The medium variant projection puts world population for 2050 at 9.1 billion. By that time, the annual additions to global population will be 34 million persons--down from the current 76 million annually--and the growth rate will have fallen to 0.38 percent per annum, one-third of its present level. Longer-term projections to 2300 (UN 2004) suggest that the peak of world population may be reached in 2075, at 9.2 billion, to be followed by a slight decline and then by slow growth again to reach just under 9 billion by 2300 (medium variant projection).
Several of the countries still experiencing rapid demographic growth have poor agricultural resources or have resources that are difficult to exploit, whether because of remoteness from population centres, lack of infrastructure, high incidence of disease, or other circumstances. Their economies are also highly dependent on agriculture, high percentages of their gross domestic product and exports come from agriculture, and high proportions of their population depend on agriculture for a living. This combination could condemn such countries to persistent poverty if future populations were to become as large as projected and urbanization or emigration to other countries were to provide outlets no larger than foreseen in the demographic projections. Gallup and Sachs (2000) consider that countries in the tropical zones have limited potential for productively absorbing more labor in agriculture (p. 737). These countries have few alternatives but to continue to depend on further exploitation of agricultural resources for their food security and survival as well as for their overall development (Gallup and Sachs, 2000, p. 731).
The populations of some countries in Africa are projected to increase by a factor of at least 2.5 (Ethiopia, Iraq) and up to just over fivefold (Uganda) in the five decades to 2050 (UN 2004). Naturally, not all of them face the prospect of having to depend predominantly on their own agriculture for development and improving food security. Scarcity of agricultural resources does not by itself prejudge a country's potential to make progress. Examples abound of countries with limited agricultural resources and satisfactory food consumption and nutrition levels--notably Japan, but also many developing countries with mineral wealth. The latter include several countries in the Near East and North Africa, where oil has provided the basis for much of the growth in incomes that stimulated the demand for food while also providing the means for financing quantum jumps in food imports to meet that demand. Yemen, another country with scarce agricultural resources and population growth rates among the highest in the world, relied in good measure on emigrant remittances (16.1 percent of GDP in 2001) to finance massive increases of food imports (World Bank, 2003, p. 70).
The growing agricultural resource scarcities in a number of the countries with high population growth are only one of many factors contributing to the persistence of food insecurity. Of greater importance is the prospect that a continued slow pace of development and/or occasional reverses will continue to affect countries with high rates of poverty. Suffice it to note the very low growth rate in per capita income (1.6 percent per annum) foreseen at least through 2015 in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole (World Bank, 2005, p. 89). Although this growth rate would be an improvement over the dismal record of falling incomes in the past, it would still be far from sufficient to substantially reduce rates of poverty. Even when national income growth is fairly high, there is no guarantee that it will translate, at least not in the short to medium term, into improved food consumption for the poor. The failure thus far of rapid economic growth in India (home to a quarter of the world's undernourished) to be associated with any significant improvements in per capita food consumption is instructive in this regard (Meenakshi and Vishwanathan, 2003, p. 7).
The growth of population has been explained in several scientific theories; however, we'll concentrate on the conflict theory's perspective which was supported by Homer-Dixon. Homer-Dixon focuses on population variables (1991, p. 88) He views population pressure as closely linked to the potential scarcity of renewable resources. While he argues that resource scarcities can cause violent intrastate conflict under unfavorable conditions, he believes that such scarcities are less likely to cause interstate conflict.
Homer-Dixon and Jessica Blitt distinguish among three main causes of resource scarcity (Homer-Dixon and Blitt, 1998, p. 100). Supply-induced scarcity results from degradation or depletion of natural resources. Non-sustainable use may not allow a resource to regenerate. In some cases this process causes a resource to become irreversibly and permanently degraded even though the human activities that led to degradation are halted.
Demand-induced scarcity is primarily caused by population growth (Homer-Dixon and Blitt, 1998, p. 9). If a resource base is constant, the availability of resources per person diminishes as the number of persons sharing it increases. Such scarcity can also arise from an increase in demand per capita. A third form, structural scarcity, applies only to certain groups who, relative to other groups, are excluded from equal access to particular resources. Such unequal social distribution of a resource does not presuppose actual scarcity if the resource were to be distributed evenly.
One of Homer-Dixon's strengths and one of the reasons why he has attracted so much attention is that he presents his notion of environmental scarcity in a very simple and intuitively appealing way. A prime example is his pie metaphor to describe the three forms of resource scarcity. Qualitative degradation or quantitative depletion reduces the total size of the pie. A growing number of people sharing the pie implies that each share of the pie shrinks. And finally, if the pie is distributed in pieces of unequal sizes, some may be too small for people to survive on.
What natural resources are potential bones of contention? Most armed conflicts and wars are over objectives that can broadly be defined as resources. Conflict theorist are primarily concerned with resources that are linked to food production. Homer-Dixon and Blitt argue that large populations in many developing countries are highly dependent on four key resources that are especially crucial to food production: fresh water, cropland, forests and fisheries (1998, p. 12). The availability of these resources determines people's well-being, and scarcity of such resources can lead to violent conflict under certain conditions.
Homer-Dixon predicts that greater resource scarcity tends to have social effects that increase the likelihood of internal violent conflict. Resource scarcities can lead to constrained agricultural and economic productivity, causing widespread poverty. Migration can occur either because the environmental quality of a habitat has become unlivable (push factors) or, more commonly, because the migrants' economic outcome is likely to be better in areas with greater resource availability (pull factors). Both constrained productivity and migration are likely to strengthen the segmentation around already existing religious, class, ethnic or linguistic cleavages in a society. Increased competition and tensions reduces the interaction between such segments and makes non-violent articulations of interest less likely.
Acknowledging that objective deprivation--the mere fact that people are poor--seldom produces strong grievances, Homer-Dixon relies on the theory of relative deprivation (Gurr, 1970, p. 98). Individuals and groups can experience relative deprivation when they perceive a gap between the situation they believe they deserve and the situation that they have actually achieved. But the deprivation hypothesis significantly overpredicts the likelihood that violent conflicts may occur from grievance; it proves insufficient in explaining the incidence of such events. For grievances to erupt into violent conflict, Homer-Dixon and Blitt therefore assume the presence of two other factors (Homer-Dixon and Blitt, 1998, p. 11). First, the aggrieved individuals must participate in some sort of collective capable of violent action against the authorities, such as ethnicity, religion and class. People must also feel the relevance of their group identity to their grievances--that they are aggrieved as a group. Second, the political structure must fail to give these groups the opportunity to express their grievances peacefully at the same time as it offers them openings for violent action.
Homer-Dixon acknowledges that the human ability to generate ideas, what he terms ingenuity, is a crucial factor that can help people overcome resource scarcities (Homer-Dixon, 2000, p. 77). But he sees it as a huge obstacle that many societies, especially in poor countries, are in limited supply of ingenuity. While most theorists focus on the absolute physical limits to growth in a society, Homer-Dixon is more concerned about those societies that are "locked into a race between a rising requirement for ingenuity and their capacity to supply it." (Homer-Dixon, 2000, p. 605) As the supply of ingenuity shrinks relative to resource scarcity, societies will eventually experience a "critical ingenuity gap." This raises social dissatisfaction, increasing the risk of violent conflict.
Three factors especially limit the supply of ingenuity in poor countries. First, market mechanisms meant to increase the supply of ingenuity as resources decline often fail to work properly. The second factor is social friction. This phenomenon arises with the existence of "narrow distributional coalitions" that are able to attract a large share of the resources for the use of their members only (Homer-Dixon and Blitt, 1998, p. 8). Finally, shortages of financial and human capital reduce the supply of ingenuity in many poor countries.
Homer-Dixon admits that the main weakness of the ingenuity approach is the current inability among researchers to measure ingenuity quantitatively and thereby predict where and when critical ingenuity gaps will appear (Homer-Dixon, 2000, p. 589). This also implies that it is impossible to verify empirically post facto whether it is the lack of ingenuity that causes some countries to experience resource scarcity.
Members of a broad research tradition of technological optimists, generally referred to as cornucopians, have criticized Homer-Dixon and other conflict theorists for being too pessimistic about the relationship between population and natural resources. To cornucopians, scarcity exists by definition when a resource is not in infinite and unconditional supply, but they refuse to see resources as pies of a fixed size. They give primacy to the human ability to overcome resource scarcity through technology and the application of knowledge. The level of technology influences the size of the pie; in the case of fresh water, technology both determines the quantity that can be extracted from the ground and the capacity to purify polluted water. Likewise, high elasticity without any absolute limitation is assumed to exist for the supply of many natural resources. But technology also determines the size of the pie that each individual needs, through, for instance, water-saving measures. This causes elasticity in demand, deflating the effect of an increasing population.
Furthermore, pies can be traded for other pies. In some cases, one resource can be substituted for another. Also, as most scarcities are local rather than universal, areas can trade a share of a pie that is locally abundant for a share of another pie that is locally scarce, thereby benefiting from comparative advantages.
Homer-Dixon and associates argue that local resource scarcities arise and persist because market mechanisms and technological developments often fail to work locally in many developing countries, thereby limiting ingenuity. A logical inference stemming from this line of argument is that scarcity can be seen as a result of social inability to utilize the full potential of the available natural resources.
Despite the above criticism, Homer-Dixon's contribution to the environment-conflict debate is important. Although there is a vast literature on environmental conflict, few, if any, writers have had the same overall impact as Homer-Dixon and his colleagues. He has succeeded beyond doubt in placing the environment on the peace research agenda. He has drawn more on the theoretical literature on conflict than most environmentalist writers, even though he has not fully taken account of major points relating to the role of democracy and economic growth. He has raised funds for a major program of case studies, which will provide interesting suggestions and raw material for other researchers for years to come. More systematic cross-national empirical studies of the influence of population and resource factors on armed conflict are beginning to appear, and the findings from these studies will provide a crucial test of the validity of Homer-Dixon's hypotheses. If population and resource issues "can contribute to civil violence," (Homer-Dixon, 1999, p. 121) one would expect to find that countries with greater population pressure and greater environmental scarcity experience domestic armed conflict more often than other countries, everything else being equal.
So far, a number of cross-national studies have failed to find strong support for a causal relationship between resource scarcity and violent conflict, although the picture is mixed. Wenche Hauge and Tanja Ellingsen find that indicators of environmental scarcity, such as land degradation, change in forest cover and freshwater availability, are related to armed conflict (1998, p. 308). But they conclude that such factors are less important causes of conflict than are economic and political circumstances. A major US research effort, the State Failure Task Force Report, fails to find direct effects of environmental degradation on state failure but finds minor influences through the effect of environmental degradation on the quality of life (Esty et al, 1998, p. 8). In a recent study, Henrik Urdal finds no effect of population growth and density on the propensity for domestic violent conflict (2002, p. 10). Studying international conflict, Hans Petter Wollebaek Toset and his collaborators find that shared rivers and water scarcity slightly increase the likelihood of interstate conflict (2000, p. 980) while Jaroslav Tir and Paul F. Diehl find an increased propensity for interstate conflict resulting from high population growth (1998, p. 320).
In conclusion, within the general debate on the linkages between population growth and economic development, references to agriculture are often used as examples of the ability of societies to produce the right economic and institutional responses to demographic shifts. Population growth actually induces adjustments that on the whole make it possible to meet growing food needs, and to maintain agricultural incomes (although much less successfully) and land quality. However, optimism about such adjustment mechanisms must be tempered when the role of inequality in the distribution of assets is considered, the environmental resource base is taken into account and the possibility of land degradation is introduced.
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