Something over 82 million more people are alive this Christmas than have ever been alive before, as our world population moves inexorably towards the eight billion mark, due in now just over three years.
It’s growth that used to cause people to talk a lot about something they called the ‘population explosion’ – a term used in everyday dialogue 30, 40, and 50 years ago, when it was presented as a very serious problem indeed. But, maybe, we just all got used to it after that.
For sure, when my eldest son this weekend opened a website called worldometers and showed me the globe’s population count, it brought me up short. It carried a chart that I have left space for this week, because I think that one chart is more powerful than any number of words I can write. It runs from the year 1 AD to today. “Does that look right to you,” he asked? (see graphic).
Truly, in a single shot that line shows the pressure we are now putting our planet under.
It sits below counters showing how many people have been born today, already more than 123,000 in the early hours of Christmas Eve, as 52,000 have died in the same early morning of 24th December 2019, and our world population has grown by 71,000 this one-third of a day.
The good news is that the rate of growth has slowed. The world’s population has doubled since 1970, but it will take nearly 200 years to double again from the new larger base.
But even at its now slower growth it’s on a straight line upwards to 10 billion and onwards.
And how shall we all live as our population just keeps ballooning like that? For, if anything has characterised 2019 as a global awakening, it is surely Greta Thunberg’s dark warnings of our planet’s extinction if we do not take more care of our planet. Yet sat behind all the talk of climate change and emissions, of pollution and consumer wastefulness, is that straight line upwards in population growth.
And a large proportion of that growth is happening in Africa, and in Kenya, where we are already plagued by issues of food security, and water shortages, and healthcare gaps.
Yet a friend of mine, a hyperactive nominated senator of great idealism and energy, also told me this weekend that 2020 must, per se, be the year of reform. And now I hope we shall see more than electoral reform this year ahead.
I hope that maybe we could take strides towards water harvesting and agricultural production, stop messing around throwing away much of our crop protection, and start building up our high yield seed production, in earnest.
For as I rolled around the prospect of another decade and another on that vertical elevator, the only thing that will spare us the horror of millions dying of starvation in scenes that would out-strip anything we have ever seen in their horror and scale, is if we learn how to produce more food and to tend our water.
Which brought me back to a reflection on my own purpose in life. As it happens, that’s agriculture, and not just any agriculture, but smallholder agriculture, in Kenya and Africa, and how to raise its productivity, with more training, more information, and more attention.
It’s a focus that has always made me impatient of politics and party claims, because everybody needs food and water, no matter where they have come from, or what they believe.
So, as I stared at that chart, it renewed my determination to do even more in the year ahead to empower our farmers to produce our food. Let the 2020s be a decade where we have better lives, please, and not worse ones. Let’s equip our farmers, all of us, to do much more.