As the world counts down to the landmark of seven billion people on the planet (a scary number predicted to happen - perhaps a little too conveniently? - on the scary day of Halloween, 31 October) we are seeing an increasing number of stories and statistics on whether the Earth's resources can cope with a population predicted to carry on increasing for the foreseeable future. The population increase has been a feature in agricultural conferences over the last weeks, and in press releases for CropWorld Global 2011, a conference set to open in London on 31 October, the day already mentioned as when our population may be officially declared to be seven billion.
Among the statistics presented by Dominic Dyer, UK Crop Protection Association chief executive, in a speech on 21 Ocotober to AgChem Asia Summit in Shanghai, China, was a figure that the amount of farmland available to feed each person on the planet has fallen from 0.5 hectares in 1950 to 0.2 hectares today. Clearly, in order to sustain a growing population on a finite amount of land (and land subject in many regions to problems of desertification, erosion and salinization) we need to maximise efficiency and reduce losses: in the strapline of CABI's Plantwise initiative, 'lose less and grow more'.