People throughout history have been searching for a cure for poverty and how to achieve high levels of development. Blaming poverty and low levels of development on population increase is a makeshift solution, which masks the disease and fails to provide basic cures leave alone mitigation of the pain. Many theories in the 70s spearheaded by T.R Malthus predicted a time bomb as a result of high population growth that was being witnessed particularly in Africa. Population explosion was seen as an enemy of development because the world was producing more mouths than it could feed. Low fertility rate was equated to high quality of life. To stop population explosion, family planning methods such as use of contraceptives were promoted amid opposition from religious groups, the Catholics being on the frontline. But is high fertility rate the cause of low development, hunger and poverty in Africa as purported by some commentators? What would happen if the breadwinner of a family was able to get more than enough bread to feed his big family? Wouldn’t he resort to savings and reinvest so as to continue sustaining his family?
The UNDP recently released its Human Development Report 2005, which has raised alarm particularly in Kenya due to increasing fertility rate, from a low of 4 children to a high of 5 per woman. This is seen to have reversed the gains of low population growth witnessed in the past few decades. But high population should be viewed as the most valuable resource for development, not a barrier because it illustrates man\'s unprecedented win over death in the 20th Century. Without people resources would remain untapped.
There is growing evidence that high population is not an obstacle to development. As Lord Peter Bauer writes, “There is ample evidence that rapid population growth has certainly not inhibited economic progress either in the West or in the contemporary Third World. The population of the Western world has more than quadrupled since the middle of the eighteenth century. Real income per head is estimated to have increased fivefold at least. Much of the increase in income took place when population increased as fast as in most of the contemporary less developed world, or even faster.”
It is imperative to observe that even the most populous countries in the world - China and India enjoy high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) compared to most African countries. China, the post populous country in the world has 1,280,400,000 people. Its land size is 9,596,960 square kilometers and this implies approximately 133 people per square kilometer. India is 3,287,590 square kilometers and has about 1,048,641,024 people implying 319 persons per square kilometer. These two countries have a GDP growth rate of about 8.0 and 4.6% respectively. In contrast, Kenya has about 31,345,000 people and the land size of about 582,650 and this means that about 54 people occupy 1 square kilometer yet her GDP growth rate has been staggering to negative growth and now there is a controversy on whether it is 4.5% as released by the Minister of planning this year. The point here is that while china and India remain congested, Kenya is far from filling the earth, yet it doesn’t beat them in terms of development. Furthermore, some studies indicate that, “population growth has had no impact on India\'s economy, particularly agriculture. Instead much of the agricultural growth in India has been induced by population growth.”
Rather than blaming the burgeoning population, we need to address factors that have curbed growth and development. We must view human beings as resources and shape policies that protect their freedom so that they can realize their potential. People should not be seen as drainers of the limited resources, instead we must understand that more people, in a free environment produce greater wealth, enjoy a healthier environment and have access to abundant resources. Population growth causes prosperity.
Blaming population growth is running away from the problem instead of solving it. What we ought to do is to increase economic productivity. It is biologically, technically, and economically possible to raise food production far above present levels and put hunger in the dustbin of history. Japan for example has recorded rice production since the seventh century, beginning at 0.7 tons per hectare and gradually went up to 2.7 tons per hectare in 1890. Productivity soared at 5.9 tons per hectare in 1980. Surprisingly, rice productivity in much of Asia, including India, is still below Japan\'s level of 1890. This illustration shows that the problem of hunger, poverty and low development are not caused by high population but the problem is really how to make the populations highly productive. High populations can and should be supported to steer nations particularly in Africa into agriculture and the industrial revolutions. Policy makers should centre their arguments on estimates of the economic value of human life so as to make people more productive. Africans give birth!