions will be the result of a political process that has general support.

Better Information Flow

Under socialism the information available to economic decision-makers will be far better than it is at the moment. This includes information about investment and production decisions, scientific and technical knowledge, and cost and price data.

Under capitalism vast amounts of knowledge and information are subject to secrecy or deception. Firms try to conceal whatever they can about their investment plans from competitors and this can contribute to under or over investment by the industry as a whole. Product designs are commercial secrets and experience gained in production such as overcoming difficulties or improving methods are not openly shared. At the same time customers will often be denied information relevant to their choosing the product that best meets their requirements.

Price and cost information can only help producers make efficient decisions to the extent that it is accurate and available. For example, choosing the lowest cost method of production requires accurate cost information about alternatives. However, under capitalism prices are distorted and cost information obscured in various ways. Below is a list of the more important ones.

Monopoly pricing Firms are always keen to overcharge if their market position allows them to. This includes both long term market power resulting from having a dominant position in an industry and also the temporary market power that comes with being first in with a new product or process. They will do whatever they can to create and maintain these conditions.

External costs Capitalist firms unless required to by regulation fail to consider ‘external’ costs that are not covered in market exchanges. The primary example is the cost of pollution and other forms of environmental degradation. Present attempts by governments from outside the market to rectify this problem are costly and give results that are far from optimal. This is particularly the case where government policy is captured by the ‘environment industry’ which is more than happy to place obstacles in the way of economic progress. Socialism could make use of far cheaper and more effective self-regulation based on a determination to do the right thing from the point of view of society and the absence of any benefits to anyone from doing otherwise. There would also be the greater transparency to outside supervision.

Overheads or fixed costs A major problem is that posed by the unwillingness of economic players to reveal the value they place on a good in the presence of overheads or fixed costs. A high proportion of costs come into this category. These are incurred regardless of the actual level of output, and include designing the product and production process, computer software development, factory lighting and heating, and security.

If firms try to cover these in a uniform unit price, output will be less than optimal. This is because there are costumers who will not purchase at this price but still value the product sufficiently to pay at least the extra (i.e., marginal or incremental) costs that would be incurred in providing them with it. In other words the benefits of provision match or outweigh the cost. These costs include raw materials and in some cases wear and tear on machinery.

To avoid the problem there needs to be a system of variable pricing, so that those who place the highest value on the good pay a higher contribution towards fixed costs than those with a lower valuation. (This is referred to in the economic literature as ‘price discrimination’.) Producers under capitalism can usually obtain some idea of the difference in valuations, from whatever they know about the intensity of demand for their customers’ own products and the extent that they can substitute some other input. However, this information will be of a much poorer quality than what they would receive if customers were forthcoming with their own assessments. However, a capitalist enterprise is not going to volunteer such information if it will lead to them being charged more. In a socialist economy, however, those responsible for putting in a bid or valuation would be guided by overall economic efficiency rather than the profit of the particular enterprise or plant using the product. Also under socialism, a price discrimination regime would not be undermined by either competitors or low-price recipients offering the product at a lower price to those users being charged the higher price.

So-called public goods are an extreme form of the overhead or fixed cost problem. With these the marginal (incremental) cost is zero, or extremely low compared with average cost. In the case of intermediate goods, the most important of these are information goods, particularly computer software and the results of research and development. With these only one unit of the good has to be produced and this can be consumed by an infinite number of users. Use of the information in one production process does not prevent its use in others. There is no limit to the number of copies which can be made on the appropriate dissemination medium. The only marginal cost is associated with the production of these copies, and this is very low. A journal article or research paper downloaded from the internet costs virtually nothing. Software is disseminated in the same way or by CDs costing less than a dollar.

The more basic research is normally funded by government or philanthropy and is generally made freely available except where military secrecy is a factor. However, funds are not always well directed because of the excessive influence of entrenched academics and research institutions and the tendency of politicians to placate noisy lobbyists and support vote catching fads.

Commercial or applied research and the vast bulk of computer software is subject to intellectual property rights and made available under license. Licensing would be fine if it underpinned an efficient charging system which did not exclude any firm by charging them more than they valued the product’s use. However, for the reasons discussed above, this is not the case.

Surprisingly, if you believe all the rhetoric about the dynamism of entrepreneurial capitalism, government has played a critical role not only in basic research but also in the development of most of the major product innovations over the last half century or so. This has been mainly through military and space programs, which rely on war or the threat of it. These technological developments include jet aircraft, rockets, satellite communications, the Internet, computers, transistors, micro-chips, integrated circuits, bar codes, nuclear power and a vast array of new materials initially developed for military or space use. Even the mass production of consumer goods after World War II owes much to the diffusion of mass-production methods during the period of war production. Then we must not forget the role in the development of computer software of individual enthusiasts who work for the fun of it rather than profit.

Undersupply of cost informationFirms are just as keen to limit competitors’ knowledge of their current and expected future costs as they are of matters relating to production activity and technology. This deprives both customers and competitors of information which could otherwise help them make better decisions about future technologies and choices of alternative inputs.

Even if secretiveness were not a problem, cost data would still be undersupplied because it is a public good. Firms develop estimates of their future costs relying on whatever they can glean about the future costs of inputs and on their in-house knowledge of their own operations. On the basis of this information and projections of demand for their products, they can decide on whether to expand or shrink their operations. The more detail and precise the information the better. However, the better it is the greater the cost involved and so beyond a certain point the increasing costs outweigh the benefits. However, if you bring into account the value to other players, it would be worth spending more for better information. However, like any information it has a marginal cost of zero and this implies the undersupply problem we have just referred to.

Removing Burdens on the Economy

Socialism will be free from a range of burdens that consume a great deal of resources under the present system. These include wheeling and dealing, government policy driven by vested interests, bloated law and order and inefficient tax collection.

Wheeling and dealing In a capitalist economy a lot of resources are devoted to activities that can for want of a better term be referred to as wheeling and dealing. These include, among others, the securities “industry” and advertising and marketing.

The purchase and sale of financial assets such as stocks and debt in the securities market seems like an excessively resource consuming and roundabout way of simply allocating funds to where they are needed. The effectiveness of the mechanism is also marred by speculation and various forms of chicanery.

Advertising and marketing is a source of considerable waste. Under socialism the production of goods and services will be accompanied by a flow of information that will make potential customers aware of their existence and suitability for various purposes. However, we will not need to be constantly reminded of a beverage that has been on the market for the last 50 years.

Bloated legal system and the cost of crime Capitalism requires an expensive judicial system to settle contractual and other disputes between businesses, to deal with criminals and to encourage the law-abiding to remain that way.

In the US there are two and quarter million law enforcement officers, including police, private security and prison guards. There are also judges, lawyers and other workers in the judicial system who make up another million people.[36] Combined this is over 2.5 per cent of the employed workforce.

Then there is the horrendous impact on victims. A 1996 US report on the cost to victims of crime estimated these to be $450 billion annually or five to six per cent of GDP.[37] Violent crime (including drunk driving and arson) accounted for 95 per cent of total costs. The tangible costs which comprise medical care, lost earnings, and public programs related to victim assistance came to $105 billion. The pain, suffering, and the reduced quality of life were given a monetary value of $345 billion. Rape and sexual assault were 35 per cent of these intangible costs. Some high impact crimes were not included in the study, notably many forms of white-collar crime (including personal fraud) and drug trafficking.

Socialism would provide less fertile ground for the breeding of a criminal class. With nobody denied a job, crime is not required as a means of earning a living. And, the fact that work would be virtually mandatory would discourage the establishment of a criminal sub-culture of idlers and provide less opportunity to engage in crime. At the same time, transparent collective ownership should make it harder to set up front organizations for the movement of illicit goods or the laundering of money. A socialist regime would also be in a better position to crack down on the criminal element. It can mobilize people in problem neighborhoods to combat their influence. It can also claim a mandate in its early days to implement emergency measures to facilitate convictions, if necessary. For example, being a hoodlum could be an offence, obviating the need for water tight evidence of a particular crime. Such a mandate could be claimed because it is one-off and effective – those convicted are not simply replaced by a fresh crop – and it is not excessively punitive. Conviction, except for diehards and those known to have committed heinous crimes, would lead to retraining and guaranteed work.

Then there is the on-going epidemic of domestic violence perpetrated by outwardly normal people. Capitalism certainly does not help matters given the brutalizing and esteem lowering effects of workplace stresses and the general dog-eat-dog nature of capitalist society. It seems plausible that changing these conditions would also reduce the prevalence of sexual assault, although making the case for that is beyond the scope of the book and the author’s competence.

Another serious problem is robbery and theft by drug users funding a habit made very expensive by its illegality. It is hard to imagine a revolutionary government doing a worse job of choosing the degree of legality or illegality which minimizes harm. Socialism would also be far less conducive to drug use. With better life options people will be less drawn to self-destructive behavior and those that do will be more likely to get the support they need to control their habit and to live a functional life.

Vested interests Government policies can be seriously affected by the demands of politicians, officials, workers and capitalists pushing their own individual or sectional interests. Common forms of government action corrupted in this way include restrictions on competition such as trade protection and vote-buying expenditures by politicians. These can lead to considerable misallocation of resources.

To some extent sectional interests can be fought off under capitalism and this has been one of the aims of so-called microeconomic reform and deregulation. However, the pressure for special treatment will always be a problem, given that benefits from such measures are concentrated while the losses are dispersed throughout the population at large.

By eliminating capitalist ownership, socialism eliminates the vested interests stemming from that quarter. The interests of workers will become far more in line with those of society given that the need to eliminate specific jobs does not lead to people being thrown on the scrap heap. Although there will still be some divergence. There will still be the problem referred to earlier in the discussion on accountability where people have a lot invested in a particular project, in terms of skills, personal prestige and sense of worth. They may be tempted to use corrupt influence and disingenuous argument to press for more resources than may be economically justified and resist its closure if it proves to be a mistake or obsolete. This, as already suggested, would require a very transparent decision-making environment.

A similar problem requiring a similar solution may arise in the location of industries or facilities. People will tend to want their preferred work to be near where they currently live. Or they might oppose a development because of negative local amenity effects despite the fact that from society’s point of view it is the best location.

Inefficient taxation system Capitalist countries all have very inefficient taxation systems. The US Internal Revenue Service has a budget of just under $11 billion which is equal to about 0.1 per cent of GDP or $36 per person. Estimates of compliance costs incurred by taxpayers are unreliable but they are generally believed to be at least a few per cent of GDP. It is certainly possible that capitalist countries could come up with better tax-systems, however they could never be as efficient as the tax-system under socialism.

Under socialism workers would receive the total income of society. Out of this income they would then pay a uniform head tax and also a land rent on their places of residence. These imposts do not distort prices and have low collection and compliance costs. A head tax could also conceivably be introduced under capitalism but as Margaret Thatcher’s attempt in the UK shows there is bound to be a major backlash. Under capitalist conditions where incomes are very unequal and precarious, a large number of people would be either unable to pay or seriously burdened. Under socialism where income is secure and more equal (see below) these problems do not arise. As well as being non-distorting, it is the only tax that imposes an equal burden on everyone. Unlike an income tax, it would not favor those who work less. You could have some flexibility in the timing of tax payments, particularly to cater for people who take an extended period off from work. You could have a delayed payment with an interest penalty or maybe even discounted prepayment.

Another source of revenue would be rent on land. All land would be collectively owned and residents would pay a rental based on its value. So a house with a river view would incur a higher land rent than one next to a cement works. This arrangement could be in place regardless of the form of tenure over the dwelling which could range from short term rental to something similar to the existing form of private ownership.

The revenue from tax and land-rent would then be spent on (1) net investment to increase the productive capacity of the economy, (2) maintenance and expansion of the supply of collective goods such as medical, sporting, education and transport facilities, (3) pensions and wage subsidies, (4) funding goods and services that society may choose to subsidize or provide free, such as healthcare and education and (5) the provision of administration.

Efficiency Accompanied by Greater Equality

As well as being more efficient than capitalism, collective ownership is more equitable in the distribution of what is produced. To start with, of course, there will no longer be rich capitalists or overpaid executives nor people on reduced incomes because of unemployment or underemployment.

Over time there will be less and less reliance on financial incentives and more on intrinsic motivation. So the more productive people won’t resent the less productive receiving a similar hourly wage rate or respond by reducing their own productivity. These includes people who have a particular brilliance or flair and make an especially large contribution to human productivity through innovations. As we discussed earlier, technological progress causes a continual decline in low skilled jobs. This means the bulk of the workforce becomes less spread out in terms of training and skills. So to the extent that this effect wages, most workers will not be far apart.

Excess supply or demand for certain kinds of labor may still be a source of pay differentials. However, whenever excess demand emerges it would usually be a short term problem solved by increased training and by giving priority to automating less popular tasks. As for excess supply due to some particular activities being very popular, the problem would diminish as an increasing proportion of work takes on a rewarding character. Also when choosing between more or less equally congenial activities, workers should need little inducement to choose the one on which society places the highest value.

Leaping into the Unknown

When it comes to predicting when and how collective ownership will supersede capitalism, we are confronted with a very murky crystal ball. There is certainly little support at the moment for such a project and nothing resembling a credible political trend espousing it. Once such a trend does emerge it will have quite a lot on its plate. It will have to: (1) gain a popular following; (2) ensure that its opponents are dividedand isolated; (3) be able to form a government; and (4) possess a clear-headed understanding of its mission once in power. It is important to appreciate that such a movement will have nothing in common with the present pseudo left which is clearly part of the problem rather than the solution. This trend is hideously reactionary. It flirts with the greenies in their opposition to modernity, e.g., their nature worship and hostility to modern science and industry. It enthusiastically embraces the anti-globalization movement which opposes the industrialization of developing countries. It supports the fascist “resistance” in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it has a vision of socialism that is all about government hobbling growth and innovation, and supervising what people can consume.

The main thing working for change is the fact that capitalism’s obsolescence becomes harder to ignore. With rising education levels and new technology continuing to take more of the irk out of work, capitalism is a mounting hindrance to people getting on with their working lives. Furthermore, the new work tasks are harder to supervise and so require a level of self-activated commitment which this system has difficulty engendering. Then, as discussed in detail above, there is the increasing inefficiency of pricing under capitalism as fixed costs such as research and development and overheads grow in importance.

Establishing a new government, and new laws and institutions is only the first step. It will be followed by a protracted process of transformation and consolidation. Part of this will involve people getting over the habit of being subordinates and having others take the initiative. This includes resisting those in authority who want to turn social ownership into state capitalism. Hopefully, this process of transition will not be as protracted and painful as the one from backward agricultural societies to capitalism. It took centuries in Europe and is still going on in the developing countries today.

The prospects can best be summed up as: the future is bright but the road is tortuous.

[1] Ayittey 1992: 105)

[2] Ayittey 1992: 112

[3] Betrayed 0023 252

[4] Ayittey 1998: 144-145

[5] Ayittey 1992: 342

[6] Ayodele 2005: 2.

[7] Ayodele 2005: 1.

[8] Ayittey 1992: 255

[9] Ayittey 1992: 245

[10] Ayodele 2005: 3.

[11] Ayittey 1992: 239

[12] Ayyittey 2002: 9.

[13] Hope and Chikulo 1999: 122.

[14] Ayittey 1992: 0019.

[15] Ayittey 1998: 177.

[16] Ayittey 1992: 0015.

[17] Ayittey 1992: 0024.

[18] “Sub-Saharan Africa Survey” The Economist Jan 15th 2004.

[19] Ayittey 1992: 0031.

[20] “Sub-Saharan Africa Survey” The Economist Jan 15th 2004.

[21] “Sub-Saharan Africa Survey” The Economist Jan 15th 2004.

[22] Ayittey 2002: 10.

[23] The Economist, 20 Oct 2005

[24] The total foreign debt of SSA governments today stands at $350 billion. (Ayittey2004:2) and of this about half is owed by the 34 Sub-Saharan countries described as Heavily Indebted Poor Countries, the real basket cases. (Cato Institute 2005: 698) The vast bulk of the debt is owed to Western governments and multi-lateral financial and development institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the UNDP. Currently debt service obligations absorb a large proportion of export revenue.

[25] These include Bono and Bob Geldoff.



[28] National Center for Education Statistics 2005:161




[32] This is called the Flynn Effect. See

[33] It is, of course, problematic to talk about socialism having employment, full or otherwise, given that workers are now owners rather than employees. It is used here as a matter of convenience given the difficulty of coming up with a more suitable word.

[34] In the mathematics of game theory, this is an example of the so-called prisoner’s dilemma problem where the ‘rules of the game’ are such that each individual player is forced to adopt a non-cooperative strategy that delivers to them an outcome that is inferior to the one they would receive in a ‘game’ that enforced a cooperative strategy.

[35] At the other end of the spectrum, people with abilities in high demand will get what is effectively a negative subsidy. Organizations will bid a “shadow” wage for the labor based on the value they place on it. However, the worker should only receive what is required to induce him or her into that position. Economist refer to the difference as a rent which can be taxed without affecting economic decisions.


[37] Miller et al. 1996.

Chapter 1: Introduction and Summary



Gloom reigns supreme. Any thought of progress is scoffed at. According to the received wisdom, the earth’s “carrying capacity” will not permit global prosperity and “human nature” guarantees that any attempt to advance beyond capitalism will end in tears. Challenging these grim prognoses requires a “technofix” approach, and that is what the reader will find in the following pages.

The planet’s capacity to comfortably accommodate us is limited only by the application of human ingenuity, something we are never going to run out of. Food production can be increased by making better use of land and water resources, modernizing backward agriculture, and developing higher yielding and more resilient varieties of crops and livestock. Our increasing energy needs can be met from an array of old and new resources. The fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – on which we presently rely so very heavily, are ample enough, with the application of better methods of extraction and processing, to continue playing a major role for quite some time, and they can do so while keeping CO2 emissions within reasonable limits. In the longer run other energy resources will take on a greater importance, as their technologies develop and their costs decline. The options in view include sun, wind and wave, as well as uranium and thorium for nuclear power, and the geothermal energy beneath our feet. Then there are others we can only dimly foresee, if at all. At the same time, we will find all the raw materials we need to produce ever increasing quantities of goods and services. Most of these materials are in great abundance and are bound to become cheaper with new methods and new opportunities to substitute less costly for more costly ones.

We can get what we want without threatening the biosphere’s “life support systems”. While our impact on the natural environment is extensive, it is nothing compared with the battering that the earth withstands on a regular basis from super volcanoes, meteors and ice ages. Furthermore, progress leads to cleaner technologies and better knowledge of how to conserve and manage ecosystems.

We will definitely be making increasing use of our large and expanding carrying capacity as the economies of developing countries continue to grow, albeit patchily. By mid century the number of countries and proportion of the world’s population in the affluent category will have increased significantly. Others will follow later in the century with some stragglers such as Sub-Saharan Africa taking until early in the 22nd century.

As the world’s population increases from its present 6.5 billion to 9 or 10 billion in the second half the century (at which point it is expected to plateau, at least temporarily), a 2.5 to 3 fold increase in grain production will provide everyone with all the food they need, including produce from grain fed livestock. This can be achieved mid century with an average annual production growth rate of 2 per cent. A slower rate would only mean a delay by several decades.

As the century progresses an increasing proportion of the developing world will reach the per capita energy consumption levels presently achieved in the rich countries.[1] Total per capita energy production for a world with 9 billion people requires a 4.5 fold increase to reach the current rich country average. For a world with 10 billion, a 5 fold increase is required. These increases could easily be achieved this century if we maintain the growth rates seen in recent times and those expected in the next few decades. We can expect raw material needs to grow at a similar pace given they are used to build the industries, infrastructure, motor vehicles and homes that use the energy.

We can expect to see the demand on resources by the countries that are already rich to decline in importance. Their food consumption will stabilize given that their population is not expected to grow much beyond its current level of around one billion and satiation levels have been generally achieved. Being at the technology frontier their economies will grow more slowly than those of catch-up countries. Also their stage of development and static population means less expansion of energy intensive production such as heating, cooling, transport and infrastructure.

Being permanently stuck with capitalism is certainly a gloomy thought. Affluence on average conceals gross inequality, and whatever affluence is achieved is for most people accompanied by alienating employment and limited personal development. If human nature has made capitalism necessary, it was because we needed profit seeking capitalists to make us work. However, in the developed economies this is becoming less and less the case as technological progress transforms work generally into something which we want to do primarily for its own sake. On average it is becoming more interesting, complex and challenging as evidenced by the fact that over half the present workforce requires post-secondary training. Most of the really dreadful, dangerous and exhausting jobs have already disappeared and with increasing automation most of the dreary and menial ones will decline over the course of coming decades. Furthermore, under these new conditions, collective ownership by willing producers provides a more efficient economic motive force than ownership by a master class. It can more effectively tap into the creative powers of the vast majority and is not hidebound by sectional interest.

Any case for collective ownership, of course, has to pay heed to the prevailing view that the economically inefficient police states in the “communist” countries have shown that socialism is inherently flawed. As argued in the final chapter, socialism’s lack of success in those countries was mainly due to the fact that they were only beginning to emerge from feudalism.[2] Just getting capitalism to develop in such backward conditions is a mighty achievement, let alone socialism. A socialist revolution in North America or western Europe, while having its own challenges, would be on far firmer ground. In particular, there is the transformation of work just referred to plus the fact that it is carried out by a working class that is in the majority, is educated, is worldly wise, understands what the revolution is about and is not easily browbeaten.

A somewhat more obscure argument against socialism which economists raise is also addressed. They argue that we cannot do without capitalism because we require markets for intermediate goods. These are the inputs that firms obtain from other firms for use in the production processes, and include raw materials, components, factory buildings and machinery. According to this view, if you do not have market relations you are stuck with top-down direction of what is produced and by whom, and this is a method which becomes increasingly ineffective as the economy becomes more complex. As argued in the final chapter, they are right about identifying markets for intermediate goods with capitalism but mistaken in their belief that decentralized price setting and resource allocation requires a market exchange.

Of course, radical change does not occur just because conditions for it are favorable. We have to understand what has happened and then act. With anything new and daunting, it takes a while to catch on and then leap into the unknown. And when we finally make a move we are bound to confront a steep learning curve and considerable resistance from remaining supporters of the existing order. So while the future is a bright one, the road ahead may still be long and bumpy.

Chapter 2: Creating Food Abundance



Food production will have to increase considerably over the next half century to ensure that everybody has all the food they want. The 9 billion or so individuals expected by 2050 will have to be much better fed than most of the present 6.5 billion.

At the moment, almost a billion people are under-nourished, receiving far from adequate levels of calories and other nutrients. The region with the largest number in this category is South Asia, where just under a quarter of the population are in this wretched condition. The region with the highest proportion in this category is Sub-Saharan Africa with over a third.[3] Worldwide, some 170 million children under five years of age are underweight due to malnutrition.[4] This makes them vulnerable to a range of diseases and it is estimated that around 3.7 million died in 2000 as a result.[5] Two billion people or more have iron, iodine and zinc deficiencies[6] and one fifth of the global disease burden is due to undernourishment.[7]

Then there is the majority of people who receive a more or less adequate diet but with rising incomes aspire to more ‘luxury’ foods, such as fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products, which for a given level of calorie consumption require a lot more resources to produce. The calories from a hectare of most varieties of fruit or vegetable are far less than the calories from a staple grain, such as corn, rice or wheat, grown on the same area. Likewise, in the case of grain-fed livestock and poultry that consume far more calories than what humans get from the final product. About 50 per cent of current world grain production goes to feeding animals rather than humans.[8] Obviously if the grain were consumed directly, it would feed a lot more people. It would be more ‘calorie efficient’. Then we have increasing demand for products such as tea, coffee, alcoholic beverages, chocolate, herbs and spices that are not consumed for the nourishment but which draw on resources that would otherwise be available for the production of staples.

This increasing pressure on resources as most people move up the “food ladder” will be alleviated to some extent by a number of factors that increase calorie efficiency. These include: an increased preference for chicken rather than red meat; the development of a greater range of palatable meat substitutes; and the development of improved livestock and feed.

A major upsurge in vegetarianism might help, however, there are no signs of this happening. Besides, vegetarianism of the affluent requires a wide range of fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices and possibly various exotic grains that are low in yield and resource efficiency. Even in India where vegetarianism is imposed by the tyranny of religion, a growing share of grain is going to support the burgeoning dairy industry. Furthermore, total vegetarianism would actually be unhelpful, given that some resources are best used for meat production, e.g., grain by-products and pasture land that is unsuited for crops.

So, what are the prospects for improving average consumption levels and eventually reaching a stage where all countries have reached the satiation level achieved in developed countries? They are good as long as we can increase grain production at rates that exceed population growth. As for how long it will take, that will depend on the difference in the two growth rates.

Over time the task will be made easier as the rate of population growth declines. It has been falling since the late 1960s when it peaked at around 2.1 per cent.[9] It is now around 1.13 per cent and according to the UN’s medium growth scenario, it is expected to fall further to 1.05 percent in the period 2010 to 2015, to 0.7 percent during 2025 to 2030 and 0.33 per cent during 2045 to 2050.[10] So by mid century even a very modest increase in output would lead to an increase in the per capita average.

Doubling per capita consumption in developing countries can probably be achieved with a 2.4 to 2.6 fold increase in output.[11] This is on the assumption that their population increases by 50 to 65 per cent (i.e., a world total between 9 and 10 billion) and that all the increase in output goes to developing countries. The latter assumption is realistic given that people in developed countries already have plenty to eat and their population is not expected to increase.

Grain production has been increasing at more or less a linear fashion over the last 45 years or more. While varying considerably from year to year, annual growth generally gravitated around 30 million tonnes.[12] If we continue with a similar annual increase we will double production by around 2060 and provide more than a 50 per cent increase in per capita consumption in developing countries. A 2.5 fold increase would take until the final decade of the century.

If we can push up the pace and achieve the 2‑4 per cent annual growth rates achieved in the 1960s and 1970s we would reach the desired levels far more quickly. For example a 2 per cent annual growth rate would provide a 2.5 fold increase by 2050.

So, can we match or even exceed past achievements? Can science keep coming up with higher yielding crops and livestock? Can we ensure that there will be sufficient resources such as good quality land and water? Can we maintain or even increase the fish harvest? These and related questions will be addressed in the rest of the chapter.

Better Plants and Livestock

The main reason for our success in increasing food production during the last 50 years has been the ability of science to increase the yield potential of our plants and livestock, and to improve their ability to cope with a range of hostile conditions. Can we maintain this performance or are we running out of steam?

The prospects look promising when you consider that we are at the beginning of a biotechnology revolution that is bound to bring major advances in plant and animal breeding. Biotechnology provides a tool kit that includes genetic engineering, genomics, marker assisted selection, cell and tissue culture, and increasing knowledge of how physiological characteristics can act as indicators of performance. This tool kit is already starting to bring results.

Both genetic engineering and marker assisted selection rely on our growing knowledge of genes being provided by genomics which aims to describe and decipher the location and function of all the genes of an organism, and the interactions between them.[13]

Genetic engineering is opening up a totally new area of plant and livestock improvement. It allows us to directly manipulate the genes responsible for various attributes. This includes controlling the level of activity of genes by turning them on or off, or up or down, and also transferring genes from other plants or animals. Scientists will produce an increasing flow of results as they learn more about what genes confer what characteristics and improve their ability to manipulate genes, particularly multi-gene manipulation which is necessary in many cases.

Marker assisted selection (MAS) uses genetic markers to assist in selecting plant varieties with particular traits for inclusion in breeding programs. They are easily identified DNA sequences that are located near a specific gene associated with the trait. This technology is revolutionizing breeding methods because a large number of varieties can be screened for a desirable trait without having to grow them to maturity to determine its presence. Samples can be taken from seedlings and tested for the presence of the molecular marker. With traditional methods, a similar procedure would be far more time consuming and expensive, and often impractical. Checking for the continued presence of the markers can also determine whether the desired trait has been successfully transferred through the various stages of breeding and cross-breeding. This technology has already achieved considerable results, but will achieve a lot more as more is learnt about the role of genes in bestowing traits and their corresponding genetic marker is identified.

Tissue culture refers to a process where new plants are grown from individual cells or clusters of cells, often bypassing traditional cross-fertilization and seed production.[14] This technique enables breeders to attempt wide crosses between varieties that could not be hybridized before and enable faster stabilization of breeding lines. Such methods are also used to produce pathogen-free plants for distribution to farmers and for germ plasm storage.[15]

Better knowledge of what identifiable physiological features are associated with tolerance to certain conditions will assist the selection of varieties for inclusion in breeding programs. Features that are relevant to performance include: root structure that allows higher nutrient uptake, early ground cover to reduce evaporation of soil moisture and large seeds to assist early crop establishment.[16]

There is also much that can be done without cutting edge science or major breakthroughs. In large parts of the developing world high yield plant varieties still need to be adapted to local conditions. And there are neglected crops such as cassava and banana that would benefit from the kind of attention that rice and wheat have received in the past. Likewise, livestock suited to the tropics can benefit from more research. Breeding the water buffalo for meat and milk is an example often cited.

There are also many farmers in the developing world who have yet to take advantage of what has already been achieved because their use requires a more advanced form of agriculture and economic infrastructure. This includes distribution of high-yielding hybrid seeds that cannot be home grown, support from extension services and access to necessary ancillary inputs such as fertilizer and reliable water needed to achieve the promised higher yields.

What is achieved in coming years will depend very much on the level of research funding. Research in recent times has been hampered by the cut back in funding to the major research institutions in the last decade, including those associated with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the main umbrella organization for research in developing countries. Funding began to decline once research efforts had dealt with the urgent problems of the 60s and 70s by providing a new generation of high yielding rice and wheat. Notwithstanding this problem there are still a whole range of important improvements at various stages along the pipeline. We’ll look first at the higher yielding plants currently being developed and then the advances in livestock and feed.

The examples provided are meant to give a general indication. They are not exhaustive and some of those in the pipeline may never see the light of day. Not included is speculation of what may be on offer two or three generations down the track when our knowledge is far more advanced. Perhaps, one day we will produce food directly without having plants or animals as intermediaries. If a plant can produce grain surely we can, and with a multitude of customized features. Likewise for producing muscle tissue (i.e., meat) without the rest of the animal. The output from any given input of land or water with such technology would increase dramatically.

Better Plants

Plants can be improved in a number of ways. Firstly we can increase their yield potential. This is the yield that can be achieved under the best conditions in terms of weather, water and soil. Secondly we can increase their capacity to narrow the gap between actual and potential yields under less than favorable conditions, i.e., conditions of stress. Thirdly we can increase the ability of the crop to survive in an edible state after it is harvested.

Increasing Yield Potential

Yield potential of plants can be increased by various means. Hybridization is one approach. Thanks to an imperfectly understood effect called heterosis, the hybrid from a cross of two different plant varieties grows more vigorously and produces more grain than either parent. In some crops including maize this process is simple. However, with other major crops it is a difficult and ongoing process.

Hybrid rice was first developed in China in the early 1970s and is now planted on about half that country’s rice growing area. First generation hybrids have increased yields by 15 to 20 percent and second generation by a further 5 to 10 per cent of their predecessors.[17] A third generation is now being developed which will increase yields even further. Other Asian countries are now beginning to follow suit, developing their own varieties in line with their own palates and environmental conditions. Chinese scientists have also recently managed to develop and test a hybrid wheat breed that could at least double their country’s present per-hectare yields.[18] They have also recently created the first hybrid soybean which is expected to increase yields by 20 per cent.[19]

Researchers can also breed plants that put more energy into grain production and less into the rest of the plant. Researchers are working on a new rice and wheat ‘architecture’ that will significantly increase their harvest index, in other words more grain and less plant. This will be achieved by developing varieties with larger grain heads on thicker but fewer stems.[20]

Other fascinating approaches include: crop plants with an algae gene that boosts yields by almost a third because the new strain converts nitrogen fertilizer far more efficiently[21] and rice with an antisense gene, that inhibits the formation of certain proteins and thus prolongs the grain-filling period of the plant. This rice, in its first field test, increased productivity by 40 per cent[22].

A long-term hope among some scientists is to create plants that are far more efficient at photosynthesis, the process that converts sunlight into energy. If this could be improved, plants could reach maturity more quickly, allowing more crops each year. Nitrogen fertilizer consumption could also be reduced because photosynthesis is the main consumer of this input. Apparently photosynthesis is very inefficient and worked a lot better back in the early days of plants when the atmosphere had little or no oxygen. A number of projects are doing very preliminary research on this problem.

Helping Plants Cope Better with Harsh Conditions

Crops are generally grown under less than ideal conditions which subject them to stresses that can reduce yields quite significantly. These stresses are usually classified into biotic and abiotic. Biotic stresses include the ravages of diseases and insects, and competition from weeds, while abiotic (or non-biological) stress includes the effect of too much or too little water, excessive heat or cold and soil problems such as salinity, acidity and erosion.

Because the amount of damage is quite high, there is much to be gained by improving plant tolerance. And the prospects for progress in this area look very good, with the level of success depending mainly on the extent of funding and the supply of trained workers.

Where crops have a particular strain or wild relative that copes well with a particular stress, this feature can be incorporated into existing commercial varieties through cross breeding. This can be assisted by the use of molecular marker technology to screen a large number of varieties where it is known which gene expresses a particular feature. Where reproduction is through cuttings, tissue culture can provide farmers with disease free plants.

Using genetic engineering, changes can be made directly at the gene level to bestow tolerance. This may involve transferring a gene from a totally different life form that is known to cope well with the particular stress or tweaking the plants existing genes to achieve a similar effect. The more we know about genes and how to manipulate them, the more that can be achieved.

The examples provided below should give a fair indication of the kind of work being done. While some are already showing up in farmers’ fields most are still at the research and development stage. It is not an exhaustive list and there are no doubt very important omissions, and possibly some inclusions that will not meet up to expectations. We will start with biotic stresses.

Biotic Stresses

Rice has been genetically engineered to resist devastating diseases such as sheath blight, bacterial blight and tungro virus.[23] Sheath blight resistance has been achieved through the transfer of genes from an insect and from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, more commonly called Bt.[24] Scientists have also successfully transferred a bacterial resistance gene from wild rice to cultivated rice.[25] In the case of barley, resistance to a particular disease has been conferred by a wine grape gene.[26]

Scientists are working on a bread wheat that is resistant to the devastating leaf blotch. They have discovered a gene that provides resistance to this disease and are using marker technology to find wheat varieties with this gene. As soon as a seedling sprouts, a small piece of the young leaf can be ground and then a DNA test can be run. This shows whether the markers for the gene are present.[27]

A transgenic potato is being developed that is resistant to the late-blight that caused the Irish famine in 1840 and still causes major havoc. Fungicide has limited effect, is expensive and when used in large amounts can be an environmental problem. The protective gene comes from a wild potato that scientists believe co-evolved in Mexico alongside the blight pathogen.[28] Potatoes could also become a major food source in tropical countries with the development of a variety incorporating a gene from chicken that resists bacterial rot.[29]

Reducing disease in the banana would make a major difference in poor countries where it is a staple food. Because the domesticated banana is usually a seedless clone which grows from cuttings, tissue culture is being introduced to propagate offspring that do not carry over disease from the parent plant. Disease-free cells are selected, removed under sterile conditions and placed in a growth medium. The resulting plants are then distributed to farmers.[30]

Researchers are working to map the entire genetic code of a wild banana from East Asia in the hope it will reveal the genes that provide resistance to the two worst enemies of the banana crop – black Sigatoka and Panama fungal diseases. Once identified, researchers hope to insert these genes into edible var-ieties.[31]

In the battle against viruses, techniques have been developed to insert harmless parts of the virus into the plant to set off an immune reaction much like an inoculation. And having become part of the plants genetic make up it is passed on to the next generation. The most dramatic example of such a process was papaya in Hawaii which had been devastated by papaya ring spot virus. A genetically engineered plant virtually brought the industry back from extinction. A biotech papaya is now being brought to farmers in Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and several other developing areas where papaya is a staple food. In Australia, scientists have developed a similar ‘vaccination’ technique that has already been used to create potatoes resistant to Potato Leaf Roll Virus and which they hope to apply to a range of plants that are vulnerable to viruses which up till now have proven to be virtually unbeatable.[32]

Providing plants with their own defenses against insects and pests can often be far more effective than other measures such as pesticides, or, at the very least, an important adjunct. In recent years the most dramatic advance in this regard has been the development of so-called Bt crops. This has also been one of the major genetic engineering success stories to date. The plant expresses insecticidal proteins derived from genes cloned from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). These proteins bind to receptor proteins in the insect gut, destroying cells and killing the insect in several days.

Quite large areas are now being sown with Bt corn, canola and cotton. A Bt potato has also been available for use, however, major buyers such as fast food chains have put the stopper on it for fear of been picketed by bio-fearmongers. The more widespread use of these Bt varieties in coming years and the introduction of the gene into other crops including rice and wheat will bring continuing benefits. Yield gains from using Bt corn are estimated to average 5 per cent in temperate regions and 10 per cent in tropical regions.[33]

This is just the first of many toxins that will be provided to plants through genetic manipulation. Included among them will be the transfer of genes from other plants that have shown themselves to be more resistant to given insects. Australian researchers have added a gene from green beans to field peas, creating a crop with a built-in insecticide that is almost 100 per cent effective against pea-weevils, the most damaging pest in that country’s pea crop.[34] Also resistance to the white-backed plant hopper is being transferred from barley to rice.[35]

Plant ‘architecture’ can also provide protection. This includes: developing wheat with more solid stems that will be less susceptible to attack by Hessian fly and sawfly;[36] maize with thicker epidermal cell walls that prevent armyworm larva establishing in the whorl (hair) of the plant;[37] and plants with an enhanced natural ability to produce leaf wax which makes them more difficult for insects to consume.[38]

One of the most destructive pests is the nematode, a microscopic worm that feeds on plant roots and comes in about 15,000 varieties. Scientists are using the genes for defense proteins that occur naturally in rice and sunflowers to fortify potatoes and bananas from this pest.[39] And the breeding of a nematode resistant soybean has been made possible with the help of molecular marker technology.[40]

Another stress that reduces crop yields is the competition from weeds. The biggest news in this area is the introduction of herbicide resistant genetically modified corn and soybeans. The crop contains a gene that makes it tolerant of the herbicide, Roundup, so that when a farmer sprays the field, weeds are killed but not the crops. This proves far more effective than when spraying can only be carried out prior to planting. A weed called striga can devastate grain and legume harvests in Sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers are countering this problem by developing a maize with a herbicide resistance derived from a naturally occurring gene in maize.[41]

There is a concern that pests can evolve resistance to the pesticide being incorporated in plants by genetic engineering, just as they evolve resistance to pesticide sprays. So far resistance has not become a problem with Bt crops despite their having been in use since 1996.[42] Scientist are looking at a number of strategies to delay or eliminate this danger. One approach is to use a Bt gene that is more widely expressed in the plant giving a better knock out punch that leaves less room for the build up of immunity that can happen when the insect experiences lower levels of exposure.[43] Another is the use of “pyramiding” where two Bt genes which are lethal in totally different ways are inserted into the plant. It is highly improbable that an insect would develop resistance to both.[44]

Abiotic Stresses

As well as dealing with a host of weeds and pests, crops also have to contend with the elements. The weather can be too dry, wet, hot or cold, and the soil can be poor.

Droughts and Flooding Rains

Lack of water is a major constraint on crop yields in many areas[45] and can destroy a crop in severe cases.

Crossing with drought resistant wild relatives is one approach. For example, CIMMYT (Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo or International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center) is currently developing drought-resistant wheat varieties descended from crosses that included goat grass, one of wheat’s wild relatives.[46]

Progress is being made by CIMMYT in mapping genes for drought tolerance in wheat[47] and researchers at the University of Queensland are endeavoring to do the same for rice.[48]

Transferring to crops draught tolerance genes from other plants is another promising approach. It is believed that once the genes responsible for superior drought tolerance in sorghum are identified that these genes could be activated in maize because the two plants are likely to share the same basic drought tolerance pathways.[49] Scientists at the University of Bonn have identified a gene in the resurrection plant from South Africa which helps it to survive droughts. The plant can lose up to 95 per cent of its moisture without being harmed by slowing down its metabolism to almost zero during a dry period. It then springs back to life in a few hours once it receives water.[50] In Texas, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers have identified the genes that help a type of grass from South Africa and a type of moss native to the High Plains of the United States to survive extended dryness.[51]

Plant varieties can be bred with physiological traits conferring drought tolerance. Molecular biologists in Oklahoma are developing a drought resistant wheat by adding genes to synthesize a naturally occurring sugar alcohol called mannitol which accumulate in leaf tissues.[52] Other helpful physiological features include larger seed size that improves crop establishment, early ground cover and pre-anthesis biomass that reduces evaporation of soil moisture, and roots that are able to extract water deep in the soil.[53]

Another strategy which might be more aptly called drought avoidance rather than drought tolerance involves breeding plants that match their development cycle with the availability of water. This has been used in the past and still offers much promise. In some cases this could mean that the periods of maximum water requirement match the periods of maximum availability.[54] In other cases it could mean ensuring maturity prior to the arrival of a dry period at the end of the growing season. This could be achieved through faster maturity[55] or through allowing earlier planting by developing varieties that can cope with shorter daylight hours.[56]

Where plants are not being deprived of water there is a good chance they are being drowned in it. A widespread problem in irrigated and high rainfall wheat-growing regions is water logging due to poor drainage. The prospects for developing water logging tolerant wheat are considered good because of genetic variability for this trait.[57] Breeders have found that “synthetic” wheat, bred from grass species that are the wild relatives of wheat, are exceptionally good sources of tolerance.[58]

Heavy rain on maturing wheat crops can cause the grain to start germinating before it is harvested. This degrades end-use quality due to the undesirable proteins produced during germination. CIMMYT has identified high rainfall wheat lines with high levels of sprouting tolerance which could be employed in breeding programs to rectify this problem.[59]

Hot and Cold

Just as it can be too wet or too dry, it can also be too hot or too cold. Agricultural research bodies in developing countries consider heat stress as one of their top research priorities.[60] CIMMYT has already had some success in identifying wheat varieties in their seed banks that have various traits generally associated with tolerance to heat stress. This includes leaf traits such as evapotranspiration, rolling, greater thickness or uprightness.[61] They expect genetic markers to facilitate the process. Similar efforts are also being made in the case of tropical maize.[62] And on the genomic front, researchers have identified a protein that acts as a master regulator of the tomato heat stress response.[63]

Cold tolerance can bestow a range of benefits. It can ensure that the crop won’t be destroyed by a cold snap at the beginning of growing season. It can allow crops to be grown in climates too cold to support them currently or permit an extra crop by earlier planting and/or later harvesting.

The Chinese claim to have inserted cold tolerance genes from fish into beets, while British researchers are achieving similar results by incorporating a gene from carrots into various crops.[64] Researchers in Canada, have isolated a powerful gene from larvae of the yellow mealworm beetle that keeps the worms from freezing to death during the winter. They believe it is far more powerful than ‘antifreeze genes’ found in flounder, a fish which is no slouch when it comes to protecting itself in cold waters.[65]

Where the cold cannot be dealt with head on, it can be avoided by making plants grow faster. Researchers at Cambridge University’s Institute of Biotechnology in England put a gene from a flowering weed into tobacco plants, making the tobacco grow much more quickly. The gene produces a protein that causes the plant cells to divide much faster at the tips of roots and shoots.[66]

Unfriendly Soil

Plants can find the soil far from friendly for a range of reasons ‑ in particular, salinity, poor structure and acidity.

Some crops have genetic variation for salt tolerance which can be exploited in breeding programs, particularly with the help of molecular markers.[67] Chinese researchers claim to have developed salt-tolerant varieties of rice[68] and Australian researchers announced that they have successfully bred salt-tolerant durum wheat by crossing an ancient salt-tolerant durum wheat variety with modern commercial ones.[69]

Genetic engineering can take traits from plants and organisms that thrive in a high salt environment. Scientists have genetically modified a tomato plant that thrives in salty irrigation water. The tolerance comes from a protein known as a ‘sodium/proton antiporter,’ which uses energy available in the plant cells to move salts into compartments within the cells.[70] Once the salt is stashed inside these compartments – called vacuoles – it is isolated from the rest of the cell and unable to interfere with the plant’s normal biochemical activity. Not only does the tomato tolerate salt, it also removes salt from the soil. Work is being done to extend this technology to other crops. Chinese scientists have cultivated salt-resistant tomatoes, soybeans, rice and a fast-growing poplar using a gene cloned from a salt-resistant plant called Suaeda Salsa.[71] Another possible approach is to take genes from a bacteria that lives in places like the Dead Sea and splice it into crops. [72] This bacteria can thrive in salt levels ten times higher than ocean water.

Plants often have difficulty accessing the micro-nutrients in the soil because of its structure or composition. Improving the take up ability of the root system may help, possibly through better root system geometry.[73] So would increasing the nutrient reserves in seeds. These would sustain life until the root system is well developed.[74] Another approach might be to reduce the plants needs for certain nutrients. Improving their distribution within the plant would be one way of achieving this.[75] Little effort has gone into breeding crops adapted to these kinds of soil conditions despite the genetic potential.[76] Molecular markers will greatly facilitate the selection of micronutrient efficient genotypes.[77] Genetic engineering also offers promise. A gene for copper efficiency has been transferred from rye to wheat. The transferred gene confers on plants a much greater ability to mobilize and absorb copper ions tightly bound to the soil.[78] Major crops such as corn, wheat and rice have a lot of trouble absorbing iron from alkaline soils which make up a significant proportion of arable land. However, some crops including barley have no trouble. So researchers at the University of Tokyo took two genes from barley and introduced them into rice plants. The result was a four-fold yield increase in the same soil.[79]

Soil acidity is a major constraint on crop production. This is mainly because it releases aluminum ions which are highly toxic to plant roots. Vast areas either have their yields seriously reduced by it or are made unsuitable for cultivation. The problem is particularly serious in tropical regions. While, improving acid soils is part of the answer, its role is limited by the expense and by the fact that disturbing the soil can lead to erosion. Developing aluminum tolerant plants is often a feasible solution either on its own or as a complement to soil improvement.

There are good prospects for wheat given that there is considerable genetic diversity in aluminum tolerance. In Brazil local low yield aluminum tolerant wheat varieties have been interbred with high yielding varieties to provide the benefits of both.[80] A Portuguese landrace also has a high aluminum tolerance and has yet to be exploited in breeding programs.[81] Another strategy is to transfer rye’s greater aluminum tolerance to wheat. Triticale (a cross between rye and wheat) could serve as a bridging parent to achieve this transfer.[82]

In the case of maize, researchers are confident that molecular markers and genomics will lead to the development of aluminum tolerant suitable maize cultivars.[83] Genetic engineering is also making some progress in the area. There has been some preliminary work on transferring a gene from an aluminum tolerant plant to maize.[84] Another strategy being pursued is to insert into plants a bacterial gene that codes for citric acid secretion. This allows them to emulate aluminum tolerant plants the roots of which secrete the acid into the surrounding soil in order to ‘capture’ the toxic aluminum ions which would otherwise attack the plant roots. This approach has been trialed on tobacco, papaya, and rice plants.[85]

Stacked Traits

There are many cases where yields would be increased significantly by the plant having more than one form of improved stress tolerance. For example, a crop may confront dry weather, acid soil and regular insect plagues. Genetic engineering ought to be able to contribute a great deal in this area by “stacking on” genetic changes appropriate for each of the stresses. A genetically modified maize that combines both herbicide tolerance and insect resistance has already been released; and there are already plans to extend this combination to other varieties, notably sugar beet, rice, potatoes and wheat.[86]

Post-Harvest Waste

As well as increasing the size of the crop, plant improvements can also increase the proportion that actually reaches the consumer. Ultimately this is what matters – yield net of post-harvest waste. A lot of food is lost through post-harvest spoilage, so anything that can make the harvested crop more robust will increase the effective food supply. This is particularly so in developing countries with poorer harvesting methods and a lack of refrigeration, storage and transport.

The delayed ripening of fruit and vegetables would improve shelf life and reduce spoilage. Genetic engineering is being used to control the amount and timing of the production of the hormone ethylene that regulates ripening in fruits and vegetables. Research has reached an advanced stage with tomatoes, raspberries, melons, strawberries, cauliflower and broccoli.[87] And in the Philippines, scientists have developed a papaya that instead of rotting in one week, can stay fresh for three months.[88] Researchers in England have found a “freshness gene” in petunias which shows promise.[89]

In the case of grain, greater resistance to storage pests would make a big difference. CIMMYT has discovered a source of such resistance and is incorporating this trait into maize breeding stocks.[90]

Improved Livestock and Poultry Production

Just as crops have to deliver up more from every hectare of land and kiloliter of water, so do livestock and poultry. These resources are used directly in the case of grazing and indirectly where the animals consume feed crops. About 3.3 billion hectares are under permanent pasture – more than twice the area under arable and permanent crops.[91] And as already mentioned domestic animals consume about half of world grain production. This ranges from around 60 per cent in Europe[92] and the US down to quite low levels in India and Sub-Saharan Africa.[93]

Improving livestock and poultry productivity becomes even more important as people in the developing countries increase their per capita consumption of meat and dairy products in step with rising income levels. For most of these countries increases in meat consumption have so far been fairly slight if not stagnant, as in the case of Sub-Saharan Africa. However, if middle income countries such as China and Brazil are anything to go by meat consumption can rise dramatically over a number of decades. In the case of China, meat consumption has quadrupled over the past 20 years.[94]

Increased productivity comes down mainly to improvements in feed and forage, disease control and livestock breeding. As with grain production for human consumption, this is in part a matter of developing countries catching up with the practices of developed ones and in part a matter of pushing out the technology frontier. The former is exemplified by the fact that in 1997-98 beef yield per animal was less than 60 per cent and milk yield per cow was less than 20 per cent of those achieved in the developed countries.[95]

Improved Feed and Fodder

There are many ways in which we can improve what livestock have to eat. Feed and fodder can be made more nutritious, the diet can be enhanced with additives and supplements and nutrients in food can be made more accessible by improving digestibility.

In developing countries simply catching up with the world’s best feed practices can bring large gains. Feed can be harvested at the right time to maximize nutrient recovery, processed to retain more nutrition and improve digestibility, and stored properly to avoid nutrition loss. Animals can also benefit from being fed well balanced mixtures and provided with food supplements.

Smil (2000) points out that the overwhelming majority of China’s pigs (which account for 90 percent of the country’s meat output) is still not fed well-balanced mixtures but just about any available edible matter and hence it is commonly lacking in protein.[96] As a result feeding rates are well above the norms prevailing in Western countries and pigs take at least twice as long to reach slaughter weight as a typical North American animal – and its carcass is still lighter and fattier. He tells a similar story for chickens. The hundreds of millions of chickens roaming China’s farmyards take three times as long to reach a lower slaughter weight as North American broilers.[97] China is far from being the most backward when it comes to animal raising.

Conway mentions a number of possible ways that genetic engineering could transfer greater nutrition to feed and forage.[98] Cereals are low in lysine compared with legumes such as peas and lupins. A gene transfer from legumes to cereals would benefit pigs and chicken. On the other hand legumes are deficient in a number of sulphur amino acids required by cattle and sheep. These would benefit from transferring genes from sunflower seeds and chicken egg protein to forage legumes such as lucerne and clover.

The wider use of growth hormones could considerably improve productivity. Those in cattle (BST) increase milk production efficiency by up to 40 per cent per cow and increase feed to beef conversion by about 9 per cent.[99] According to Avery the potential of pig growth hormone (PST) is even greater than for cattle.[100] He claims that PST will produce hogs with up to 60 percent less fat and 15 percent more lean, using one-third less feed grain.

Reducing methane production in livestock could save up to 10 percent of feed because of the energy loss avoided.[101] Smil refers to an additive, produced from a fungus, which reduces methane production by altering the metabolism of ruminant bacteria,[102] and scientists are developing a vaccine that will discourage the production of these methanogenic micro-organisms.[103]

Much can be done to improve the digestibility and nutrient absorption of feed. Better processing is one approach. For example, straw can be made more digestible by a range of chemical treatments, and lignin and cellulose in crop residue can be broken down using a range of methods including fermentation.[104] Plants can be bred to remove or neutralize substances that interfere with digestibility and nutrient absorption. Soybeans and wheat are being genetically engineered to express the phytase enzyme. This neutralizes phytate, a substance that “is widely distributed in cereals and legumes and reduces the absorption of iron, zinc, phosphorus and other minerals in humans and other animals.”[105] Researchers have genetically modified lupin so that sheep absorb more sulphur amino acids required for wool and muscle growth. Presently, a large proportion of the acids are broken down in the rumen before reaching the small intestine where they would otherwise be absorbed. The lupin has been modified to contain a sunflower gene that produces a protein that is both rich in sulfur amino acids and stable in the sheep’s rumen.[106] And Conway refers to research aimed at inserting genes from crops like sorghum, maize, millet into forage legumes to reduce lignin content and increase their digestibility by 10-30 per cent.[107]

Better Disease Control and Healthcare

Disease significantly affects livestock productivity. Alexandratos refers to estimates showing that at least 5 percent of cattle, 10 percent of sheep and goats and 15 percent of pigs die annually due to diseases.[108] And in the case of animals that survive, productivity is less than that for healthy animals.

Farmers in developing countries will benefit from access to better veterinarian services and disease control measures as they modernize and farmers worldwide will benefit from the forward march of medical and veterinary science which will improve our ability to prevent, diagnose and control disease.

As with human health, biotechnology will play an important part in disease control. Some progress has already been made in the development of genetically engineered vaccines. For example, researchers at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis have been developing such a vaccine for rinderpest, a devastating viral disease that is responsible for millions of deaths among cattle herds each year throughout Africa and Asia.[109] The vaccine is produced by transferring two genes from the rinderpest virus into the virus used to make the smallpox vaccine. It is particularly suited to the backward areas affected because it requires no refrigeration and is simply scratched onto an animal’s neck or abdomen. Furthermore, a cattle herder can produce thousands of doses by scratching the skin of a calf, applying the seed vaccine, and a week later harvesting the scab in saline solution.

In central Africa sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis) poses an enormous obstacle to human health and cattle production. A range of measures offer the hope of recovering infested areas for agriculture. These include trypanocidal drugs, aerial spraying, adhesive insecticides, impregnated screens and traps and the use of sterile insects.[110]

Breeding Better Farm Animals

Breeding programs can improve livestock and poultry in a range of ways that ensure that they make the most of what they are fed. This can mean more meat as a proportion of body weight, taking less time to reach slaughter age, greater disease resistance, better ability to process food, less nutrient needs, more milk or eggs for a given level of feed, improved reproductive efficiency and the ability to consume a wider range of foods.

As with plants, biotechnology will play a major role in future breeding programs. With rapid advances in understanding the genetic make-up of animals, genes that are important for economic performance, such as those for disease resistance or for adaptation to adverse environmental conditions, can be identified and transferred into animals, either through marker-assisted selection or through genetic engineering.[111]

Conway reports on the development of genetically engineer livestock that produce greater quantities of bovine growth hormone.[112] This would enable them to reach optimal slaughter age more quickly, meaning that less of the feed and water consumed would go into just standing around breathing rather than growing.

Another strategy is to reduce the nutrient needs of the animal. Conway suggests the possibility of introducing genes for sulphur amino acid biosynthesis, present in the bacterium E. coli, directly into sheep, bypassing the need for improved fodder.[113]

Given the high losses from disease, the transfer of genes encoding for resistance from other animal species and even from plants could bring significant benefits.[114] For example, a genetically modified cow is being developed with a mouse gene that makes them resistant to mastitis of the udder.[115] Currently, antibiotics are used to treat the disease, and the milk cannot be used while the cows are on the drugs.

Smil sees much to be gained in devoting more resources to breeding animals suited to the tropics, a region that has not received anywhere near the attention of the temperate zones.[116] He gives the example of how the water buffalo might be transformed from a working animal into a valuable meat and milk specie. It is particularly suited to tropical and sub-tropical climates. Because of the higher count of cellulose-breaking bacteria and protozoa in their guts, they use low-grade roughages more efficiently than normal cattle and have overall lower feed/gain ratios. In addition, buffalo milk is richer in protein and fat than cow’s milk. However, a breeding program would be needed to raise their average milk and meat yields which are far behind those for temperate-climate cattle.[117]

Defending GM Food

While genetic engineering promises to contribute much to the challenge of increasing food production, its opponents have managed to whip up considerable opposition. We are told that it is ‘unnatural’, tinkering with nature, playing God; that it poses fearful food safety risks and threatens the environment with ‘super weeds’ and ‘genetic pollution’. We are like the master’s apprentice tinkering with forces we do not really understand and which can get out of our control.

A host of inquiries have given genetically modified food the nod of approval and firmly rebutted the claims of opponents. They consider the risks are mostly identical to the risks associated with conventional foods and that those that are different are well covered by the regulatory regimes in place. The only real concern is that as changes made by genetic engineering become more varied and complex that the science and technology needed to assess them keeps pace.

A range of regulatory bodies are involved assessing and regulating transgenic crops. In the US there is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). At the international level there is the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Genetically engineered crops have been grown and tested for 20 years and eaten by millions of people on a daily basis since 1996 without any disastrous consequences.

Food Safety

There is no credible evidence that GM foods are less safe to consume than other food. The risks are not of a different nature than those that are already familiar to toxicologists and can be created by conventional breeding.[118] In fact some transgenic food currently on the market are identical to the conventional product because the gene change is not in the final product. Where there is a change to the final product, it will be easier to evaluate for safety compared to those developed through traditional breeding because the new method is more precise. Instead of randomly combining all the traits of the two parent organisms, as happens with conventional breeding, genetic engineering permits identification and transfer of only desirable traits. Scientists know what has been changed and therefore what to look for when evaluating possible risks.[119]

In its short history, transgenic food has had three main food safety claims against it. These were the study which claimed that laboratory rats were being poisoned by GM potatoes; concerns about the use of antibiotic resistance genes in the gene transfer process; and the introduction of allergens. We examine these in turn.

Rats Don’t Like Raw Potato

A preliminary study performed at the Rowett Research Institute in Scotland by Dr Arpad Pusztai reported that rats developed intestinal problems after being fed raw transgenic potatoes containing a lectin with known insecticidal properties.[120] The study was heavily criticized by independent experts and by the Rowett Institute itself, which discredited the study entirely after performing an audit of the research.

The British medical journal Lancet made the unwise decision to publish the study. In an editorial disowning it, they conceded that they were caving into pressure from GM opponents who were running the line that failure to publish was suppression. This flies in the face of the normal practice of academic journals of only publishing papers that have successfully run the gauntlet of peer review. With laboratory studies the emphasis is on ensuring that the usual rules of evidence are being applied. This study failed that test totally.

Antibiotic Resistance Marker Genes

There has been some objection to the incorporation of antibiotic-resistant marker genes in transgenic crops together with the gene conferring the desired trait. The antibiotic kills seedlings to which the genes have not been properly transferred.[121] There has been a worry that if these genes were present in transgenic food or feed, they could confer resistance to disease-causing micro-organisms in the stomachs of any human or farm animal eating it. There is even a concern that antibiotic resistance could be passed on to people who consume livestock products.

There are a number of answers to these fears: (1) The resistance gene protects against an antibiotic which is not used on humans and animals; (2) The antibiotic resistance may not necessarily be transferred to the final plant variety distributed to farmers because it is the product of a cross between the original transgenic plant and a commercial one; (3) if it is transferred, the chance of it being incorporated into the genetic make-up of micro-organisms is zero, and this is even if we didn’t allow for the effect of digestion which tends to totally destroy genes and DNA; and (4) recent attempts to get microbes to pick up the trait confirmed the impossibility.[122] Even if the worry had some grounds to it, it is becoming a thing of the past as researchers develop other methods to determine whether a gene has “taken.”

Introducing Allergens

Another potential risk posed by GM foods is the introduction of genes from organisms that cause allergic reactions in some people. This would pose a problem if people with allergies are unaware of the danger. This is most likely if the GM food is a widely used ingredient. Outside a relatively small number of genes associated with a limited number of foods, allergic reactions are fairly rare. Most food allergies occur in response to specific proteins in only eight foods: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soybeans, shell fish, fish and wheat. Furthermore, the small risk is totally under control. Any additional components added to a GM crop are clearly defined and easy to detect and can be tested for any allergic reaction or other toxic effect. These would be picked up in mandatory tests that are much the same as those for pesticides and food additives. This is what happened in the case of an experimental soybean with an added Brazil-nut protein. It was abandoned once the problem was recognized.

Safety Endorsements

A long list of relevant bodies have concluded that genetically modified food is as safe as any other food. These include: the WHO, the FAO, the United Nations Food Program, the International Society of Toxicology, the French Academy of Science and Medicine, the American College of Nutrition, the American Medical Association, the General Accounting Office (the investigative arm of the US Congress), the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the Royal Society and the British Medical Association.

Safer and Healthier

GM foods are not only safe, they have the potential to make food even safer and healthier.

Removing allergens Eliminating or reducing the allergenic properties of food would be a major service to that significant proportion of people who suffer from allergies. Using gene silencing techniques which reduce or shut off the production of the offending protein, researchers have already grown low allergy rice, wheat and soybean while progress is being made with peanuts and prawns.

Healthier oils In an effort to create healthier fats, researchers have modified the fatty acid composition of soy and canola in several ways. This includes oils with reduced or zero levels of saturates and trans-fatty acids and with high levels of oleic acid.[123] Plans are also afoot to introduce fish type omega-3 into oil-seed crops. This could be achieved by introducing genes from algae and marine micro-organisms.[124]

Better frying potatoes A transgenic potato has been developed which contains a gene for an enzyme which greatly increases starch synthesis. The increased starch content makes the potatoes take up less fat during frying, resulting in a lower-fat product.[125]

More protein In India, a gene was added to ordinary potatoes giving them a third more protein than normal, including substantial amounts of the essential amino acids lysine and methionine. The new gene comes from the amaranth plant which grows in South America.[126] Protein enriched maize and soybeans have also been produced[127] and researchers are seeking to improve the protein content of vegetable staples such as cassava and plantain.[128]

Antioxidants Scientists have produced tomatoes with two and half times the normal level of lycopene. Lycopene is thought to reduce the risk of several types of cancer and some forms of heart disease. However, it is normally difficult to increase the amount in one’s diet and taking it as a supplement does not work.[129]

Another antioxidant that genetic engineering can help with is vitamin E. Studies show that vitamin E lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, cataracts and some cancers, and it may slow the progression of some degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.[130] However, to achieve its results it needs to be taken in levels that are not practical to receive from our diet because of the quantities involved, e.g., four pounds of spinach per day or 3,000 calories of soybean oil.[131] Researchers are hoping to increase our intake by tinkering with a gene that converts the less potent gamma form of vitamin E to the more potent alpha form in soybean, corn and canola oils.

Vitamin A Every year some 500,000 children in the developing world go blind because of vitamin A deficiency. Researchers are hoping to reduce this appalling statistic with the help of a gene from daffodils. This produces elevated levels of beta-carotene which are then converted to Vitamin A in the human body. Rice with this gene (called golden rice because of its color) has been crossed with local varieties of rice which are undergoing field trials and will hopefully be available to subsistence farmers in the near future.[132] Work is also progressing on developing a similarly enhanced mustard which is grown widely in developing countries for its oil.[133]

Access to iron Most people get too little iron, with almost one third of the world’s population believed to be anemic, and possibly around one fifth of all malnutrition deaths caused by a lack of iron.[134] Scientist are working on a variety of rice that has a higher level of iron in the grain and also makes it more accessible.[135] The amount of iron is doubled with the aid of a gene from the French bean, while accessibility is aided by two mechanisms. The first one involves a gene from fungus which counteracts a molecule called phytate that locks up about 95 percent of the iron in the plant. The second involves a gene from basmati rice which makes a protein that aids iron absorption in the human digestive system.

Food tolerance The vast majority of east Asians and blacks, and many whites are intolerant of cow’s milk. That’s because their bodies do not produce enough of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to digest the milk protein lactose. In France researchers are working to eliminate the problem by giving cows a gene that will cause them to manufacture their own lactase, which will be present in their milk.[136]

Many people cannot eat wheat, oat, rye or barley products because the gluten makes them ill. Consequently, British researchers are working on a process to remove from gluten the part which causes illness while leaving the part that is important for baking.[137]

Medical Uses

As well as the nutritional benefits of genetically modified organisms, there are the medicinal.

Vaccines in food offer considerable promise for developing countries. Because they would be administered orally it would avoid the horrendous number of HIV and hepatitis B infections that are presently caused by unsafe injection. They would also be inexpensive and require no refrigeration. Potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, bananas and rice are being developed containing vaccines for a range of diseases including food borne E. Coli, cholera and hepatitis B.[138]

A plant could possibly provide an edible form of immunotherapy for asthma. Tests with mice are promising. Consumption of engineered lupin plants that contained an asthma allergen from sunflower seeds protected the mice from a large otherwise asthma-inducing dose of the allergen in the air.[139]

Genetically modified plants, bacteria and animals are being turned into little factories churning out cheap ingredients such as proteins, enzymes and hormones for the pharmaceutical industry. The diseases being treated so far include hemophilia, cystic fibrosis and multiple sclerosis.[140]

Menaces can be neutralized. For example a ryegrass is being develop with less hay fever allergens in its pollen[141] and work has been done that may lead one day to a malaria resistant mosquito.[142] Also, new friends can be made, such as a gene-altered microbe that when applied to the mouth elbows out bacteria that cause tooth decay,[143] animals with tissue and organs suitable for human use[144] and plants that change color in the presence of landmines.[145]

Environmental Scares

GM crops are accused of posing a number of environmental risks. There is said to be a danger from gene flows which can create “super weeds” in the wild and “genetic contamination” of other crops. Also US Bt crops have been accused of endangering the monarch butterfly.

‘Super Weeds’

Critics raise the specter of genetically enhanced crops breeding with wild relatives to create a ‘super weed’ that could overwhelm the natural environment and curtail genetic diversity both among plants in general and among the existing wild varieties that provide the ‘gene pool’ for breeding better commercial varieties.

The first question to ask is how likely is such inter-breeding? To begin with, there needs to be wild relatives in the region. This rules out wheat, corn, soybean, cotton and potato in most places where they are grown. The main possible concerns would be rice in Asia and Africa, corn and potatoes in Mexico and Central America, wheat in the Middle East and soybean in Korea and China

The proximity of related species does not necessarily mean that they will inter-breed. They need to flower at the same time, share the same insect pollinator (if insect-pollinated) and be close enough for the transfer of viable pollen. The latter can easily be thwarted by creating a buffer zone planted with traditional crop varieties to minimize any possible effects of pollen flow to a neighboring farmer’s field or to a wild plant relative.[146]

Would a trait provide a selective advantage? Some traits are obviously not a risk. For example, tolerance to a particular herbicide is not likely to confer an advantage to a plant in the wild because the herbicide is not encountered there. If the weed becomes a problem on farms or areas of human settlement, it can be controlled with some other herbicide. Other traits – such as resistance to pests or disease, or tolerance of hostile growing conditions such as drought or poor soil – could theoretically give a weedy relative an advantage. However, the likelihood is diminished when we keep in mind that wild plants by their nature are already stress tolerant. If they were not they would simply die out. Domesticated plants on the other hand have lost much of the hardiness of their ancestors. Farmers select for edible yield while making up for any drop in stress tolerance by a range of farm practices such as irrigation, soil improvement and pest control. Any reintroduced stress tolerance would have to be quite strong to compete with the wild varieties. One example is sunflower which has been given a gene from wheat to resist white mould. If this genetically modified variety were introduced, gene flow would be inevitable because the crop is grown in the same regions as the wild varieties. However, it would have very little effect because the latter already have resistance to white mould.[147]

It should also be kept in mind that the risk faced is identical to the risk from domestic plants bred conventionally for stress tolerance. Ironically, genetic engineering opens up a number of ways of ruling out gene flow. One approach is to incorporate what has been called a ‘terminator’ gene into the plant which renders it sterile while another approach involves passing on the attribute on the maternal side and hence not transmitted through the pollen.

Genetic Contamination

Similar to the ‘super weed’ ruckus was the one made over the claimed appearance of genes from genetically modified maize in Mexican landraces. This was dubbed ‘genetic contamination’. Landraces are the varieties developed by small-scale farmers over the centuries and have evolved through selection to thrive under particular environmental conditions and to meet local food preferences.

It was finally determined that the claim was unfounded.[148] However, if indeed there had been a gene transfer it would have been no different in nature from those involving conventional modern varieties. These have been occurring for may decades without causing any problems. If plants are superior from the farmers point of view, their seeds will be retained. If they are inferior they will not be.

Monarch Butterfly

Opponents of GM crops have made a big deal out of a supposed threat to monarch butterflies from Bt crops.[149] It is something of an enviro icon, and no anti GM rally is complete without the presence a number of eco-bubble-brains dressed up as butterflies. The kafuffle started when the journal Nature in 1999 published a paper by Dr. John Losey of Cornell University showing the toxic effects when monarch butterfly larvae in a laboratory study were fed their favorite food, milkweed, covered with pollen from Bt corn.

A number of objections have been raised to the study. To begin with, only one type of Bt corn pollen was tested from among the many types of Bt corn in use. Recent studies indicate that a few types of Bt corn pollen may kill or slow the growth of monarch caterpillars, while other types of Bt pollen have no harmful effect.

More importantly, the laboratory results were in no way indicative of the real world risks to the butterfly. In the field, the risks to the larvae are minimal for a range of reasons: corn pollen is produced for only a short time during the growing season; farmers control milkweed in and around their fields, just as they control other weeds; corn pollen is heavy and is not blown far from corn fields by the wind; and even if milkweed were within a few meters of cornfields, pollen density on the leaves would not be high enough to pose a danger

The EPA, a body that is more often than not the greeny’s friend has given Bt crops a clean bill of health. After evaluating the evidence, the EPA concluded that the scientific evidence demonstrates that Bt corn does not impact on monarch butterfly populations and that a hazard in the laboratory does not translate into a risk in nature.[150] Finally, if there had been a problem with Bt corn it would be resolved by varieties currently being developed that only express Bt in the stalk. Only insects that actually attack the plant would have any possibility of being affected.[151]

Environmental Benefits

Often ignored are the environmental benefits of GM crops. These include reducing impacts on the environment and providing remedies for past damage.

Less Use of Pesticide

The insect resistance of Bt crops has lead to a greatly reduced use of pesticide. US corn growers, for example, have reduced pesticide treatment for the European corn borer by about a third[152] and according to one projection the use of pesticide in the corn crop will drop by 70 per cent once resistance to corn rootworm is also incorporated into seeds.[153] It has been reported that Chinese farmers of Bt cotton have slashed their use of pesticides by about 80 percent.[154] In Australia, pesticide use on Bt cotton crops was about half that on conventional crops, and with a newly released version, trials suggest a 75 per cent reduction.[155] In India the use of Bt cotton has cut pesticide spraying by two thirds.[156] The recently announced blight resistant potato promises large reductions in the use of fungicide and insecticide, given the high levels currently used to control the disease.

The adoption of herbicide resistant crops is also leading to a more environmentally friendly herbicide regime. Because the crop is resistant to it, a post-emergent herbicide can be sprayed over the crop killing any weeds that may have sprouted. The herbicide used – glyphosate with the trade name Roundup – is required in lower quantities because it kills such a wide range of weeds replacing the need to use a multitude of herbicides. It is also environmentally quite benign. It has extremely low toxicity to people and animals. It also binds well to the soil until it completely deteriorates, so there is very little that can run off into water supplies.[157]

Less Tilling of the Land

Because herbicide resistance allows for crops to be sprayed after they have been planted, herbicides can more effectively control weeds so reducing the need to till the soil for that purpose.

Reduced tillage has a range of benefits in terms of conserving agricultural resources and the environment generally. It dramatically reduces soil erosion which affects fertility and clogs up rivers and streams, carrying pesticides and fertilizer with it. The crop mulch shades the ground and slows evaporation and the improved soil structure resulting from less plowing actually increases the movement of water into the soil following rain or irrigation and holds it there, which means less irrigation is necessary.[158] Low tillage also means less tractor passes and less fuel consumption. According to one study no-till saves on average about 3.9 gallons of fuel per acre.[159] Studies by groups such as the Conservation Technology Information Center and the American Soybean Association all attest to the fact that herbicide resistant crops have significantly encouraged the use of low till methods.[160]

Higher Yields Mean Less Pressure on Resources

A primary objective of GM crops is to increase yields, and to the extent that they succeed they lessen the demand for resources such as land, water and energy and leave more land for wildlife. In the case of the crops that have been used to date, the gains have been through significantly reducing the losses caused by weeds and pests.

Environmental Remediation

Genetic engineering is about to bring a revolution in bioremediation. This is the use of organisms to remove contaminants from water and soil. University of Georgia researchers have modified a poplar tree which can suck mercury from the soil with the help of a bacteria gene which bestows a tenfold increase in mercury tolerance.[161] Another group of researchers have added a gene from the E. Coli bacteria and another from soybeans to make a distant relative of cabbage into a connoisseur of arsenic. The plant pumps arsenic from the soil and stores it in its leaves, where it can be easily harvested and disposed of.[162] Biologists at the University of California at San Diego modified a relative of the mustard plant so that it sucks up various heavy metals into its stems and leaves. These include lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium.[163] At the University of Washington researchers have inserted a mammalian liver enzyme into a tobacco plant enabling it to absorb and degrade a variety of chemicals including the most widespread ground water contaminants called chlorinated solvents[164] And researchers at Ohio State University have engineered a form of algae to make it extract copper, zinc, lead, nickel, cadmium and mercury, and other metals from contaminated water.[165]

Crop Lands, a Declining Resource?

While the prospects are good for more productive plants and livestock, will achievements in these areas simply be compensating for a decline in the land resource base rather than actually increasing output? This will mainly depend on the following factors which we will discuss in turn:

· the amount of extra land that can be brought into crop growing;

· the encroachment of the built environment onto cropland; and

· the extent of soil degradation which either makes land unusable or seriously reduces yields.

Extent of the Resource

How much extra land could be opened up to crop production? It has been estimated that the 1.5 billion hectares currently used for crop land represents about 36 per cent of the land that is to some degree suitable for that purpose. [166] In other words, there is an extra 2.7 billion hectares. This gives a total of 4.2 billion hectares which is about a third of the non-ice-covered land area. The remaining 9 billion hectares or so is excluded mainly because of unsuitable soil and/or climate.

Of course, most of this extra 2.7 billion hectares would never become available. Some of it is covered in human settlement or is too inaccessible, while a large part is taken up with forests and other natural areas that are (or should be) mainly committed to uses in their existing state such as conservation, water catchment and timber.

However, it only requires a relatively small proportion of this area to be available and of reasonable quality for it to represent a significant addition to crop area. According to Buningh and Dudal (1987),[167] out of a total forest land of 4.1 billion hectares, 100 million had high crop potential and 300 million had medium potential. While out of 3 billion hectares of grasslands, 200 million have high crop potential and 300 million have medium potential. With current crop land at around 1.5 billion hectares, a few hundred million would be a significant addition. This includes some of the old cropland in places such as North America, Europe and Argentina which could be returned to use if costs were lower or prices higher. Of course, in the case of land currently used for grazing, one would have to take into account the loss of livestock production.

Then we have large areas which are presently not used because of degradation or natural infertility but which could be brought into use with improved soil management methods and new crops that can tolerate the poor soil. These include the large areas with acid soils, particularly in South America and central Africa[168] and also some of the land that is very saline either naturally or through human mismanagement.

Next we have good land which up till now has been unus-able because of the lack of fresh water. This could be brought into use by the desalination of sea water and brackish groundwater. This process, which is discussed in more detail in the section on water resources, is getting cheaper by the day with new innovations and industry maturity.

So overall, there seem to be good reasons to conclude that, while there are not the vast virgin lands of yesteryear, the extra land still available will nevertheless provide a sizeable cushion against the impact of increased human settlement and soil degradation. In fact these would have to be quite large in order to actually reduce the land resource base.

Encroachment on crop land by the built environment is primarily an issue for developing countries and the US. Developing countries will house 90 per cent of the population increase expected over the next half century and at the same time will undergo a great deal of space consuming economic development. The US is the only major developed region expected to undergo a population increase in the foreseeable future, due mainly to high immigration and high fertility rates among immigrants.

Europe is expected to shrink from its present 726 million to 632 million in 2050, opening up the prospect that the area under built environment may actually decline and the availability of cropland increase.[169]

The FAO estimates that on average people in developing countries use about 0.04 hectares of built environment per head.[170] With the population expanding by two billion or so by 2025, an extra 80 million hectares would be required by then. If this were all cropland it would represent 5 per cent of the total. By the time the population reaches 9-10 billion mid century the increase between now and then would be 120-160 million hectares. This would be 8-10 per cent of total cropland.

Of course not all of this will in fact be suitable for crops or be premium grade if it is. Nevertheless, it is probably correct to assume that a significant proportion would be, given that urban centers are often sited on fertile agricultural land in coastal plains or river valleys. Alexandratos surmises that about 60 per cent of any increase would be on potentially arable land. This would include both actual cropland and land that could be useable.[171] So this would mean 3 per cent being taken out by 2025 and around 5 or 6 per cent by 2050.

With the rate of urbanization increasing during this period, a growing proportion of the expansion in the built environment will take the form of urban expansion. According to one study, for all developing countries, the annual loss of arable land transformed to urban uses due to expanding urban populations is estimated at 476,000 hectares.[172] This is 12 million hectares over 25 years and 24 million over 50 years.

When looking at urban expansion in developing countries, it needs to be kept in mind that a significant proportion of urban land is still used for agriculture by households, for example, 28 per cent of Beijing and 60 per cent of Bangkok.[173] These urban activities can take many forms:

Horticulture takes place in home sites, parks, rights- of- way, roof tops, containers, wet lands, and green houses. Live stock are produced in zero-grazing systems, rights-of-way, hill sides, coops, peri-urban areas, and open spaces. Agro forestry is practiced using street trees, home sites, steep slopes, within vine yards, green belts, wet lands, orchards, forest parks, and hedge rows. Aquaculture is practiced in ponds, streams, cages, estuaries, sewerage tanks, lagoons, and wet lands. Food crops are grown in home sites, vacant building lots, rights-of-way for electric lines, schoolyards, churchyards, and the unbuilt land around factories, ports, airports, and hospitals.[174]

Another thing to keep in mind is that in many places there is going to be an absolute drop in the rural population, and the corresponding decline in rural settlement will free up some land for crops.

In the US, the total developed area, including non-urban infrastructure, was estimated at 5.2 per cent of the total in 1997.[175] That is 48.4 million hectares or 0.17 hectares per head. With the US population expected (on the most likely assumptions) to increase by another 100 million over the next half century that would mean another 17.2 million hectares assuming the average area per head remains the same.

US cropland covers 455 million acres (182 million hectares).[176] If all of the increase in developed area were on cropland, it would represent a 9 per cent reduction in the latter. However, that is not likely to be the case given that many fast growing areas such as Florida and Arizona are not areas with high concentrations of prime crop land.[177]

Curiously the rural population in the US takes up a lot of residential land. In 1997 this was estimated to be 73 million acres (30 million hectares), typically 8 hectares or larger for each household.[178] Presumably a significant proportion of this could be placed under crops if costs were lower or prices higher.

So, to sum up, while the encroachments by human settlement are bound to be significant, they will not be on a scale that will make them a threat to food security. This is particularly so when we keep in mind that the process is gradual and that much of the increase will be a generation or two away, at a time when agriculture should be much more productive than it is now.

Soil Degradation

The next question is whether continuing soil degradation is going to seriously undermine agriculture’s resource base. Farming practices can harm the soil in a range of ways. Water and wind erosion cover the biggest areas, and is the main problem for rain-fed cropland. For irrigated land, the main concern is increasing soil salinity.[179] Other significant forms of degradation include loss of organic matter and nutrient depletion.

Erosion occurs where soil is dislodged and removed by water or wind. The impact of any level of erosion on productivity will depend on the depth of the topsoil. Salinity is caused by excessive irrigation and poor drainage leading to the build up in the soil of salt left there by evaporating water. Nutrient depletion is due to insufficient application of fertilizer or to applications in the wrong proportion. Low levels of organic matter lead to a degradation of physical properties of the soil so that it loses the ability to hold water, and to retain and release nutrients.

The extent of degradation is not well understood. There is a serious lack of detailed studies and conflicting interpretations of what is known. For example, in the case of India, estimates by different public authorities vary from 53 million up to 239 million hectares.[180]

Notwithstanding this uncertainty, there is general agreement that while soil degradation is a major problem most land is not seriously affected. Studies reviewed by Scherr suggest that soil quality on three-quarters of the world’s agricultural land has been relatively stable since the middle of the twentieth century.[181] Also, at least to this stage soil degradation has not had a serious overall impact on crop productivity.[182]

Of particular importance is the fact that degradation is not a serious constraint on food production in the temperate regions of the world. These include most of North America and Europe. Their soils are the result of glaciation in the last Ice Age, are deep and fertile and are fairly resistant to degradation.[183] And they are better managed by modern agriculture.

Furthermore, a lot of soil degradation is on lands that while extensive in area are not major contributors to total food production because of inherently poor growing conditions. The climate or terrain is unsuitable and the soil is inherently of low fertility.[184]

Soil degradation has also had its share of alarmism. During the 1970s and 1980s, so-called desertification received a great deal of attention. It was believed that deserts such as the Sahara were spreading irreversibly. However, since then remote sensing has established that desert margins ebb and flow with changes in the climate and studies have revealed the resilience of crop and livestock systems and the adaptability of farmers and herders.[185] In the case of wind erosion in North America, past concerns showed insufficient recognition of the fact that erosion usually involves soil being blown from one field or farm to another and hence no loss to agriculture. According to Crosson and Anderson, US studies have found very small long-term yield effects due to erosion. They indicate that if erosion rates were to continue at the same rate as in 1982 for 100 years, national average yields in the US would only be reduced by be 3-10 percent. [186]

Arguably the main soil problems are (1) salinity and the excessive use of nitrogen relative to other nutrients in a lot of irrigated farming in Asia[187] and (2) the grossly inadequate use of fertilizer of any kind in Sub-Saharan Africa.

There are a range of countermeasures that can be taken against degradation. In some cases problems can be remedied and in others preventive measures adopted to avert or retard further damage.

To a considerable extent the ability to take effective preventive and remedial action depends on technical capacity which in turn is a function of the level of modernization and the stage reached by science and technology. Where agriculture is backward, many soil and land management measures are not possible because there is not the access to the knowledge, infrastructure, inputs and equipment made possible by modern science and industrial development. Backwardness limits knowledge of the soil and its vulnerabilities and the ability to keep track of and analyze any changes in its condition. There are not the resources to carry out measures such as earth movement to prevent erosion and better irrigation systems to reduce salinity.

A change of institutional or political conditions will in many cases also make a major difference. Land management and agriculture generally will benefit if there is a government that is willing and able to progressively increase infrastructure, extension services and research and does not simply see agriculture as something to be taxed for the benefit of the ruling elite and its urban support base. A change in the incentives facing farmers in developing countries would also improve how they respond to the problem. Greater land ownership among farmers would mean a greater willingness to invest in measures to conserve land because their future rights to use it are more secure. And ending the common policy of subsidizing water and nitrogen would also assist in the battle with salinity and nutrient problems. Funding of research is critical in soil management as with other aspects of agriculture.

Below we look at the main forms of degradation and the measures that can be adopted to deal with them.


Wind and water erosion can be prevented by a range of measures. The movement of wind and water can be impeded or diverted by planting trees, hedgerows and grass strips and the construction of terraces and storm water drains. And, as we mentioned above, the soil can be protected by conservation tillage which minimizes disruption of the soil surface and maintains a cover of plants or plant litter.


Estimates of the rate at which land is being seriously impaired by salinity vary considerably. One claims that 0.5 million hectares per year are being affected while another claims 2 million hectares.[188]

Measures to prevent the problem include additional drainage, better canal lining or use of pipes, and more judicious water applications. Remedial action can also be taken where the problem has emerged. Planting salt tolerant trees and grasses, which “suck up” the salt, is one approach,[189] and plants are being bred that are particularly suited to this job. Another approach which can be applied in some cases is to lower the water-table below the root zone and flush the salts away to newly constructed subsurface drainage systems. According to Conway writing in the mid 1990s, the cost of doing this in India was of the order of $325-$500/ha.[190]

Loss of Organic Matter

For loss of organic matter, the answer often lies in leaving more of the crop residue in the field and making greater use of livestock dung. However, in many parts of the developing world these are used for fuel, so improvement may have to await ready access to modern energy sources such as electricity and fossil fuel.

Nutrient Mining

In some particularly backward regions, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, only further economic developed and higher incomes will end what is often referred to as nutrient mining, where nutrients taken from the soil either by plants or leaching are not replaced by adequate applications of fertilizer. In this region fertilizer use per hectare is only about 10 per cent of the global average[191] and will have to increase about four times to meet nutrient needs at the current level of production. Generally more nitrogen is required than potassium, and more potassium than phosphorus.[192] Prices for fertilizer are high because of inefficient local production, high shipping costs for imports and poor transport. Where transport is particularly poor fertilizer is simply not available. And most farmers could not afford it even if it were delivered to their door at world prices.

In other areas such as China and India nutrient mining occurs even though relatively high amounts of fertilizer are used. This is because the mix is not in the right proportions for the plants’ needs. Given that plants use nutrients in a certain proportion to each other, the increase in the external supply of one nutrient, enables plants to extract more of the natural supply of the other nutrients in the soil. The main problem is the overuse of nitrogen relative to the other macronutrients, phosphorous and potassium and to micronutrients such as sulfur and zinc.

Farmers needs a change in incentives so that they are less drawn to the short term gains from nitrogen use and are more heedful of the longer term effects of nutrient depletion. This requires reduced poverty so that they are not living hand to mouth, changes in property rights so that they have more of a stake in the future productivity of the land and an end to the common practice of subsidizing nitrogen. Better knowledge would also assist. This requires a greater general appreciation of the problem by farmers and the means to carry out necessary soil testing and plant analysis.

Summing up on Land

So to sum up on the state of the land resource, the evidence indicates firstly, that there is still a significant amount of extra new land available; and secondly, that recent degradation has not been enough to significantly slow down average crop yield increases and large areas are not seriously affected. While this does not rule out the presence of a real and increasing problem, it does suggest that the resource as a whole is not in imminent, grave danger. Whether the situation improves or deteriorates in the future will depend on the extent that remedial and preventive measures are applied, and this in turn depends mainly on the pace of economic and social progress.


The other major resource required by agriculture is water. As with land, there are concerns about whether the resource will be sufficient to meet our food needs. This will depend on the following factors:

· how far we can increase our use of rain, rivers, lakes and groundwater;

· how well we can stem or reverse the depletion or degradation of presently exploited resources;

· the extent that we can become more efficient in our use of water, both in food production and in other activities that compete with agriculture for water; and

· the prospects for tapping into the non-conventional resources, namely salty water and polar ice.

Harnessing More of the Resource

Some regions get all the water they need from the rain that falls on the field (green water). For others rain water is insufficient or at the wrong time. They have to rely on water brought in from elsewhere (usually by rivers) or local rainwater which has been stored in aquifers, dams and lakes (blue water). This is drawn off and distributed by irrigation systems.

Presently around 280 million hectares are under irrigation.[193] Over 70 per cent of this area is in developing countries, which are often in regions that are either arid or have monsoons that bring the rain all at once. China and India have about 20 per cent each.[194]

There is scope to expand this area significantly, although by how much is open to some dispute. Presently about 10 per cent of blue water is diverted or pumped for human use.[195] Much of the remainder is unavailable for a range of reasons. For example, rivers run through regions unsuited to farming or the local farmland has all the water it needs, and some water is required for navigation and environmental flows. The FAO has published what some consider an upbeat estimate of 200 million hectares of extra irrigated land in developing countries.[196] What we cannot possibly expect to achieve is the kind of expansion that occurred over the last 50 years when withdrawals were doubled[197] and the area of irrigation increased two and a half fold.[198]

Depletion and Degradation

Part of any expansion, will have to make up for some deterioration in existing systems. Each year infrastructure becomes more dilapidated, more silt builds up in reservoirs, and aquifers become more depleted and in some cases mined out.

Turning these problems around will be one of the objectives of political and economic development over coming decades. The level of infrastructure investment in both rejuvenation and expansion will need to increase considerably from what it is at present. Ensuring that schemes are properly maintained will also require a revolution in management which is generally incompetent and corrupt.

Moves are afoot in many countries to reform their systems. This includes greater accountability for performance and participation by farmers in various aspects of management,[199] separation of service delivery from regulatory functions, and contracting out of operations and maintenance tasks to the private sector or non-government organizations.

The depletion of aquifers is a serious problem in some areas including many parts of India, China and the United States.[200] How important are they? It has been claimed that 10 per cent of the world’s food production is dependent on aquifers that are being depleted.[201] Over-drawing of groundwater was estimated to have been 200 cubic kilometers in 1995, 8 per cent of withdrawals by agriculture.[202] On the assumption of equal water productivity this over-drawing would provide about 4 per cent of food given that irrigated land as a whole provides 40 per cent. However, because groundwater irrigation is more reliable than surface irrigation its contribution will be higher than that.

The main problem with most aquifers is that there is no regulation of their use. They are a common pool resource and any individual farmer can drill a hole and install a cheap pump. This is compounded by the fact that in many countries farmers have managed to obtain large subsidies for electricity and diesel fuel, the biggest recurrent pumping costs. Governments will have to bite the bullet and take on the politically difficult task of removing these subsidies. Access to the resource also has to be regulated. One approach is to provide farmers with a right to a certain quota which would be assigned once a study had determined what was a sustainable level of total use or acceptable level of depletion. Farmers who pump more than their quota would then be either charged very high prices or forced to buy pumping rights on an open market from others not using their full entitlement.

On the supply side, depletion can be addressed by taking measures to increase the rate of aquifer recharging by various ‘water harvesting’ techniques which capture some of the rainwater which presently evaporates. These include containing the water behind dams, or in ponds so that much of it can be absorbed into the ground or digging recharge wells or cisterns that drain water from surrounding higher ground. The water captured would include floodwaters that do not flow into streams and rainwater that falls on areas other than cropland such as pasture and wasteland. One particular proposal is to encourage, through subsidies if necessary, flooded paddy rice cultivation in lands above the most threatened aquifers in the wet season.[203] At this stage it is not known how far artificial recharge measures could go in countering large scale depletion.

More Efficient Use

An alternative to increased water supply is increased efficiency in use. Doubling the output from a given amount of water is just as good as doubling the amount of water. There are many ways that farmers can get more crop from each drop of water applied to the field. These can be divided into measures that increase the efficiency of water application in the field and measures that increase the plants response to water.

The two traditional methods of water distribution that still dominate irrigation in most countries are flood irrigation which covers the whole field with a layer of water and furrow irrigation which channels water from ditches to crops along slightly inclined parallel rows.[204] With these methods significant amounts of water are lost to evaporation, leaching or runoff. Better methods from this point of view are sprinklers, and drip irrigation where the water is delivered by pipes running along the surface or underground near the roots. To date these new methods have not been widely adopted. Although where they have, the results have been dramatic. Cyprus and Israel are leading examples and show that they can be put to widespread use.[205]

Field management measures can ensure that both irrigation and rain water are better used. Increased crop residues or ground cover, made possible with low till techniques, helps retain water or melting snow that would otherwise runoff or evaporate. Increased level of organic matter in the soil increases its ability to absorb and retain moisture.[206] Land leveling, with the help of cheap laser technology, can benefit both irrigated and rain-fed agriculture by reducing run-off and ensuring that water is distributed evenly. It has been reported that field leveling in a region of Arizona lead to a water use decline of between 20 and 32 percent and yield increases from 12 to 22 percent.[207]

Water efficiency can also be improved by increasing our knowledge of the plant’s water requirements at various stages in its growth. This knowledge can be combined with equipment monitoring the field for information about soil moisture and the condition of the crop. This can even be used to trigger water applications.[208] Measuring soil moisture can be performed by fairly simple and inexpensive devices such as gypsum blocks containing two electrodes which are buried at several locations and depths in root zones. A pocket-size impedance meter can then measure changes in moisture content.[209]

Of course, harnessing the water and applying it to the land as efficiently as possible is only half the story. The ultimate measure of efficiency is the final harvest achieved. This will also depend on the choice of plant varieties and measures taken by the farmer to maintain soil quality and to protect the crop from various stresses.

The development of plant varieties that put more of their effort into producing grain rather than stalks or leaves, or that speed up or bring forward the grain growing phase will mean more final output for a given amount of water. Likewise, having plants that cope better under stress means less water is wasted on plants that end up dying or underperforming.

Water efficiency can also be improved by using plants that require less water. We can switch to less thirsty crops. For example, growing sorghum instead of corn as stock feed would lower water needs by 10-15 percent and sunflowers instead of soybeans as an oil crop would reduce water by 20-25 percent.[210] Or we can breed plant varieties that require less water. This includes plants that can grow in drier areas where nothing of interest could grow before. Another approach is to develop plant varieties that are more tolerant of saline water hence creating a water resource out of what was otherwise unusable.

These methods of increased efficiency in water use should take us a long way to ensuring that the water supply is sufficient for our needs. An important impetus to greater efficiency would be an end to the heavy subsidizing of water through under-pricing. At the moment prices are generally nominal and collection rates low.

Competition from Non-Agricultural Uses

Agriculture can expect to face increasing competition for water from non-agricultural uses. At the moment they make up about 30 per cent of withdrawals – about 20 per cent for industry and 10 per cent for municipal use.[211] This demand will increase in developing countries as their populations and economies grow. However, there is much that can be done to keep non-agricultural uses of water in check.

Having a water system that does not leak is a good start. In many cities in developing countries a large proportion of water is lost to leaks in the system because of poor maintenance.[212]

Another part of the solution is to achieve most outcomes using less or even no water. For cooling in electricity generation, water-free technologies can be used such as dry cooling towers. In production, innovation can bring forth new water saving technologies. For example, at the Oberti olive plant in Madera, California, where water is used in the curing process, they almost halved water use by reducing curing time from seven days to three.[213] Consumers can have the same need met with a less water intensive product. For example, reading the news on the Net requires no water whereas producing the paper used in the traditional tabloid or broadsheet requires a considerable amount.

It is not hard to imagine a whole range of innovations that could reduce water consumption in the home. Water-saving shower heads could be more widely used. Toilets that use little or no water could significantly reduce domestic consumption. A waterless, electrically powered toilet has been developed which has no odors or insect problems, and safely and effectively biodegrades human wastes into water, carbon dioxide and a soil-like residue.[214] Fumento cites the case of a new train toilet which sanitizes the waste and returns water for flushing and hand washing:

Something called a macerator chews up waste and feeds it into an aerated tank containing membranes coated with muck munching bacteria. The solids are broken down primarily into carbon dioxide and water, while the gas is pumped off and bacteria free water passes across the membrane. Some of the water is sterilized with ultraviolet light and returned to the flushing tank. The rest goes through a reverse osmosis device that filters out the remaining chemicals, such as proteins and urea, so that the water is entirely microbe free and can be used for hand washing. This way the system needs servicing only once a month to remove built up sludge.[215]

No doubt the computerized and automated kitchens of the future will be able to make more efficient use of water both in cooking and dishwashing. Future washing machines may work with less water or have their own recycling systems. There is even talk of waterless washing using nano-machinery that imitates the behavior of enzymes. It is also possible to imagine the development of fabrics that repel dirt and grease.

Reuse is another way of saving water. In some cases no treatment is required, e.g., washing or cooking water diverted to the garden or to the toilet cistern. In other cases various levels of treatment would be needed. For example, sewage and industrial effluent can be cleaned up using technologies that are now getting cheaper and more effective. This can be fed back into the municipal water supply or made available for specific uses.

San Diego is looking at a proposal to mix recycled sewage water with the city’s drinking water.[216] The sewage water will undergo conventional tertiary and advanced treatment steps. Advanced treatment will include micro-filtration pretreatment, reverse osmosis, disinfection and nitrate removal. The re-purified water will then be blended with other local supplies. Upon withdrawal, the water undergoes final treatment including conventional coagulation, mixing, clarification, filtration and disinfection before introduction to the city’s pipelines.

Waste water can also be made available to agriculture. In water starved Israel, for example, well over half of waste water is used for irrigation after treatment and it makes up about 20 per cent of the irrigation total.[217]

In many industrial activities, there is a great deal of scope for internal recycling. New water would only be needed as a top up where there are losses from evaporation or leakages, or the scale of operation is increased. A major user of water is the power industry for cooling. This is an area where far more recycling can be applied. Even in the sensitive area of food processing recycling seems to be an increasing option. The Californian olive processing plant previously mentioned reuses 80 per cent of its processing water with the aid of a membrane filtration system.[218]

Households, municipalities and industry can also do more to harvest their own rain water. Rain water runoff that goes down drains can be better used. Rain can be collected from the roofs of houses, factories and other large buildings, and stored in tanks. The Frankfurt Airport terminal, for example, collects water from its vast roof for such low-grade water needs as cleaning, gardening, and flushing toilets.[219]

So in a nutshell, households and industry can reduce their competition with agriculture by finding less water intensive ways of meeting their needs, by making more discarded water available to agriculture and by harvesting their own rain. All these approaches can be encouraged by having water charges that reflect the true cost of water and encourage more frugal use and the development of more water efficient technologies.

Non-Conventional Water Resources

There are two non-conventional sources of fresh water that we need to consider: (1) desalinated sea water and briny groundwater; and (2) polar ice. They are non-conventional in the sense that they have only been tapped on a small scale and would require a considerable amount of technical development before they could play a bigger role. They would also require a lot more capital and energy than the conventional resources.


Seawater covers 70 per cent of the planet and comprises 95.5 per cent of all water. Brackish groundwater is found in vast underground aquifers throughout the world and often far inland in otherwise dry climates. It includes the vast supplies that accompany fossil fuel extraction.

So far desalination has only been put to limited use, because of the cost. Desalting capacity is about 32.4 million cubic meters (or 8.6 billion gallons) per day.[220] This is a tiny fraction of our present fresh water consumption. About half of this capacity is installed in Persian Gulf countries where water from other sources is very limited and cheap energy to run the process is available.[221] Desalination plants can also be found at specific locations, including island resorts, where there are no alternatives and the demand is sufficient at the high price to economically justify a facility. They are also sometimes used to bring slightly brackish water up to a standard where it can top up conventional supplies. Investment in new capacity appears to be quite healthy. In the US, for example, there are new large-scale facilities being built or planned in Southern Florida, Southern California and El Paso, Texas.[222] The facility in Tampa Bay Florida is the largest desalination facility so far in that country,[223] while San Diego hopes that planned facilities will provide 15 per cent of its water from the ocean by 2020.[224]

Virtually all desalination capacity is provided either by thermal or membrane units. Each provides roughly half of capacity, although membrane technology is edging ahead.[225] In the distillation process salt water is heated to boiling point to produce water vapor which is then condensed to form fresh water. In the membrane process the salt and water are physically separated. Electrodialysis (ED) uses voltage to separate the salts, whereas reverse osmosis (RO) uses water pressure.[226] Most membrane facilities use RO while significantly less use ED. Generally, distillation and RO are used for seawater desalting, while low pressure RO and electrodialysis are used to desalt brackish water. Treating brackish water is far cheaper than treating seawater.

Costs have fallen significantly over the last decade and this is expected to continue. Like other industries, desalination has benefited from a range of advances such as better materials to choose from and improved computerized management of operations. Membranes are achieving faster flow rates, longer lifespan, less fouling[227] and greater energy efficiency.[228] At the same time their cost of manufacture is declining with increased automation.[229] It is believed that a better understanding at the molecular level of the RO process will lead to faster flow rates and better salt rejection.[230]

Completely new technologies may offer possibilities for much greater cost reductions. A number are already in view and expectations are that, with a greater research effort, others could be around the corner.

One at the early commercial stage is called the Rapid Spray Evaporation process which ejects water through a nozzle into a stream of heated air. Because the water is a fine mist it creates a vast surface area which allows the water to evaporate quickly, leaving behind salt in a dry form or as a supersaturated solution easily converted to sea salt.[231] The company developing the technology, AquaSonic International, has at the time of writing started producing small portable units and is in the throws of developing the technology for large-scale plants.

A modified reverse osmosis process is being developed at New Mexico Tech.[232] It uses cheap clay membranes that do not require the usual water pretreatment, operate under lower hydraulic pressure, produce a solid salt waste and yield 100 per cent water recovery.

Reassessing some of the many past failures in the light of subsequent advances in scientific and technical knowledge could prove fruitful. For example, knotty design problems may be sorted out with new computational modeling techniques and the technology made feasible with new materials and production processes.[233]

Then there are totally new concepts. One that looks promising is a nanotube-based membrane. This is being developed by researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.[234] A field of nanotubes functions as an array of pores which allows water molecules through, while keeping salt and other unwanted molecules at bay. And, despite their diminutive dimensions, these pores allow water to flow at faster rates for a given pressure compared with reverse osmosis membranes. This will mean that less energy will be required.

While desalination can expand the water resource, it does so by placing greater demands on other resources, particularly energy which it would use in large quantities even with considerable improvements. Our ability to meet our increasing energy and raw material needs is discussed in the next chapter.

Polar Ice

Three quarters of the world’s fresh water is polar ice. It starts out either as snow or as seawater which loses its salt when it freezes. The quantities are enormous. There are tens of millions of cubic kilometers of ice. In comparison the 2500 cubic kilometers of water we withdraw for irrigation is miniscule.[235]

At the moment ice exploitation is just a ’boutique’ industry catering to the bottled water and spirits market. Its appeal is that it is extremely pure and does not require the normal extensive range of treatments. A specially equipped ship comes along side of an Arctic iceberg located in a quiet cove and cuts off chunks which are then thawed. However, to ship quantities that make a significant contribution to our irrigation needs would require a massive fleet of supertankers. Just supplying 5 per cent of current levels would require over 700 deliveries per day by 500,000 tonne super tankers.[236] Tankers moving the equivalent in water of our current oil consumption (i.e., 4.5 km3) would move less than 0.2 per cent of our present irrigation withdrawals.

Towing or nudging icebergs with the help of ocean currents is another option which has been discussed. These would have to come from the Antarctic because those from the Arctic are insufficient to make a big difference. Of course if you simply tried to tow an iceberg to Saudi Arabia or California, it would have melted away before it arrived. A number of solutions have been proposed to deal with this. One is to cut a bow into the front end and cover it with kevlar. This would reduce melting to acceptable levels. The iceberg would then be cut up and melted down, and the water piped to irrigation systems and reservoirs. Another approach which has been trialed is to seal the iceberg in reinforced plastic so that melting is no longer an issue.[237]

Moving icebergs into unfamiliar territory could raise a range of environmental issues that would have to be taken into account. There may be an increased risk of oil spills in polar regions, however, these should be countered by better ship design and more effective clean-up methods. There may be some destinations or routes where icebergs would be unwelcome because of an excessive intrusion on the environment. Moving through shallow seas, an iceberg could cool down the surrounding waters or scrape the bottom, damaging marine life. Ice cold fresh water runoff would also reduce the salinity of the surrounding sea water and could precipitate a sudden change in temperature. The plastic bag solution is less likely to cause these problems because they would be smaller and the ice perhaps already melted before it arrived at problem spots, and no freshwater is released. However, given that the size of icebergs is typically no bigger than a tanker, one would be looking at a similar number of icebergs as tanker trips.

What about transporting thawed ice by pipeline? They would need to stretch for thousands of kilometers to the more arid regions and in the case of the Antarctic much of it would have to be underwater. There would also need to be many of them. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline from oil fields in the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea can carry one million barrels of oil per day. That is a lot of oil. However, that much water is nothing. It is 0.06 km3 per year, a minute fraction of total irrigation withdrawals. Even under pressure, a pipeline is only the equivalent of a small stream. It can never compare to a river.

So, in sum, at this stage it is difficult to foresee polar ice being an important contributor to our water supply.

Genetic Base

There is a concern that modern agriculture is narrowing the genetic diversity of crops by replacing a large number of local varieties (landraces) with a small number of widely used modern high yield varieties (HYVs). It is claimed that this “genetic erosion” is eliminating much of the gene pool required for breeding various favorable traits and is making us more vulnerable in the face of new stresses. However, the evidence does not back up these claims.

Despite the popular belief to the contrary, HYVs retain a considerable amount of diversity. There are many varieties in use at any one time adapted to a range of conditions. Furthermore, the level of diversity has been increasing continuously over the past few decades as adaptations to specific stresses have been fine tuned. In the case of wheat there is actually a more diverse range of varieties in the field than at the beginning of the 20th century.[238]

A considerable number of the traditional landraces are still in use, particularly in the areas from which the crops originated. In some regions they are still dominant, for example, rice in Sub-Saharan Africa and maize in West Asia/North Africa, Asia (excluding China), Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America.[239] In the case of wheat, landraces are still grown extensively in parts of West Asia, North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa (Ethiopia and Sudan).[240] West Asia, where much of agriculture originated is still home to a vast array of traditional varieties of the lesser crops such as lentils, oats, barley, rye, almonds, apricots, cherries, figs, grapes, olives and plums.[241]

Arguably more important than landraces, particularly with improved breeding techniques, are the original wild varieties of domesticated plants. Because they survive without human care and protection they are generally more resistant to biotic and abiotic stresses. These will not be found in farmers fields but out in the wild.

If you include in diversity not only what is in the fields of farmers but also what is in the fields and greenhouses of research stations and in gene banks, there has been an improvement over time for both rice and wheat. This adds a number of other dimensions to diversity all of which have been increasing.

They include temporal diversity (average age and rate of replacement of cultivars); polygenic diversity (the pyramiding of multiple genes for resistance to provide longer-lasting protection from pathogens); and pedigree complexity (the number of landraces, pureline selections, and mutants that are ancestors of a released variety).[242]

Something else to consider is effective diversity. Traditionally the diversity available to a farmer was confined to whatever was in the local region and what they could do with that was limited in the absence of modern plant breeding. Now we have breeding institutions that can pull germ plasm from anywhere in the world when breeding a new plant. They have speedier and more effective ways of screening for desirable traits and using them to create new commercial varieties. The greater effective diversity is evidenced by two facts. Firstly, traditional methods took millennia to greatly increase yields, while modern breeding methods have tripled them within a number of decades. Secondly, yields are far more stable from year to year than they used to be because modern varieties are more stress tolerant than their landrace predecessors. Finally with genetic engineering we have a further extension to diversity because it allows scientists to draw on the characteristics of totally unrelated life forms.


While not a major supplier of food energy, fish provide about one-sixth of all animal protein,[243] and in developing countries the harvest nearly equals the combined local production of cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry.[244] About 70 per cent of fish are caught while the rest are cultivated.[245] About 30 per cent of caught fish are used for non-food purposes, mainly animal feed.[246]

The catch has increased fivefold over the last 50 years.[247] However, there does not seem to be much if any room for the fish catch to continue growing. The FAO anticipates a small increase if fisheries are better managed and a decline if they are not.[248] They believe that between 70 and 80 per cent of fish stocks are fully exploited, overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion.[249]

Remedial measures include reducing the capacity of fishing fleets, setting up marine reserves, removing government subsidies and assigning property rights to individuals or groups of fishermen to provide an incentive for good stock-management practices. Other threats to coastal fisheries that have to be dealt with are pollution and degradation of coral reef and mangrove habitats.[250]

Fish cultivation or aquaculture has prospects for significant expansion. At the moment output is concentrated on crustaceans and mollusks, freshwater carp in China and salmon. Around 80 per cent of mollusks are cultured, around 20 per cent of shrimps/prawns and around 33 per cent of salmon.[251]

Growing fish in captivity instead of catching them is comparable to the move on the land from hunter-gathering to farming. This allows the development of better breeds and the adoption of management practices such as protection from other predators, provision of better feed and optimal timing of slaughter. While they have a long way to go to catch up with the changes that we have made on land, the industry has made some progress.

Tilapia, a freshwater, plant-eating fish popular in America, has been bred to be hardier and grow 60 per cent faster than the wild variety.[252] Genetically modified salmon are being developed which possess a gene that protects them from freezing when raised in icy waters and a gene that expresses a growth hormone so they reach maturity more quickly, while requiring less food.[253] Other areas of improvement being investigated by breeders include disease resistance and increased fertility. Feed suppliers have also had some success in improving feed efficiency. For example, the amount of feed used for growing salmon is 44 per cent of what it was 30 years ago.[254]

As with any other human endeavor, aquaculture can have impacts on the environment that need to be checked. Chemicals, uneaten feed, dead fish and fish feces from inland and shoreline aquaculture has contaminated drinking and irrigation water, seeped into aquifers, and affected coastal fisheries. Where there is limited water exchange, the decomposition of organic waste can contribute to local eutrophication and all the environmental problems that can cause.

In intensive shrimp production about a third of the water has to be changed daily, and about half of it is fresh water needed to obtain the optimum salinity level. This call on freshwater can lead to a drop in groundwater levels; and large volume pumping of freshwater and seawater also affects the biodiversity of affected areas.[255] Shrimp production has also caused extensive damage to wetlands and mangroves and the creation of infertile land through salinity.

Much of the remedy lies in improvements to the poor regulatory and institutional arrangements to be found in the developing countries involved. This is similar to logging where the government fails to properly protect land supposedly under its control.

Improved technologies and practices can make a difference. One area of success has been in the development of more digestible feed formulations that leach less waste into the environment. For example, nitrogen waste for a given quantity of salmon is one sixth of what it was thirty years ago.[256] A shrimp farm in the US uses other fish to mop up shrimp waste.[257] The use of antibiotics in Norwegian aquaculture is less than 0.5 per cent of what it was ten years ago. Vaccines have brought about great reductions in the use of antibiotics and other chemicals.

We can expect to see the greatest growth in fisheries out at sea where there is not the same competition for resources found on land or near the sea shore. This will take time to develop if only because of the lack of knowledge and new investment involved. The technology to pen, cage or otherwise control the fish still has to be designed and built; and to domesticate a new specie, knowledge is required of such matters as stocking densities, water quality, breeding conditions, animal behavior and precise nutritional requirements. For aquaculture to make a major impact on the food supply, there would have to be large scale investment in facilities such as pens or other means of controlling the fish.

Future cultured fisheries out at sea will face environmental problems similar to some of those above plus a range of new ones. One concern relates to ‘genetic pollution’ from domestic varieties breeding with wild ones. Like any environmental concern it would need to be assessed on the evidence on a case by case basis. However, given the option of breeding fish that cannot breed in the wild this will never be an overriding problem. Then we have the effect on wild species and ecosystems generally of building large pens and cages and concentrating large numbers of domesticated fish in a relatively small area. These are similar to the issues that we have faced and continue to face in land based food production.

Non-Renewable Resources

One of the reasons modern agriculture is often slammed for being unsustainable is its use of non-renewable resources particularly inorganic fertilizer and fossil fuels. Inorganic fertilizer refers to the three macronutrients when obtained from outside agriculture, in other words, not from the recycling of organic matter. Nitrogen is the most important followed by phosphorous and potassium. Fossil fuels are important mainly in the production of nitrogen and as fuel for farm machinery.

Nitrogen Fertilizer

Inorganic nitrogen fertilizer is produced primarily from synthetic ammonia which is obtained by combining nitrogen and hydrogen. The ammonia is then used to produce various synthetic nitrogen fertilizers including the most common one, urea. Nitrogen makes up almost 80 per cent of the atmosphere (and much of the nitrogen not in the atmosphere eventually returns to it) while hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe.

Natural gas is presently the most commonly used fossil resource input, both as the source of hydrogen and for the energy in the production process. According to estimates from the late 1990s, if natural gas had provided all the feedstock for hydrogen and all the fuel, its total consumption would have been just under 7 per cent of the world’s natural gas extraction.[258]

Nitrogen fertilizer production is certainly very energy intensive, however, as discussed in the next chapter, a diverse range of options will allow us to meet our energy needs. The next chapter also examines the prospects for using water as a hydrogen feedstock instead of hydrocarbons. (Hydrogen is the H in H2O.)


Phosphate fertilizer is made from phosphate rock treated with sulfuric acid. Commercially viable reserves of phosphate rock are estimated to be 18 billion tonnes.[259] This would last 60 years if we consumed at twice our present annual level of 148 million tonnes. The reserve base is estimated to be 50 billion tonnes.[260] This also includes explored resources which are presently non-economic or would require at least some use of unproven technology. Assuming the same rate of consumption these would last 170 years.

With further exploration we should expect discoveries of extensive new deposits in the future.[261] Furthermore, large phosphate resources have been identified on the continental shelves and on seamounts in the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.[262] These cannot be recovered economically at the moment but this could change with new technologies.

The sulfur in evaporite and volcanic deposits, and that associated with natural gas, petroleum, tar sands, and metal sulfides amount to about 5 billion tons.[263] At double current usage rates of 59 million tons a year, these would last 65 years. The sulfur in gypsum and anhydrite is almost limitless, and some 600 billion tons is contained in coal, oil shale, and shale rich in organic matter.[264]


Commercially viable reserves of potash or potassium oxide are estimated to be 8.3 billion tonnes and the total reserve base 17 billion tonnes.[265] At double current usage rates of 31 million tons a year, these would last 170 and 350 years respectively. The estimate for the total known resource is 250 billion tonnes.[266]

Fuel for Farm Machinery

Farm machinery takes a very small share of fuel consumption. US agricultural field machinery consumes annually no more than 1 percent of the country’s liquid fuels.[267] In terms of resource use it is a vast improvement on draft animals. Using grass as a fuel is extremely land intensive. In the US, the shift from draft animals to internal combustion engines released 30 million acres of prime arable land for crops.[268] To match the 1995 mechanical power of American tractors with horses would require at least 250 million of these animals and 300 million hectares, or twice the total of US arable land, to feed them.[269]

“Alternative” Agriculture is No Such Thing

While we can be optimistic about everybody being fed as a result of advances in the agricultural sciences and the modernization of Third World agriculture, we cannot be the same about the ‘alternative’ agriculture espoused by the greens. With their alternative we would not be able to feed ourselves and we would trash all remaining natural habitats in the futile attempt. This alternative would have us do without ‘unnatural’ things such as inorganic fertilizer, chemical pesticides and genetic engineering.

Instead of getting nitrogen from the air as we mainly do now, we would have to confine ourselves to getting it in ‘natural’ ways such as from animal manure, human sewage and ‘green manure’ legumes. At the moment inorganic nitrogen provides the bulk of our needs so there would be a big shortfall to fill.

Organic enthusiasts reassure us that there is lots of potential organic fertilizer that we could be using. According to them there is lots of animal manure, crop residue, urban sewage and compostable landfill going to waste. However, experts at the USDA have calculated that the available animal manure and sustainable biomass resources in the US would provide only about one-third of the plant nutrients needed to support current food production.[270] What about using urban sewage sludge more broadly on crops? In the US, all of the urban sewage equals only 2 percent of the nitrogen currently being applied in commercial fertilizers and a significant proportion is already being used for agricultural fertilizer.[271] What about compostable materials from current urban landfill waste? Any urban waste would only be a small addition to the manure and other farm waste already being used by farmers in the US and elsewhere.[272]

The only ‘unlimited’ source of nitrogen for organic farmers is ‘green manure’ legumes grown in a crop rotation to provide nitrogen for subsequent crops. However, land put aside for this purpose is not available for crop production. So the land taken up both directly and indirectly for a given quantity of crop output is increased. In any year a significant proportion of the land is not taken up with growing final crops but rather with growing manure! So even if the yields in the fields growing the final crop were the same as for modern sensible agriculture, the average for cropland as a whole is going to be far less.

There is a similar story with chemical pesticides. If you let insects eat part of your crop rather than use pesticide, you need more land for a given crop. Pesticide is not always the only remedy for pests and in some cases if wrongly or over used can make the pest problem worse. However, this does not negate the fact that in most cases there is no substitute for chemical pest control. Furthermore, other measures tend to be adjuncts to pesticide use rather than substitutes. A study by Texas A&M University indicates that U. S. field crop yields would decline drastically if farmers in that country substituted the currently available organic pest controls for synthetic pesticides. Soybean yields would drop by 37 percent, wheat by 38 percent, cotton by 62 percent, rice by 63 percent, peanuts by 78 percent, and field corn by 53 percent.[273]

Other productivity reducing and resource wasting practices of organic farmers include foregoing the use of antibiotics and growth hormones for livestock and the use of genetic engineering.

The exponents of ‘alternative’ agriculture also tend to have a strong, low-tech streak to them. Machines are seen as unnatural and dehumanizing, and their use is destroying the planet. In a similar vein, the small farmer is the hero and agribusiness the demon. Once again this is at odds with efforts to economize on the use of land and water. Two examples should make the point, namely, the present move to precision farming and the prospect some time in the future of factory farming.

The first of these technologies will allow farmers to micro-manage each separate patch of ground. Its particular stresses can be detected and specific solutions applied. Photography from satellites or aircraft can tell a considerable about how the crop is performing in each field particularly in the infrared and near infrared range. Farm vehicles can assess soil conditions with corers and electromagnetic induction (EMI) equipment while recording their position with the use of GPS. This information can then be fed into a computer with geographical information system (GIS) software which can present the data as maps, tables graphs, charts or reports. A tractor can be directed by a computer to dispense variable amounts of pesticide, fertilizer and water on the basis of location information provided by the GPS and field condition data provided by the GIS. The process can also be put in reverse. Different inputs, plant varieties and cultivation methods can be tried in different fields and their performance easily compared. So far this technology has only been adopted on a small scale. However, it will no doubt become more widespread once the technology matures, costs come down and farmers get used to the idea.

In the longer term crop growing may actually become factory production carried out in multi-level buildings. This would allow for massive increases in output per hectare. A 20 story farm factory on one hectare of land would not just grow the equivalent of 20 hectares. Output would be even higher than that because crops would be grown under optimal conditions in terms of growing medium, lighting, climate and water supply.

A population of 10 billion people with grain output of 550 kilograms per capita each per year (double the present average) and achieving a yield potential of 10 tonnes per hectare requires an area of 550 million hectares. Assuming 20 story facilities that is a land area of 27.5 million hectares or 275,000 km2. That is slightly larger than New Zealand or Colorado, and slightly smaller than Italy.

Per person the land area is 27.5 m3, the size of a living room. The building floor space per person of 550 m3 (23.5 x 23.5) is half the area of a quarter acre suburban block. If each floor only needs to be about a meter or two high, you are looking at a cubic area comparable to a typical bungalow. The construction investment required to accommodate our food production would then be no greater than that required to accommodate ourselves. So, it is unlikely to be a daunting task for the economy of the 22nd century.

There would also be greater water efficiency. The water would be delivered precisely as required, and none of it wasted on underperforming plants. The energy consumption of such food production methods would probably be greater than present methods. Pumping water to each floor, lighting, heating, cooling and building construction would require a lot of energy. However, at the same time, activities such as plowing, planting and harvesting would either no longer be necessary or be done with greater energy efficiency.