Malthus and Population Growth by M S Swaminathan

Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus propounded the view in 1803 that “population when unchecked goes on doubling itself every 25 years. i.e. it increases at a geometric rate, in contrast, food production cannot possibly be made to increase faster than an arithmetic ratio” This will naturally lead to an imbalance between the size of population and the quantity of food produced. He therefore considered various checks to population growth such as diseases, war and famine. The theory of natural selection propounded by. Darwin later owed its inspiration to Malthus. However, Mandel and Leibig helped to keep Malthusian predictions in abeyance by laying the foundations for genetic improvement and maintenance of soil fertility.

Today, India is the fastest growing country in the world in terms of absolute numbers of people added to the population each year. Our population is projected to become even larger than that of China by the middle of the next century. In Asia as a whole, the population is likely to grow from the present 3 billion to over 4.5 billion in the next 35 years. The area of land devoted to crops has expanded one and half times since the mid 18th century. Eighty percent of the new crop land was formerly under forests and woodlands under forests and woodlands. For example in Rajasthan the area under cultivation rose from 30 percent of total land in 1950 to over 80 percent in the 1970s, with several unfavourable ecological and social consequence.

The development and introduction of “green revolution” or “land-saving” agricultural technologies in the mid sixties helped to raise the growth rate in food production above the rate of growth in population. Today, the food security challenge is no longer just one of physical access to food but it is becoming one of economic access of food. Right today inadequate purchasing power is the manor cause of malnutrition. Because of growing loss in the biological potential of the soil and increasing biological impoverishment of the country due to deforestation and loss of biological diversity. I have often said that in the 21st century ecological access to food may become the most important food security challenge. Purchasing power in related to employment opportunities and how are we going to provide to educated youth in village opportunities for skilled employment? What we lack is not job opportunities for all but employment skills for all. Urban areas continue to expand in an unplanned way because of lack of job opportunities in village, with its won political and social consequence. Production of food, fodder, fuel and drinking water will have to be more than doubled during the next 25 years. All this will have to be done with less land, because land is a shrinking resource for agriculture. I have seen Ahmedabad city extending to rural areas during the last 30 years. In Delhi state villages have been disappearing at a fast rate. The wheat fields where I had laid national demonstrations of wheat in the 60s have been diverted for the construction of houses and factories. Land is thus a shrinking resource for agriculture and in the future have to produce more and more food, fuel, fodder and other farm products from less and less land.

How are we going to meet the basic minimum requirements of our growing population? Obviously imports are not the answer. We may resort to imports in a drought year, but it cannot be done on regular basis in addition to purely economic and political reasons the import of food grains and other agriculture commodities in a predominantly agricultural country like ours will only mean importing unemployment and aggravating rural under-employment. We cannot be complacent just because we have been able to keep food production slightly above the population growth rate. Developed countries are also having their own problems largely arising form their high cost agricultural economy and the need to subsidize farmers heavily. Whether in North America, Oceania or Western Europe, farmers are highly subsidized. The Europe Economic community gave away over 30 billion U.S. dollars in subsidies during 1987 to a small number of farmers. The same is true in the case of the United States. Japan also subsidies its farmers heavily. They can afford to do so because less than 5% of their population is engaged in agriculture. Ninety five per cent of people can subsidise five percent. But we can’t have the reverse, where 70-80 are engaged in farming. Therefore, out whole technological approach has to be somewhat different, in terms of how we can produce more.

Now I come to the Gandhian pathway and I would like to take six of his principles to illustrate my points. Gandhiji was far ahead of his time in his vision and the wisdom of his philosophy is being rediscovered everyday by both economists and ecologists. Let me state the major principles first.


1)      The principle Ethos of a Society Gandhiji explained that Antyodaya is the means to Sarvodya. How can we achieve Sarvodya if many still go to bed hungry? Now in our country Central and State Governments have introduced anthodaya programmes from time to time. Unfortunately, Antyodaya became one more programme and failed to have the anticipated impact. What we need is the determination to eradicate absolute poverty and not just one programme in pigeon-hole called the antyodaya programme. While well-planned intervention programmes are necessary, how do we reorient the value system? Do we feel really bad when we see hungry children and those who have no homes? It is important to think in terms of reorienting our value system so that none of us remain content so long as our fellow countrymen do not possess the essential basic need. Thus we need both specific intervention programme for the poor and the same time an attitudinal change on the part of every one.

2)      Production by Masses. The second important principle is popularizing the principles of production by the masses. Gandhiji said he had nothing against mass production but how are we to keep everyone employed. What are the new technological opportunities, which have made the concept of production by masses meaningful? Can we convert this beautiful and meaningful concept into reality?

3)      Economic & Social Emancipation of Women. It is clear that new agricultural technologies have by and large by-passed rural women. In Africa there is gender distinction in terms of crops chosen for cultivation. The African women produce food crops like tapioca and millet, while men produce commercial crops like groundnut or cotton. In our country the poorer the household the more important it is to for women to have an independent access to income. In the 1980-81 census, a positive correlation was found between female literacy and success of family planning programmes. Therefore the economic emancipation of women assumes importance for enhancing household income and for spreading the small family norm.  For achieving this goal, education and imparting new skills to women are basic.

4)      Organic Recycling and preparation of Value Added products: The fourth issue is the whole question of recycling of wastes and preparation of value-added products. The “Chakra” is he symbol of the economic self-reliance of a village. Gandhiji deplored the drain of brains and resources form the village to the town. This is why he advocated that intellect and labour be coupled in rural India. In an article in “Harijan”, he mentioned that rural India will continue to stagnate economically unless we can end the divorce between intellect and labour. In fact, this was also the philosophy of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, How can we prevent the drain of brains and money from the village to the towns or the cities? Our population is ‘predominantly young, 50% of our population being below the age of 20. We can hope to retain educated youth in villages only if rural professions become intellectually stimulating in addition to being economically rewarding. We can achieve this goal only integrating brain (technology) brawn (labour) and bank (resources)

5)      Basic Education: Gandhiji’s concept on education is even more relevant today than when he propounded it. The Chinese have an old saying which says “ If you are thinking one year ahead plant rice if you are thinking 100 years ahead educate people”. The value of education is very critical because education leads to awareness and awareness can lead to analysis and then to action. Education is basic to the growth of a new ethos, which promotes social harmony and new work ethics.

6)       Non-Violence: Finally, Gandhiji’s concept of non-violence against nature and against each other is gaining in relevance day by day. Gandhiji said over 50 years ago-“ How can we be non-violent to nature unless the principle of non-violence become central to the ethos of human culture?” This statement is particularly relevant since increasingly, ecologists are calling for non-aggression pact with nature. Nature’s patience is not inexhaustible. For the first time in 65 million years we are altering our life support systems in a deletrious manner at a more rapid rate than even before. Some of the damage will be irreversible. This is what resulted in the setting up of the Brundtland commission or the World Commission on Environment and Development, which submitted its report in 1987 under the title of “Our common Future” Ecologically and economically the globe is getting inter-twined. Over one trillion US Dollars are now being spent worldwide in purchasing weapons of destruction. And unfortunately many of armed conflicts are in the third World. The manufactures of military hardware and software are happy that several developing countries are fighting each other so that the armaments trade flourishes. Today human life has become so dispensable. The growing violence in the human heart in the most important threat to ecological security.

When I was in the Philippines I found 45% of the Philippines budget was spent was spent on debt servicing. The debt burden of developing countries is increasing. This leads to the slogan ”export of perish”. Incentives are given to promote ecologically unsound trade. A country as rich as Mexico, an oil exploring country, has a foreign debt exceeding 90 billion U.S.Dollars. Gandhiji’s concept of self-reliance and the adoption of the “import less and live” rather than an ”export or perish” approach is the only sustainable answer to expanding indebtedness.


I would like to enumerate six major developments in science and technology which have made the above six element of economic transformation and social upliftment not only feasible but also most desirable form the point of view of ecologically and economically sustainable development.



The first is the broad area of biotechnology. Genetic engineering constitutes the hard core of biotechnology, which however includes the whole area of microbiological enrichment of biomass, bio-processing as well as biochemical technology as related to be preparation of value added products from every part of the plant or animal Rural women can undertake, many of the biotechnological task since several of these activities can be organized in a decentralized manner. They can also be carried out in a manner that permits flexibility in time, place and duration of work. Such flexibility will be of great help to women.

A second major advance is in the area of information technology. Telecommunications and the mass media can now provide a variety of meaningful services designed to helping improving both production and marketing and also to spread functional and technical literacy. We need to bring a beneficial interaction between the new information technologies and biotechnology. This calls for an information policy for technology development and dissemination.

A third area relates to space technology. Space applications include weather forecasts and remote sensing supported by ground truth data. Villagers can be trained ground truth data. Villagers can be trained in ground truth observations and local level conservation monitoring and land use planning are now becoming possible. Micro-electronics help to promote production by masses.

Management technology is the most critical element in the whole institutional system, since it enables us to reap full benefit from the available resources. Management technology designed to promote decentralized production supported by key centralized services, can help rural families to optimize output from the rural resources one of the great challenges in our country in rural development is the linking of the primary secondary and tertiary sectors. Our planning for the services sector is inadequate. The economic growth pattern in the western world is such that the considerable proportion of the population has shifted from the primary sector to the tertiary through the secondary sector. Efficient services in areas such as marketing and quality control will help to enhance rural incomes.

Gandhiji’s saying “keeping your doors and windows open and get ideas from everywhere but do not get blown off by any one of them”. Today the opportunities are great in technology blending whether it is biotechnology. Information technology, space technology or the management technologies. The first task is the identification of components of modern and traditional technologies, which together can create a symbiotic and synergistic effect i.e. a multiplier effect in terms of efficiency. In the process of technology blending the strengths of traditional technologies in terms of employment intensity and ecological soundness should be retained.



By the year 2000 our population may reach the figure of 1 billion and 1.5 billion by 20.50. The Chinese had projected a population of about 1.10 billion by 2000 but now they feel that a figure of 1.25 billion may be realistic. Similar population pressures are building up in most developing countries. The biosphere services which kept the whole life in balance are now in jeopardy as a result of growth both in the Human and animal population.

In Himalayas many animals are maintained not because they are of importance either for milk or for work, but mainly for manurial purposes. The services, which the bio-sphere gives us, like biological diversity, biological productivity, climate and radiation regulation and decomposition and waste recycling. All these services are gradually getting disrupted due to increased fossil fuel energy consumption, deforestation and spread of unsustainable life styles.



I have been using the world nutrition security instead of food security because of food security because of food security according to FAO definition is “economic and physical access to food to all people at all times”. I prefer the word “nutrition security” which I have defined as “economic physical access to balanced diets and safe drinking water to all people at all times”. The high infant mortality rate in our country comes from drinking water problems. Now what are the points of action to achieve sustainable nutrition security? Economic access implies an employment strategy. First we need some kind of local level code in each village or each block, developed by the people themselves for managing their local resources, the land, the water, the plants, the animals and their immediate atmosphere. Such local level action can help to start a movement for the sustainable and equitable use of environmental systems. The local schools and colleges can be kept to prepare environmental balance sheets.

The Steering Group on Environment for the VIII Plan has set up a Task Force for developing a methodology for helping each village school to help the children prepare a Charter for Nature for their village. If we want to integrate sustainability the concept of productivity needs new definitions. Sustainability is stability of productivity over time. The time should be infinity. In other words, we don’t permit any depreciation at all. In ecological economics the time dimension is infinity. But productivity then should be measured in economic and ecological terms. Output value and input value plus change in environmental capital stocks like land and water will have to be used for measuring productivity.

Many of our problems of degradation have come, because of the confrontation between foresters and forest dwellers or the tribals. Ultimately conservation is for the benefit of all citizens unless the people are interested in the conversation of their own environment can the biosphere reserves or national parks or projected areas retain some of our forests in pristine purity? In the Himalayas people still cultivate on the steep slopes. The symbiotic relationship between conservation and livelihood security should be highlighted. The Conservation measures will be successful only if people’s participation increases.


Gandhiji’s anthodaya leading to sarvodya is the path to permanent happiness. The concept has to underpin all our thinking and requires at least several changes in terms of our concepts of assets whether it is land, water livestocks, fish-ponds, forests, trees etc. For this we need to enlarge the concept of land reform into one of asset reform. How to make rural professions economically viable is one of the great challenges for Management experts? The very first exercise has to be done in terms of what are the opportunities for economically viable self-employment. A socially relevant service sector needs development. A small country like the Netherlands exports over 20,000 crores worth of agricultural products during 1987. They export only highly value added products and not any primary products. For example, in a typical Dutch co-operative society of mushroom producers, the mushrooms are produced in the home. The members come, take sterilized compost seeds with spawn and they grow the mushrooms in their own house. The processing and packaging and marketing is done by the society. Production by masses combined with some key services could be organized by the village people themselves. A dynamic services sector will open opportunities for purposeful self-employment for educated youth.


The Agricultural systems have to be tailored to increasing the income of farm families. Whether it is home trade or international trade, considerable attention needs to be given and at the same time, we have to think of consumption by the rural and urban poor. We are keen to have adequate remunerative job opportunities for rural areas and the urban consumption capacity has to go up if agriculture has to be viable. In population rich but land hungry country like China, and ours we have to produce more and more food and other agricultural commodities from less and less land. Today, modern genetic estate. For example 30 years ago we needed 0.4 gallons of oil energy to produce one tonne of grain. We now need over 1.14 gallons for producing the same quantity of grain, which is a global figure. This is true in Punjab where the energy input needed to produce the same quantity of grain is going up. This is where the market purchase inputs and farm growth inputs have to be coupled. Farm grown inputs become very important for achieving a reduction in the cost without reducing yield of production.

A schernone nilotica and A afraspera are N2 fixing legumes which fix N2 not only in the roots but also in the steam. They can add about 60-70 kg. of N2 sufficient to yield about 3 tonnesof rice within about 50 days.  Sesbania rostrita discovered by French Scientists in Senagal, another plant which fixes N2 both in the steam and in roots. The nitrogen-fixing organism in the steam is an azorhizobium. It can also live in a free living condition and assimilate its own fixed N2 in contrast to the root nodules which belong to the germs Ehizobium. Thus we have now new possibilities in terms of soil fertility replenishment.

The indiscriminate use of pesticide/ some times in the name of prophylactic measures, causes immense problems in the area of pest control. Frequent application on a wide spectrum of toxic pesticides on cotton is leading to white fly epidemics in Andhra Pradesh. Two years ago the President of Indoneasia issued a decree making integrated pest management compulsory, He further banned 55 board spectrum pesticides which problems of pest roetesurgence. Horticulture products are the health foods of the future. Salad vegetables and fruits will occupy increasing importance in the human diet. We are fortunate in terms of our ability to produce a wide variety of horticultural products-tropical, subtropical and temperate. But these are perishable commodities and that is why the National Horticulture Development Board should function like the National Dairy Development Board and provide appropriate services to the rural people. It should be a service organization in terms of storage processing and marketing.

Due to mismatch between production and post-harvest technologies considerable losses occur after harvest. Simple devices for frying are very critical. Exports can be developed and only if we lay stress on quality of produce, sustained consistency of supply and competitiveness of price. Modern science and technology offer us a wide variety of options. Access to appropriate technology should be regarded as a basic human need. The technology choice is done with the ultimate goal of obtaining economic viability and ecological sustainability. In some cases the choice may purely be traditional or modern. In some other cases the blending of traditional and frontier technologies become important.


We need not wait until everybody becomes literate before we transfer technical skills. The mass media can play a significant role in the transfer of technical skills to people. We owe our genetic estate to our rural women who have made remarkable contribution to conservation. For example, the collection and preservation of wild rice before the seeds get dispersed is done by tribal women in Orissa. Tribal women in Gujarat produce good quality seeds of hybrid cotton. A small farm is ideal for intensive agriculture. It has a great potential for intensive agriculture. But a small farmer has many problems, arising form the cost, risk and return structure of farming. By solving the problems of small farmer we can realize the potential of a small farm for higher production. That is where the management efficiency whether in terms of soil and water management, Energy management crop Management and ‘post harvest management become important. Our area of management which has not received adequate attention is the promotion of individual initiative, group effort and government action in mutually supportive manner. I am not just taking about cooperative societies. Some areas, like integrated pest management, we just need group action. The watershed management needs the cooperation of watershed community. Cooperation in water saving will be forthcoming only if there is equity in water sharing.

Ultimately we need more resources such as financial, technical and commodity resources. They have to be used in harmony among development programmes. Promotion of self-reliance and along term commitment for ecological rehabilitation are necessary. Each block of the land could be divided into three categories. Those which are to be conserved, those which have to be restored and those which can be subjected to sustainable intensification and we have to develop a methodology by which we can promote appropriate land use.

The political accountability today is fortunately growing. Political commitment to sustainable development as reflected by Brundtland report is growing largely as a global phenomenon. Global change, such as the increase of green house gases, in the atmosphere leading to global heat trap damage to the ozone layer, increase U.V, radiations, damage to soil, lakes, tress and finally loss of biological diversity are all maters of concern. We may experience a nuclear winter without a nuclear war.

The last one is the one, which I hope will be tribute to Vikram Sarabhai. Mahatma Gandhi said it already, “We cannot have an ecological movement designed to promote non-violence against nature unless the concept of non violence becomes central to the ethos of human culture”. We have a new opportunity in our country. We are predominantly an agricultural society, which is moving an industrial society. Over 76% of the people still depend (page15) upon agriculture i.e. land, water based occupations, crop husbandry, animal husbandry, fishery and forestry for livelihood security. The industrial societies are now evolving into information societies, where knowledge is power intellectual property becomes the most important property. We have a great opportunity today using the Gandhian principles of synthesis to combine the best in agricultural technology, the best in industrial technology and the best in information technology to promote a conservation society. Conservation society is one where our wants are not continuously proliferate where we learn live in harmony with nature and with each other and where all wastes are avoided

To sum up, innovation helps us to generate multiplier effects among the resources available to us. The innovative spirit in us should be capitalized for finding solutions to the economic, employment, energy, equity and ecological aspect of rural prosperity. The economic issues relate to the cost, risk and return structure of rural professions, both on-farm and off-farm. The employment strategy requires an integrated view of the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors of economic growth. It should lead to labour diversification and not just labour displacement. In particular the development of a dynamic and socially relevant services sector needs urgent attention. Most of the ecologically sound and cost efficient technologies in agriculture need the support of effective services. This is particularly necessary under conditions of very smallholdings of land and/ or livestock. At the same time, the services sector can help to provide skilled and purposeful employment to youth belonging to families without assets. Energy issues relate to promotion of an integrated energy supply strategy based on available forms of renewable and non-renewable energy. Considerations of equity demand specific attention to the generation skilled jobs for women. The poorer the household the greater is the need for women to have independent  to income. Inter-generational equity demands that today’s progress should not be at the expense of tomorrow’s prospects. Ecological imperatives necessitate the development of simple tools of the measurement of sustainability in agricultural and industrial productivity. For example, of spreading interest in wasteland development, we need a Paisavari system of expressing the biological potential of land.

Neither innovation nor organization will make our village’s better places to live, if rural managers do not also become servants of the poor. Gandhiji underlined this point when he stressed that the pathway to Sarvodaya is Anthyodaya. What use is our education if millions of our fellow citizens continue to live under sub-human living conditions? Swami Vivekananda has posed this question in many of his lectures. Albert Einstein once said, “Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endevours in order to that the creation of our minds shall be a blessing and not a curse”. The most serious malady of our society is the insensitivity and indifference to degrading poverty. We, who have had the privilege of education and of opportunities for satisfying work, have by habit become silent spectators of the vicious cycle of illiteracy, poverty and environment al degradation on the one hand, and of greed, corruption and conspicuous consumption and display of wealth, on the other. The quantitative and qualitative dimensions of our poverty problems are no doubt vast, with high rate of growth rate in population consuming the benefits of development at a rate, which make the poverty problem remain in a status quo situation. This situation can be changed only through education, innovation and organization. At the same time, the educated and well to do should consider themselves as trustees of their know how and wealth and use them for the benefit of the economically, socially and ecologically handicapped section of our population.