image caption: Gurmukh Singh OBE

World Population and Global Food Shortage

The Sangat-Pangat institution is a constant reminder to the Sikhs of the need for collective approach to life focussed on God-remembrance, serving the Creater by serving creation and sharing (life sustaining) food. Sangat-Pangat also implies human equality and interdependence. It is a for collective approach to human challenges from local to universal levels.

Human beings can only survive the global challenges of today by fully understanding and accepting the nature of global interdependence. There is too much stress on independence without responsibility and too little on effective interdependence which promotes responsibility towards fellow human beings from family to global levels. In the ever-shrinking and over-populated global village, the desire to be independent without accepting responsibility for the wellbeing of the human race is a short-sighted illusion.

As we are seeing in the Ukraine war, local disputes have the explosive potential to flare up into a nuclear world war. Nuclear radiation does not observe any borders. The same goes for climate change, pollution, spread of pandemics like Covid-19, mass migrations from war zones and starving countries. No rich country can effectively close its borders to the poorer countries.

The Ukraine war has resulted in not just the global energy crisis but also general food shortage. As we see on our TV screens, the impact of food shortages on children, mothers and the elderly are immediate. The problem is most serious in the sub-Saharan African countries. In 2019, about one-quarter of global wheat exports, one fifth of maize and barley, two thirds of traded sunflower oil (Ukraine alone account for nearly half the global export), were from Ukraine and Russia. The knock-on effect is that there are general price rises of not just farm but all products because everything manufactured or grown depends on energy. Increase in oil price led to increase in the price of fertilizers, transportation of food and also industrial agriculture.

The changing environment, natural disasters including floods and draughts, crop failures, overpopulation and short-sighted agricultural policies by rich nations, otherwise capable of producing and exporting huge quantities of food, are some of the obvious causes of global food shortage.

Environmental factors have greatly contributed to food shortage. The change in climate is mainly caused by growing world population and human activities. Experts remind us that destruction of forests for human settlement, particularly tropical rain forest has led to climatic changes, such as prolonged droughts and desertification. Population increase means more pollution as people use more fuel in cars, industry, and domestic cooking. The resultant effect is increased air and water pollution which affect the climate and food production. (Much more can be added using the example of the misguided Panjab agricultural policy over the last 6 decades.)

The earth has a limited capacity to sustain human life. Health science has improved the mortality rate of humans. Despite birth control policies, families still keep on increasing. World population is projected to reach from the present about 7.5 billion to 10.5 billion by 2050. Environmental factors, land and food scarcity will increasingly become the limiting factors to human growth.

International trade has massively increased global interdependence. Similar understanding is required to solve major environmental, economic and social challenges facing the world today.

Rich countries should adopt the Sikhi institution of Langar and accept that in the 21st century every human being has the right to daily food regardless of affordability.

Gurmukh Singh OBE

Principal Civil Servant Retd