Since 1961, agricultural output has outstripped global population growth by 20%, with a proportionate increase in per capita availability of food. This rapid growth in per capita production has reduced prices of agricultural produce, so that food is now cheaper than it was four decades ago. As a result:
- People are better fed now than at any time in the past century.
- Fewer people suffer starvation or malnutrition than 50 years ago in spite of a huge increase in population.
- Better nutrition has contributed to a significant reduction in infant mortality.
The majority of the increase in agricultural output (in excess of 60–70% for key food crops) is attributable to improved agricultural technologies, including herbicides such as paraquat. These technologies have resulted in huge increases in efficiency – using fewer resources to produce more food and other crops. By reducing the need to convert wild land to agricultural uses, modern agricultural technologies have conserved wildlife and biodiversity. Without these technologies, since 1961 farmers would have had to plough over an additional 14.1 billion acres – 44% of the land available on earth. The devastation – to humanity and our environment – that would have been wrought had modern technologies not been used to achieve greater food production is difficult to imagine.