Joint webinar in association with
the Population Association of America (PAA)


Population, Food
and the Environment


Friday 09 April 2021
14:00 - 15:30 UTC 
10:00 New York | 16:00 Paris | 19:30 New Delhi


Presentation slides are available below.

The linkages between population growth and food production have fueled the debate among generations of population scientists since the early days of Thomas Malthus. In this population debate, pessimists stress the negative impacts of population growth such as food shortages and starvation, depletion of resources and poverty. Optimists point to the positive effects of population growth on technology advancement and economic development. 

While the population debate ran high in the 1960s and 1970s, it has not lost any of its urgency today. Among the many challenges that our world is facing such as climate change, poverty and inequality, ongoing world population growth ranks very high, with another two billion people to be added to the world population by the middle of the century. 

The webinar engages different perspectives on the economic, social, and environmental impacts of population growth addressing persisting inequalities and regional variations in a round table about population, food, and the environment. Reminiscent of the wager between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon on prices of natural resources in the population debate of the 1960s, the starting point of the current round table is the outcome of a bet on food prices between panelists David Lam and Stan Becker10 years ago, following David Lam’s 2011 Presidential address at the PAA. Their bet is set against the background of impressive progress the world has made over the last 50 years in reducing poverty and increasing per capita food production, while world population grew at historically unprecedented rates. 

The food price wager uses the FAO Food Price index as its metric and Shirley Mustafa will discuss the history, methodology and scope of this index. The broader population and environmental contexts of the debate will be discussed by John Bongaarts and Raya Muttarak, while the discussion will be moderated by Leiwen Jiang.



Nico van Nimwegen
Secretary General and Treasurer, International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP)



Leiwen Jiang
Director of the Asian Demographic Research Institute (ADRI) at Shanghai University and Senior associate at the Population Council 


David Lam
Professor of Economics, University of Michigan, member of the IUSSP Council

'The population bomb, food production, and food prices: An optimistic perspective.'


Stan Becker
Professor Emeritus of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health, Johns Hopkins University

'Rapid population growth continues and food production may decline with global warming: A realistic perspective?'


Shirley Mustafa 
Economist, Markets and Trade Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

'The FAO Food Price Index – An international food price metric.'


John Bongaarts
Vice President and Distinguished Scholar at the Population Council

'Pessimists vs. optimists.'


Raya Muttarak

Program Director, Population and Just Societies Program, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) & Director of Population, Environment and Sustainable Development at the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital

'Climate change and differential food consumption and food security from a demographic perspective.'