February 4th, 2010
07:15 AM ET

Jobs and population: Mother Earth actually has the capacity to feed her people

Editor's Note: This article continues our series excerpted from AC360°'s contributor David Gewirtz's book, How To Save Jobs, which is available now. AC360° viewers can download it for free at HowToSaveJobs.org. To learn more about the book, follow David on Twitter @DavidGewirtz.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/28/art.vert.book.gewirtz.jobs.jpg width=292 height=320]

David Gewirtz | BIO
AC360° Contributor
Director, U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute

Next up was a look at grain consumption. Grain has always been an indicator of even the most basic of civilization, so a look at how the middle-classing of developing countries would affect the food supply based on grain usage seemed appropriate.

This time, I used data from the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture Production. Worldwide, humans consume about 1.9 billion metric tons of grain each year.

Today, the United States consumes about 287 million metric tons of grain, or about 14.8 percent of the world's total supply.

China consumes slightly more than we do, at about 406 million metric tons of grain, or about 21 percent of the world's supply.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/POLITICS/01/26/discretionary.spending/story.farm.file.gi.jpg width=300 height=169]

India has a lot of starving people, and that shows in its grain use. India consumes only about 196 million metric tons of grain, about 10 percent of the world's total. You can see India's ups and downs written in the numbers. Some years, like 1993, their grain consumption went up 5.6 percent. But other years, like 2001, their grain consumption dropped by 4.3 percent. Neither of these are big fluctuations, but it does show some years Indian citizens ate a little more and other years, they ate a little less.

What if they consume grain at the same rate as we do here?

Today, the U.S. consumes 14.8 percent of the world's grain supply, but has only 4.6 percent of the world's population. In this case, though, the U.S. produces more grain than virtually any other country. The United States produces 364 million metric tons of grain cereal per year.

Only China produces more, at 426 million metric tons. India is in third place, producing 233 million metric tons. Most other countries produce only about 10 percent of the big three's average output.

All that brought me back to the same question I asked about energy. What if China and India consumed grain at the rate we do?

On a per capita basis, every man, woman, and child in the United States consumes almost a metric ton of grain each year.

What if more and more Chinese and Indian citizens enter the middle class, and what if they consume grain at the same rate as we do here in the U.S.?

If everyone in China consumed grain at the same rate we do here, China would consume 1.16 billion metric tons of grain per year, or 60 percent of the world's total output. And if every one of India's 1.2 billion people were able to not only have enough food to be above the starvation level, but consume grain at the same rate we do here, they'd consume an additional 1 billion metric tons of grain, or 52% of the world's total supply.

Once again, the implications are profound.

If citizens in China and citizens in India were to live like citizens in America, China and India alone would consume 112 percent of the world's grain supply - and that doesn't count the food needs of everyone else on the planet.

Grain is a constantly renewable resource.

There is one key difference between grain and energy. Grain is a constantly renewable resource. Energy, generally, is not. One strategy for coping with more people worldwide leaving behind starvation is to improve our farming output and to keep improving it, year after year.

And here's one of the first places where there's genuinely good news. Most countries are only using a bare fraction of their available agricultural land. The United States, for example - one of the world's top producers - is using only 5.5 percent of its available agricultural land.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, only 5.6 percent of the world's arable and permanent cropland and permanent pasture is under irrigation. That gives humanity a lot of room to grow.

Mother Earth actually has the capacity to feed her people, even the billions that live on her now. As more and more people need to be fed, more and more people can be put to work farming, planting, and engineering new food management solutions.

This is one area were humanity's increased consumption can lead to feeding more people and increasing employment. Let's keep that in mind as we explore how to save jobs.

Follow David on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz.

Editor’s note: David Gewirtz is Director of the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute and Editor-in-Chief of the ZATZ magazines. He is a leading Presidential scholar specializing in White House email. He is a member of FBI InfraGard, the Cyberterrorism Advisor for the International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals, a columnist for The Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, and has been a guest commentator for the Nieman Watchdog of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. He is a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley extension, a recipient of the Sigma Xi Research Award in Engineering and was a candidate for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Letters.

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Lilibeth

    A lot of great information in this article. Very interesting. Thanks.

    February 4, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  2. Mary Smith

    Enough arable land is all well and good, but what about enough fuel and water to do the farming?

    February 4, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  3. Bilbo Baggins

    This was already known. America consumes such a large quantity of grain per capita primarily because we eat more meat, which requires far greater amounts of grain. If Americans were to eat less meat and use that grain to feed people in Africa, we could prevent starvation. However, that's not how economics works.

    February 4, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
  4. Denise Barlow

    If this is honestly the best way to give people jobs, I'm all for it. Not only would a man or woman be able to feed their families but will benefit by feeding the world. Nice thought.

    February 4, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
  5. Tim Gibson

    Regarding irrigation of farmland and grain production, if production is increased on more of mother earth, using irrigation, what kind of impact does this make upon our water supply knowing we can survive longer without grain than without water.

    February 4, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  6. zehfilardo

    "On a per capita basis, every man, woman, and child in the United States consumes almost a metric ton of grain each year."

    No wonder that overweight is a problem in America. Eating that much!

    Go tell those starving Africans that there is plenty of food for all on Earth.

    February 4, 2010 at 8:33 am |