• Some clerics are pointing to the unravelling situation and saying, 'We told you so'
The current trend of price increases, commodity shortages, wars, famine and disease have created such an atmosphere of crisis that the future of humanity looks rather bleak.
Add to that declining incomes, unresolved unemployment, an increase in criminality and the breakdown of traditional social structures, and the picture of doom starts to gain credibility. Some clerics are pointing to the unravelling situation and saying, “We told you so” as they urge their faithful to prepare for the end of the world.
Is the world coming to an end? A book written exactly 50 years ago predicts that the world as we know it will become economically unviable as soon as 2030.
Titled ‘Limits to Growth,’ the book was published in 1972 by scientists who used computer models to analyse the world’s consumption of natural resources. The authors concluded that without major changes in consumption, the most probable result will be, “a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity."
The computer modelling used in the original 1972 report has been retested extensively, most recently in 2020, and the conclusions remain valid. Gaya Herrington, Director of Sustainability Services at KPMG, led the latest verification and confirmed that the world can expect a halt in economic growth within 20 years. "The strongest conclusion that can be drawn from my research is that humanity is on a path to having limits to growth imposed on itself rather than consciously choosing its own," she says.
Back in 1972, the authors predicted that uncontrolled consumption would raise the prices of food, fuels and metals as the natural sources diminished. A global economic collapse would result in chaos which would mark the end of civilisation as we know it.
BUILDING SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
The book is not all about gloom; it proposes an alternative way of doing things to avert catastrophe. The authors suggested establishing conditions of sustainable ecological and economic stability. A state of global equilibrium could be designed so that the basic needs of each person on earth are satisfied and each person has an equal opportunity to realise his or her human potential.
‘Limits to Growth’ is not the work of conspiracy theorists. The book was published by the Club of Rome, a network of notable scientists, economists, entrepreneurs, civil servants and former heads of state from around the world. The warnings of global catastrophe are therefore supported by credible personalities.
Many analysts would point to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the trigger for the current global economic difficulties, but the war only worsened an already bad situation. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) indicates that world food prices have been on a steady increase since 2019, well before the Ukraine war and before the disruptions of Covid-19.
OUTLOOK FOR KENYA
With regards to Kenya, FAO notes that rapid population increase has resulted in smaller land parcels in areas with high agricultural potential. Farmers are moving into dryer, marginal areas, where they become increasingly vulnerable to unpredictable weather patterns resulting from climate change. The population increase, coupled with the expansion of agriculture into arid lands, has affected the dynamics of pastoralism. Increased competition for natural resources has sparked escalated conflict in some places.
Kenya is currently threatened by famine made worse by poor rains in more than half the country. The coast, north eastern and northern Kenya are especially hard-hit by drought. The National Drought Management Authority estimates that 3.5 million people require food assistance, a situation likely to prevail beyond June 2022.
CHAOS IN THE WORLD
Before the war, Russia and Ukraine produced 30 per cent of the world’s wheat supply. Ukrainian wheat fields have become battlegrounds while Russian wheat exports are hindered by economic sanctions. Kenya is among 35 African countries that imported wheat and other grains from Russia and Ukraine. The cut in wheat supply is worsening the trend of rising food prices.
Russia and Ukraine are also major producers of fertilisers, with 22 African countries importing their fertiliser from there before the war. China, Turkey, the United States and many other countries that produce fertiliser have cut back on exporting the commodity. The western half of the United States is in the grips of a drought. The lack of alternative sources of grains and fertilisers has created shortages. Famine is a real possibility.
China's agriculture minister announced in March that this year's wheat crop could be the worst in history. As with the case in Kenya, farmers in China have difficulties getting seeds and fertilisers. According to the Financial Times, China’s “Zero Covid” policy is slowing down industrial and agricultural production, with local officials under severe pressure to prevent new infections in their areas of responsibility. Consequently, China is importing much more, which contributes to a global increase in food prices.
US fertiliser production has been hampered by a shortage of trains. Union Pacific, one of the country’s largest rail operators, warned in January that Covid-19 cases among its staff and paid time off for people getting vaccinated would hurt its ability to move freight in the current quarter. Movements of grains to export markets are also affected.
Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund concurs that rising food and fuel prices will hit vulnerable populations in poor countries hardest. Economies will decline to about 3.3 per cent beyond next year.
The latest information from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) confirms that the cost of living really is going up. Inflation rose to 6.47 per cent in April because of increases in prices of food, beverages, transport, housing, water, electricity and fuel. This month, KNBS announced that Kenya's economy grew by 7.5 per cent in 2021, but many Kenyans say they don’t feel the growth. The most common complaint is that incomes don’t match the rising cost of living.
WAS HE RIGHT?
In 1798, English economist Thomas Malthus predicted that a growing population produces a continuous supply of jobseekers and inevitably lowers wages. In essence, Malthus feared that population growth lends itself to poverty. In his book, An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus warned about food shortages, famine and an increase in general poverty among the population.
Here’s a prediction that sounds familiar to Kenyans: "With the number of workers being above the proportion of available work in the market, wages will decline while the prices of goods would tend to rise. The worker, therefore, must toil harder to earn the same as he did before."
Looking at history, one can conclude that the world will survive the ongoing state of affairs. Humanity has survived much worse, but there's no doubt dark storms are coming. Not even the experts can predict how the situation will unfold. Things could get worse if the war in Europe expands beyond Ukraine, or if a new pandemic emerges after Covid-19. Food shortages caused by climate change, bad economic policies and lack of fertilisers all conspire to make life difficult for everybody.
What, then, can individuals do to cope? It all comes down to cutting down expenses as described in a recent article here. Make a budget and save purposefully instead of saving what’s left after spending your income.
Look for ways of reducing your spending on rent, food, motor vehicles, electricity, school fees and other household expenses. If you have a bit of land, start growing some of the food you consume to save money. It’s all about building resilience for an uncertain future.