Food for 9 Billion

Food for 9 Billion: Our timeline begins with the invention of agriculture around 10,000 BC, just after the last Ice Age. Prior to the domestication of plants and animals, people survived by hunting, gathering, and fishing. Around 70,000 BC humans began to migrate from Africa to Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. This period is known as Exodus. The world population was under 10 million.

Population 100 Million

Confucius develops ethical philosophy in China. Buddha founds Buddhism in India. Aeschylus writes plays in Greece. Olmec civilization covers much of Central America. North America populated by hunter-gatherers and small farming societies. Celts dominate Europe. Persian empire rules Middle East.

Great Famine

Cold winters and torrential summer rains cause crop failures and kill farm animals in northern Europe. Food prices rise sharply. Cannibalism common, including eating of children by parents. Disease, crime, and warfare increase.

Black Death

Disease pandemic cuts world population by 70 million in 50 years, triggering massive economic, political, social change. Europe, North Africa, western Asia hardest hit.

Population 500 Million

Life expectancy at birth in England roughly 35 years.


In Essay on the Principle of Population, Thomas Malthus argues that population grows geometrically while food production grows arithmetically. Food production controls population through famine and disease. Theory gains wide acceptance.

Irish Potato Famine

"Late blight" disease spreads through Europe beginning in 1845. In Ireland, mass starvation and disease caused not just by crop failures, but by high poverty rates, debt, and overreliance on potato as staple for poor. Roughly 1 million die and 1.5 million emigrate.

Population 1 Billion

Growth roughly .5% per year, driven by decreased mortality rates in Europe after 1750. Before then, annual growth rarely exceeded .1%.

Hunger Strike for Women's Rights

English suffragettes revive the hunger strike, used in medieval Ireland and ancient India to protest injustice. Jailed suffragettes are force-fed through the nose or mouth. Highly effective at raising public awareness.

Gandhi Hunger Strikes

Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi undertakes 17 public hunger strikes. Goals are to unite Hindus and Muslims, and to protest caste system and British rule of India. India gains independence in 1947.

Green Revolution

New “semi-dwarf” varieties of basic grains combine with nitrogen fertilizer and irrigation to boost crop yields in much of Asia and parts of Latin America. Similar gains in other crops in 1980s and 1990s. Impact hardly felt in sub-Saharan Africa.

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