|Population and Agriculture (FAO)|
The land, our most precious resource
A group participation activity to demonstrate the importance of agricultural land and how population chances can affect production
Note: It is important that the discussion brings out that one way to increase production is by increasing the amount of land farmed. but that in many cases all of the good land is already being used. This can lead to the use of marginal lands or the fragmentation of land resources
· The group leader starts off by holding up a small hag and saying that it contains the most valuable thing in the country. The leader then invites the group members to guess what is inside the bag.
· The participants try to guess and when they are successful or when they give up, the leader opens the hag to reveal its contents - some soil.
· The group members discuss why land is so important, coming to the conclusion that it is needed for agricultural production.
· The leader then asks the question, "And if the size of the population changes, what happens to the need and availability of land for agricultural production?"
· The group discusses how the need for agricultural products changes with a changing population
· The leader then suggests that the group consider what can happen to land and other resources of production when populations increase rapidly.
· To complete the activity, the group makes a list of possible ways to increase production without increasing the amount of land used.
The leader and the group
Note: It is very important that the group members participate in the development of the list of ways to improve production without increasing the amount of land used. However, if essential concepts are left out, the leader should suggest that they be added to the list.
FOR WHAT? / WHY?
So that group members will be able to:
· Understand the importance of land as the basic resource in agricultural production.
· Recognize that rapid population growth can make it difficult to meet demand for food and agricultural products.
· Consider means of increasing production.
· A paper sack containing some soil.
· The background information for group leaders on the following pages.
· Group participation.
Some background information for the group leader
What happens to the need for agricultural products as the population increases?
As population increases, the need for agricultural products also increases. This is true both for food production and also for non-food products such as cotton, tobacco, umber and other forestry products.
The small-scale farmer with a large family has to work harder to produce enough food than a farmer does who has a smaller family. If he is in an area where good land for agriculture is available, a farmer with a large family may be able to cultivate more land to increase his total output. But in many areas, most of the good farmland is already being used, so the farmer's land may not be enough to provide for his family's needs. This can lead to the use of "marginal land" - that is, land that is suited for pasture or forest area, but not to agricultural production. Yield from marginal land is usually low and the soil tends to be fragile and easily eroded. Cutting down the forests and farming marginal soils can produce some food in the short term term but leads to rapid soil erosion and is not sustainable in the long term.
The problem becomes even greater when the farmer's children are old enough to need land of their own to farm. As the number of people increases, the amount of land available for each person becomes less and less. In some places, the land area available may be so little that a farmer cannot even grow enough to feed his family.
How can the farmer increase yield without increasing the amount of land he uses?
To do this, the farmer needs improved farming methods, for example, the use of high-yielding varieties, fertilizer, mechanized implements, irrigation, etc. If the small-scale farmer and his wife have a small number of children, he may be able to increase production enough to feed the family and, at the same time, produce and sell enough surplus to pay for the improved inputs and for other things his family needs (but which he does not produce).
How can a large family size negatively affect the farmer's ability to increase agricultural production?
If the farmer has a large number of children, and especially if they all come in a short period of time, it becomes very difficult for him to produce any surplus at all. This is partly due to the number of people the farmer has to feed and partly because these children are all too young to help with work on the farm. Even when they are old enough to help, there is not really a need for so many people to work the small family plot. The larger the number of dependent people in the family, that is those who eat but do not help produce, the more difficult it is for the farmer to provide for his family.
With no way to either produce or earn enough to feed his family, young farmers are often pushed into moving or migrating to the cities or towns in search of work. Unfortunately, they are often unprepared for the kind of jobs available in the already crowded cities. When this happens, they can find themselves even worse off than they were before - unemployed and with no way to produce any food at all.
What effect does this have on cash crop producers?This has a negative effect even on those farmers who are able to produce surplus crops, and also on those farmers who produce non-food crops such as cotton, tobacco or forestry products. As the number of people living in the towns increases, the farmers often need to produce more food and other agricultural products. In addition to their own needs, these farmers produce cash crops, that is, crops which they intend to sell for money in order to then buy food and other things for themselves and their families.But if people are too poor because they have no work or not enough land of their own and so cannot buy food or other agricultural products even though they need them, then even cash crop farmers will have difficulty in selling their crops.Therefore, rapid population growth should be a concern for everyone, even those who have small families and enough land to provide for them.