During the prosperous years following World War II the specter of famine which had haunted so much of human history appeared to be a relic of the past banished forever by the agricultural gains made possible by the introductions of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, hybrid crop varieties, expanded irrigation systems and farm mechanization.
During the period 1950 -1971 the world’s farmers were successful in producing increased quantities of food more rapidly than the world’s parents were producing babies and the global harvest practically doubled. Even though the population explosion was well underway the availability of food still increased which resulted in impressive nutritional gains in many Third World countries. But this favorable over all trend was somewhat deceptive because the global food production averages were largely reflective of the massive increase on North American crop yields during that period and masked the gloomier statistics which showed that in many of the poorer nations increase in food production had halted by the late 1950’s due to high rates of population growth. In fact in some parts of Africa food production per person actually declined between 1955 and 1970. Among the less developed nations, only China and a few other East Asian countries experienced significant per capita increases in food supply, even though absolute food production increased roughly 30-35% in all these areas during the years between1950-1971.
During the early 1970’s a combination of factors brought a halt to the steady increase in food supply that the world’s people had come to take for granted. In several of the world’s major grain growing areas several floods sharply reduced the harvests. But the population still continued to grow which meant more mouths to feed. Food prices went up as the world price of grain doubled within a period of months. The prospect of massive famine in many parts of the world looked like a distinct possibility.
The late 1970’s witnessed a succession of unusually good harvests resulting in a stabilization of the food supply picture. But again global averages are misleading in reference to food production trends in specific areas.
Many national leaders tend to blame adverse weather conditions for food shortfalls but the true causes are more complex. You have to take into consideration the loss of good cropland to erosion and non-farm uses, inefficient agrarian structures, lack of investment in agriculture by city orientated government officials, rising energy costs and too many people.