Friday, November 08, 2013

Demographic Dividend or Population Problem ?

I love these big sounding words - Demographic Dividend. And how India is all ready for greatness and all that because of this "demographic dividend" and all that.

So i did what i normally do on these occasions (meaning when one is totally lost) - google god.
It turns out, that Demographic dividend was not what i thought at all! Its not just that we have more people, but that we have more young people, who can potentially earn and add to our GDP.

See, what a lovely idea! Take a look at this if you dont believe me.

Except, i dont agree. There are some very basic flaws with the assumption that:
A. More people means more money or higher GDP
B. More people is a good idea by itself.

India is the 7th largest and the 2nd most populous country in the world. We have 2% of the world's land area. And we have 14.28% of the world's population. That is only based on the no. of Indians living in India. We support 14% of the world's population on 2% of the world's land. Does that tell you anything?

Different estimates indicate that we will overtake China anytime from 2015 to 2050. But no study anywhere indicates that we will become the 6th largest country anytime soon. Or that our land area will increase.

Why is that important?
This is why.

To sustain a population,we need some basic things:
1. Food
2. Money (aka Per Capita Income)
3. Physical Security

The average land holding in India is 1.16 hectares, down from 1.34 hectares in 2000-1. About 80% of our cultivated area is used to grow basic food items. Around 50% of our land area is used for agriculture. Though we are among the highest producers of several basic food items, our productivity is way below global numbers.

These numbers do not indicate a healthy trend towards feeding our people. Accounting for economic disparity, it is a fact that thousands of Indians are literally starving to their deaths.  There is a number to it - 7000 Indians starve to their death every day. And 25 Lakh every year. One third of the world's hungry people live in India. One third. Way above our national average of one seventh of the world's population.

This is how bad it is.

We may have the food, but we simply do not have the mechanism to feed all the mouths we give birth to. The shrinking average land holding is a reality directly caused by population.