Fri 24th Oct 2014 | Last updated: Fri 24th Oct 2014 at 12:34pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo
Hot Topics

Comment & Blogs

Africa’s problem is too much poverty, not too many people

Madagascar’s problems would not be solved by handing out condoms

By on Monday, 30 April 2012

Madagascar is the sort of place that we Brits know little about. Indeed try anyone on the subject of France’s former colonies in Africa, and you often draw a blank. Places like Burkina Faso attract little interest. Thus, it was good to be able to watch the ever engaging Simon Reeve on his way round the Indian Ocean, stopping off at this huge island.

Simon Reeve, for those of you who do not know him, is simply the best television presenter there is, and though young, he has an impressive portfolio of programmes behind him. He is certainly someone to watch, in every sense.

And what did Simon find in Madagascar? Well, sadly, it was the all too common tale of ecological devastation. To be frank, Madagascar seemed somewhat unattractive to me – treeless, deforested, and flat. Rather like parts of Kenya, I suppose, the less well known parts. And Simon and one of the conservationists he met was right, I think, to identify the destruction of forests as catastrophic.

There are many reasons why deforestation takes place, but one group of conservationists in the programme identified a burgeoning population as being a major problem, and were teaching the villagers about what the programme called family planning. Simon rightly observed that rich westerners telling poor villagers to have fewer children was problematic. Quite so; but I did wonder just how overpopulated Madagascar was.

A quick look at Wikipedia, that invaluable help for lazy writers, confirmed the following:

• Madagascar has an area of 226,597 square miles and a population of just under 22 million, according to the latest estimate. That makes for a density of 91.1 people per square mile.

• The United Kingdom, just for the sake of comparison, has an area of 94,060 square miles and an estimated population of around 62 million, which means a density of 661.9 people per square mile.

I was never any good at maths, but this seems to indicate that the United Kingdom is far more crowded than Madagascar; and indeed the south-east of England considered on its own would be even more densely populated still. Come to think of it, some of the world’s most prosperous countries are also its most crowded – Holland, for example.

Madagascar’s real problem is poverty, and poverty has many causes. Growing population is often a result of poverty, rather than a cause of it. Simon Reeve did spot the fact that the country’s infrastructure is virtually non-existent and its roads among the worst in the world- some looked even more bone-shaking than Kenya’s. I know that television is not a subtle medium, but it might have been better if the programme made clear that the population question in Madagascar has to be seen in the context of its other challenges – and that handing out condoms is not necessarily what those poor villagers need.

The rest of the programme took us to Mauritius, which is far more prosperous than Madagascar, but seemed, to me, at least, to be just as treeless. And then it was onto the Seychelles which are “verdant”, though here we met a fine Yorkshireman who had reforested a small island.

It was good to see Simon tackle some sensitive subjects, such as the whole question of Chinese investment in places like Mauritius. And he also took up the cause of the inhabitants of Diego Garcia, who were moved to Mauritius by the British government to make room for the American base on their island. This question, which barely causes a ripple in the consciousness of modern Britain, deserves to be more widely known. I will try and make it the subject of a future article. But kudos to Simon Reeve for bringing up the plight of the Chagossians, who are among the least fortunate of the dispossessed populations of this earth.

  • Benedict Carter

    Africa’s problem is appalling governments and leaders who have raped the Continent for their own luxury living, period. 

  • Jonathan West

    The total land area of the earth is about 150 million sq km. The population density of one of the most densely populated areas, Manhattan Island in New York, is about 26,500 per sq km. 

    The population of the world is about 7 billion and growing at roughly 1% per year. If population continues to grow at this rate, and if the resources could be found for them all,  the whole of the earth’s land surface, including all the desert, all the tundra and all the mountains to the peak of Everest, would have the same population density as Manhattan in a mere 650 years or so from now.

    Do you think that is sustainable? If not, what would you do about it?

  • Peter

    How is that for a ridiculous generalisation!

  • glitter

    Overpopulation is a total myth. I thought it was disgusting when he blathered on about overpopulation, and introducing contraception. I could not watch anymore. Too see those beautiful people corrupted by contraception is too much.

    Thanks for this article. 

    P.S. I recommend people donating to Human Life international (, – pro life missionaries to the world.

  • Recusant

    A mere 650 years from now. That is too hilarious for words. You think you can predict 650 years from now? Since you are unaware of the dangers of extrapolation, this chart from the US Treasury should clam your nerves :

    It shows the US economy will shut down in 2027, a mere 600 years before your doomsday, so the resulting drop in economic activity should save the planet.

    People like you have been peddling the same crap since Malthus. You’re wrong. Get over it.

  • Recusant

    Funnily enough, it is exactly the same generalisation I have just read in a book called Debt : The First 5000 Years (pretty good so far, and funnily enough with a lot about Madagascar) by David Graeber, a professional lefty. He makes a pretty good case, I recommend it as it may stop you making an arse of yourself in public again.

  • theroadmaster

    The true worth of any country is not it’s GDP(Gross Domestic Product), but rather the intrinsic value given to the people who reside in it.  Global population “experts” regularly preach about the Malthusian pressure that so called overpopulation will put on the Earth’s natural resources, in terms of food, land and water.  But the truth is that many countries in both the developed and developing world, are experiencing a sharp fall in the average size of families, which will lead to an initial peaking of the world’s population at around 7 billion by the middle of the 21th century, and then it will start to recede.  The world possesses the technical and scientific know-how to optimize and prolong food production to feed countries across globe
    Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith has hit the proverbial nail on the head, when he stipulates that development should precede any glib talk of over-population, in relation to fulfilling the true potential of countries around the world.   Once we get these priorities right, we can talk in credible terms about improvements in the lives of people.

  • Lefty048

    you do mean the european governments, don’t you?

  • James H

     And all the best estimates by the UN indicate that world population growth is slowing, will peak in mid-century, and slowly drop off. Population control has been the direct cause of some of the world’s worst human rights abuses.

    The most accessible research is here:

  • Peter (not red Peter)

    The world currently produces enough food to feed 12 billion people, but much food in the West is being wasted.  Italy wastes 1.46 million tonnes per year, Britain 6.7 million and the US 25.4 million.  Africa where much of the world’s malnurished live is vastly underpopulated.

  • Jonathan West

    You seem unable to distinguish between projection and prediction.

    Also, if population growth is to halt, it will halt either because more people die before they have a chance to have children, or because they choose to have fewer children.

    Population growth will ultimately end someday, that’s inevitable. The 650 year projection is just a simple arithmetical demonstration of that fact. The choice we have before us is whether population growth ends because of pestilence and famine, or because of family planning.

    Which would you prefer?

  • Vahaza

    It is surely the RATE of population increase which is the problem not the actual population numbers. There is simply not enough food in the south and the country does not have the infrastructure in place to deal with a population expanding at such a RATE. Population may not be over crowded when you look at it as a per person per km2 basis but space alone is not what constitutes a country to be able to deal with a large population. The UK population has grown steadily over a long time, the Malagasy population has suffered a huge boom in the past 20 years with the Malagasy infrastructure simply unable to cope. As with most things there is no quick fix however sufficient birth control may prevent the problem becoming too much worse before the infrastructure is able to grow to compensate and is able to accommodate such an expanding population. In the year 2000 population growth rate was at 3.02 (compare this to Kenya’s 1.53 in the same year you can see what I mean) Yes Kenya’s population growth rate has since increased and Madagascar’s slowly falling it is the RATE of increase the country is unable to deal with. Yes there is technically enough food produced in the world to feed these people but if the country is unable to cope with the rate of expansion and getting food to these people from the north to the south especially, combined with the deforestation increasing sedimentation and therefore contaminating water supplies and decreasing fishing in immediate coastal areas surmounts to a problem that proper birth control can HELP to prevent from escalating further before infrastructure can be built. Without this there will simply be too many people and not enough infrastructure and the problem will get worse. 
    Teaching people here to store food and providing villages with power so that they can freeze food and smoke fish will allow more people to eat well during the hungry season but this has to be combined with a knowledge that people do not need to have 10 children so that population, knowledge and infrastructure can grow together rather than population at an exponential rate with infrastructure trailing behind.

  • ms Catholic state

    Who said we were destined to remain on planet Earth forever?!  Where did this extraordinarily backward mind-set come from…..ESPECIALLY in the light of the thousands of new Earth-like planets that are being discovered.  This really has punctured the arguments of the population control brigade.  Maybe that’s why nobody talks about these great discoveries.

    We are now just waiting for those brilliant atheist scientists to find a way to get humanity to these new planets.  Unless of course they think that is an impossible feat!  Now who was it that we are only limited by the limits of our imagination?!!.

  • C_monsta

    Why doesn’t God approve of contraception and how do you know this?

  • ms Catholic state

    Are you too lazy to look up the answer in the Catechism?!  Then I’m too busy to answer you.  Don’t waste my time!!

  • TreenonPoet

    In the title, ‘Madagascar’ has been mispelled ‘Africa’.

    I agree with Vahaza that whether Madagascar has too many people is not a question of whether they have yet reached a given population density. Whatever the cause of poverty in Madagascar, a continuing total fertility rate of 3..4 is only going to make matters worse and will hamper attempts to raise prosperity (whilst contributing to the increase in global population in an over-populated world).

    I hope that you do give further coverage to the Chagossian plight.

  • Oconnord

    There is a reason why TV shows like Star Trek are called Science Fiction. Just a few problems to mention:

    The cost: The first President Bush quickly dropped his manned mission to Mars idea when he found out it would cost $450 billion. 

    The dangers: We are still no where near being able to shield astronauts from solar radiation. The high energy solar particles would tear apart their DNA.

    The distances: The best speeds we have attained are around 60,000. So to get to Sirius, a system which may have a habitable planet, would take 50,000 years.

    So of course it may not be impossible, simply highly improbable that we would be able to solve these problems. Particularly if we were already suffering from a lack of resources.  

  • C_monsta

    I know what it says in the Catechism, but the Catechism is not the Bible, and such, is not the word of God

  • karlf

    Don’t you think it seems a little unreasonable of God to get annoyed by us using sex purely for pleasure – the source of pleasure he has given us, along with a strong urge to use it. This seems especially unfair when one considers how he is currently allowing millions of children, all over the world to suffer horribly, and for many years, from hunger, abuse, disease and other preventable afflictions.

  • ms Catholic state

    Well China doesn’t seem to think so.  China launched 2 rockets this week I believe.  While the West thinks everything is impossible these days and would rather wallow in a comfortable lifestyle with few children….China seems to be full of ambtitious future plans.

    It is just a matter of making the necessary scientific breakthrough that will solve the problem of distance.  On today’s knowledge it would be impossible to reach these planets…..but it only takes one breakthrough.  Who is going to make it?!!

  • David Aldred

    I’d prefer that it ends because development leads to the levels of economic well being at which decisions on family size start to change; and that is likely to mean for many countries that populations need to grow first to establish a sustainable level of infrastructure.

    Or to put that another way, I’d rather we treated people as people, and not as problems to be solved.   People develop and change as their environments change, and as they interrelate with their environments, and we should recognise that rather than imposing our solutions to problems which may not in fact be problems in their own environments.

    - family planning, yes; 

    - using natural means, of course as anything else is simply exporting our broken relationships to other parts of the world (and imposing inappropriate technologies);

    -  and in respect for those whose lives these are, not to serve a Western agenda which is essentially there to preserve the imbalance in society for its own benefit.   

    But that’s very different from what the ‘family planning’ mantra usually means: inappropriate and usually semi-coerced population control imposed by an alien  society.   

  • C_monsta

     But my point is that God or Jesus did not comment on sex purely for pleasure

  • Oconnord

    I think you would like Neil deGrasse Tyson’s ideas on the need for space exploration as an inspirational tool for mankind. 

    But unfortunately you are being wildly optimistic. The US has pretty much dropped out of the “Space Race” with the effect that space programmes are commercial operations. So rockets are being developed to launch satellites  and very little else. 

    As to “one breakthrough”, well that will have to be breaking the laws of physics. There’s a vast difference between discovering that some subatomic particles may travel faster than C and building ships that could travel faster than C, for years or decades, whilst carrying billions of people.

  • Jonathan West

    That sounds like you are in favour of the kinds of family planning that are commonly in use in Britain today and which the Catholic church regularly rails against.

  • ms Catholic state

    A lack of ambition is a symptom of post-Christian secularity.  But one that China doesn’t share.  That puts the lazy West at a disadvantage.

    God doesn’t create these earth-like planets without reason.  They are there to be colonised once the earth has reached its full population capacity.  We are a long way from that….and if the Population controllers get their way we will be a longer way still.  But it won’t be atheists that will eventually reach them.  As you have shown….you believe it is an impossibility and no doubt this kind of thinking hinders scientific funding and advance.  I wonder what a real Christian scientist would have to say about the possibility of reaching these planets. Time for the monk scientists to make their return it seems. 

  • C_monsta

    “God doesn’t create these earth-like planets without reason” Which ones? How do you know he doesn’t? Are you the self proclaimed voice of God?
    Monk scientists? Have they had much to contribute to aerospace technology and modern medicine?

  • Oconnord

    You’re speaking of Communist China, which isn’t a secular country as it represses religious freedoms. Is that the sort of non-secular state you’d endorse. As to the “lazy West”, well China is a producer not a creator. It can produce the innovations of the West, but not invent them (yet). As to it’s possible future dominance or ambition, well history shows that changes, from the Babylonians, to the Greeks, to the Romans, to the British and the Americans.

    You insist somehow  that “real Christian scientists” will solve problems with a “wing and a prayer”?! Yet you show you don’t have the barest idea of what these problems are. You don’t even understand that earth like planets are in no way similar to planets fit for human habitation. Some of these have temperatures of 2000C, orbits lasting 2 days, don’t rotate or receive as little as 5% of the sunlight earth receives. And even these don’t exist in the thousands as yet.

    Please try to give one real solution to any of these problems other than god will provide! And sci-fi terms like “terra-forming” are not answers, they’ll simply show that you don’t comprehend the problems involved.

  • Oconnord

    Are you really heading towards some sort of Noah’s Space-ark idea?

  • ms Catholic state

    China is not a post Christian country….but a fast Christianising one.  And when China (and Africa) becomes Christian watch out for fireworks of the kind that set Europe alight once.

    I believe true Christians have a unique worldview centered on Christ.  I believe it was this that led them to becoming the pre-eminant scientists of the past thousand years.  Atheists have a different worldview….one that is uninterested in change.  For this, they would abolish population growth to make sure change did not come about.  Christians on the other hand (should) believe in the dictum…go forth and multiply and conquor the earth.  And that will eventually include space.

  • Oconnord

    And so it happens again, you can’t provide any real answers so you switch to beliefs and assertions. Some off our topic and some obviously false, where did you come up with the idea that atheists are not interested in change?

    Even the example you give means them making a change (in access to contraception) you find undesirable, to a make change they find desirable (lower rates of population growth).  

    Could you not simply admit that you don’t like the changes they want without resorting to such a false premise as “Atheists have a different worldview….one that is uninterested in change.”

  • ms Catholic state

    I have provided real answers.  Population growth and Christianity delivers development!  What more could you want?!  Oh I see….atheists want an unchanging world as they are at their peak in today’s Western world and don’t want it to change.

    But change it will…for the worse.  And that will be brought about by a declining, ageing, godless society.  Not all change is good. 

  • Benedict Carter

    No, I don’t, and your ignorance is clear and vast. 

    Read “The State of Africa” by Martin Meredith, a mere 760 pages of education for you, and lose your totally false preconceptions. 

  • Benedict Carter

    The story of nearly all African countries is one of total mismanagement, theft, appalling corruption and enrichment of elites and the expense of the peoples they have raped for fifty years. “Lefty048″ below is representative of the BBC/Guardian line which is almost completely false. 

  • Benedict Carter

    Teaching people about paragraphs would be a good thing too.

  • Oconnord

    No, I asked you questions about a solution YOU brought up, settling on other planets. The answer which you provided was that there might be some sort of magical space-ark in the future built by christian scientists!

    Then you went to the bald assertion that christianity and population growth deliver development, without citing any reasons, let alone evidence. So answer this, why have all the developments which benefited people, tangible things like, increased lifespans, decreased infant mortality rates, social and political security, general wealth, social mobility and equality, happened after the enlightenment? And why have they improved far more quickly in secular countries.

    You ask “what more do I want”… try answers, facts, evidence and truths. Not your opinions, conjectures or “TRUTHS”.

  • ms Catholic state

    I gave you facts.  Change brought about by population control and population decline is bad.  Change brought about by population growth and Christianity is good.  History and our present day situation bear me out.

     Ignore it at your peril.

  • ms Catholic state

    Oh….and I forgot to mention that logic is also on my side.

  • Vahaza

    What a helpful input
    to this discussion Benedict Carter. I wonder, have you ever heard the quote
    ” I don’t have a comeback so I’m just going to correct your grammar and

    don’t feel that my use of paragraphs affected the clarity of my argument and I
    do apologise if you are unable to decipher
    what I am saying from my statement. I have a lot of work to do and felt that my
    input as fast as I can is better than no input in this situation. I am sure
    most people who are able to read can understand what I am saying despite my
    lack of paragraphs in that particular statement.

    I have been to
    Madagascar and feel that education and free access to family planning is
    critical in a country such as Madagascar. Many people in Madagascar rely on
    this access to contraception and I resent articles such as this one criticising
    the great work people do out there in regards to helping people plan the size
    of their families.

    This article
    creates a distorted view that Madagascar can actually support a population
    density similar to that of the UK especially considering the current levels of infrastructure.

    The human population
    is way above the sustainable carrying capacity of the Earth already, and high rates of increase in the human population will only increase the number of
    lives which will undergo suffering in the long run. 

  • Oconnord

    No you just repeated your opinion again and this time followed it with a threat.

     I think that if you did settle on a new planet, you wouldn’t even notice if it couldn’t support intelligent life.

  • Dynamics

    How is logic on your side? Not sure if
    you understand the definition of logic there.

    Any person that has studied population dynamics
    AT ALL will realise that a healthy population will fluctuate around a set
    carrying capacity. By overshooting this carrying capacity (K) this is a fairly
    sure-fire way of expecting an abrupt and significant population collapse
    whereby any single individual is not able to get enough energy to sustain them
    to reproduce.
    For example: The collapse of the deer population on the Kaibab plateau and on St. Matthew Island due to overpopulation and the attendant overgrazing of their habitat or in everyday life: the collapse of the world economy due to depleted oil reserves. 

  • theroadmaster

    A very good point in regards to the criminal waste in Western countries regarding the millions of tonnes of waste regarding perfectly palatable foodstuffs.  You are also correct about the relative underpopulation of the continent of Africa, and yet the siren voices of the population control lobby would have it otherwise according to their distorted propaganda.

  • theroadmaster

    Fertility and child-birth seem to be akin to very serious health conditions in your eyes.  But it is not the much hyped threat of overpopulation that forms the threat to living standards and socio-economic development in countries in Africa, Asia or Latin America, but rather the monopolization of material resources by greedy corrupt juntas and families.

  • Vahaza

    Oh I also wanted to add that I don’t think Simon Reeve is simply the best tv presenter there is! I would say that is another overstatement within this article! Nice as he may be, I feel that he has a rather low level of knowledge about the subjects he is reporting on in comparison to other people I know who would have been far more suited to create a more in-depth record of his journey so far. 

  • Recusant

    If you want me to take you seriously you have to answer me this question : Malthus made exactly the same argument as you in 1798. He thought that population would increase geometrically and resources linearly, and said “the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.” He was wrong, spectacularly wrong – the world produces more and more. We are nowhere near close to running out of food. So, why are you right now when Malthus and all his descendants have been wrong for over 200 years?

    You might also like to consider this : famine is everywhere and always political, and the ideas of Malthus were very clear about where the blame lay : the starving. Of Ireland, he said “the land is infinitely more peopled than England; and to give full effect to the natural resources of the country, a great part of the population should be swept from the soil.” Unfortunately, within a generation, when his students were in charge of Ireland, they were. Your ideas, that the poor are a pox on the earth and should be combated by disease (or indeed, contraception) are extremely dangerous and lead to much suffering. 

  • Bern

    Found this big & gobsmacking article on these kind of questions in Madagascar & beyond –  “On Integrating or Disintegrating the ‘Psycho-Spiritual’, Ecological & International Development”

  • Billsfguy

    At the time of Christ, the world population was around 200 million.  It took almost two millennia, to reach the first billion.  By 1900, it was a billion and a half.  In 1960, it was 3 billion, and by 1975, it was 4 billion, and at 2000, it was 6 billion.  By 2011, it was 7 billion.  The earth is now adding the equivalent of a new China in population, every decade.  These are facts.  The problem is, that the thinking of most of we humans, with respect to population, seems to be back around 1800 – and most of us do not understand exponential growth.  The current Catholic belief seems to be that “They” should do more, to solve the problem.  “They” are the “Industrial Nations”,  the “Western Nations”, the “Rich Countries”, etc., This has certainly happened, to some degree.  For example, there are the great Catholic Charities, Unesco, and wonderful individuals who do great work.   As important, are the advances in agriculture by the West – for example, a new rice grain cultured for the conditions in Bangladesh.  Yet, it should be understood that “They” cannot really cope with the problem, any more than Catholic charities can.  Think about providing the infrastructure for a billion people, every decade….As Catholics, we really should understand that this is in the hands of God – think of the implications of this.  God must remain true to His promises. 

  • AugustineThomas

    You’re fallaciously assuming that the British Isles never experienced population explosions.
    Demographic explosions are natural phenomena in the history of any large race.

    This article is brilliant! Eco leftists are the ones who, in screaming at us that we don’t understand how small the world is, forget how big it is!

    If you took the entire population of the earth and put us all in the state of Texas, the population density would be less than in Manhattan presently. 

  • AugustineThomas

    Absolutely brilliant! When the Pope was called every ugly thing in the book after rightly pointing out that condoms were harming not helping Africa I remember making these same kinds of arguments.

    The only nations in Africa which have been successful in combating HIV and other sexual diseases are those which embraced family planning and communal morality and gave up completely on condoms, birth control, abortions and sterilizations. I think the escaped blind Chinese dissident is showing that the war between pro-life and pro-death rages as hotly as ever in all parts of the world.

    Also note that eco people never lament the unnecessary mass pollution caused by birth control and condom factories.

  • AugustineThomas

    Wonderful points all!

    Every time someone tells you the world is overpopulated let them know this fact. (It’s better than mine which was more vague “food rots in warehouses every year so how is the earth over populated?”)

    Americans alone waste enough shower water to give us all sufficient drinking water for decades.

    The problem is more with morality.

    Twelve billion humble people who work together to live sustainably will live infinitely better than 500 million greedy violent stupid folks. 

  • AugustineThomas

    Jeeze…I like you.