Editor's note: This is a guest post by Henry Kyambalesa (PhD), a resident contributor to Zambian Economist. He is a Zambian academic currently residing in Colorado, USA. The articles argues that recent statements by some Zambian politicians that the country’s rate of population growth of around 3% is too high are misplaced.
Recent statements by some Zambian politicians that the country’s rate of population growth of around 3% is too high are misplaced. With its current population of around 14 million people, and a population density of around 18 persons per square kilometer, Zambia is relatively one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world.
What we seriously need is for the government to prudently harness and marshal the country’s resources in order to meet the basic needs and expectations of the people.
A large population is an important element in our country’s quest for heightened socio-economic development. Many econo mists have recogn iz ed this fact, arguing that a large overall population can, among other things, increase the potential size of a country’s domestic market to a level that is economically favorable to an expan sion in both local and foreign invest ment.
A good example is Todaro. In his con tention, a large overall population increas es the poten tial size of a country’s domestic market. And, as Kasun has main tained, population growth encour ag es producers to specialize and use more efficient, large-scale modes of production.
In fact, low population density, as Timberla ke has maintained, can make the nationwide provision of healthcare and educational facilities in a country difficult, as well as inhibit agricultural development by complicat ing the distribution of essential tools, fertilizers, and pesticides.
Retel-Laurentin, quoted by Timberlake, could not have asked a more apt question in this regard: “How can the soil be cultivated with ... [very few] inha bitants per square kilometer ... [h]ow can roads be main tained, how can the economy and trading be pro perly developed?”
As Sibanda has maintained, business entities in sparsely populated countries like Zambia can, therefore, benefit from large-scale produc tion only if governments pursue economic integra tion, as well as seek to trade openly with other countries.
In the case of African countries in general, Rodney has summed up this problem in the following words:
“It has now become common knowledge that one of the principal reasons why genuine industrializa tion cannot easily be realized in Africa today is that the market for manufac tured goods in any single African country is too small, and there is no integration of the markets across large areas of ... [the conti nent].”
Such countries cannot, therefore, benefit from economies of scale that are usua lly associated with large-scale produc tion. There are basically two impor tant factors attributable to this state of affairs. Firstly, domestic markets in these countries are generally inadequate. And, secondly, potential foreign markets for products of such econo mies are, by and large, inacce ssible.
A suitable population policy in the case of a country like Zambia should, therefore, be one that would let the count ry’s population to grow at the current average annual rate of natural increase of around 3% up to about 20 million people, after which the govern ment can institute appropriate popula tion control measures so that the increase can taper off until zero growth can be attained at 30 million people—which would give the country approxi mately 40 persons per square kilometer.
Obviously, a population density of just over 40 persons per square kilometer is negligible, particularly for a country that is richly endowed with an enormous variety of natural resourc es. What, by any meas ure, are 40 persons per square kilometer com pared to, for example, the Netherlands’ 495 persons per square kilometer, Belgium’s 365 persons per square kilometer, Germany’s 235 persons per square kilometer, Japan’s 352 persons per square kilometer, and the United Kingdom’s 260 persons per square kilometer?
After all, it is ostensibly more rational for a poor, sparsely populat ed country like Zambia that is endowed with abundant natural resources to direct its efforts, time, and commitment at creating an economy whose growth in commercial and industrial outputs outstrips existing and potential demand than on restri cting population growth.
The Malthusian view that population growth needs to be stemmed in order to prevent the misery, hunger, and pestilence which can follow if population exceeds the carrying capacity of a given physical environment does not, therefore, apply to sparsely populated, resource-rich countries like Zambia.
As such, global population control efforts need to be targeted at countries whose economies have already benefitted from inventions and innovations induced by pressures on socio-economic insti tutions resulting from steady increases in population, and/or those whose population sizes and/or densities are relatively excessive.
Therefore, voluntary actions by national governments in this endeav or—such as that taken by the U.S. government upon the recommendations of the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future (CPGAF) constituted in 1969—are critical. The following excerpt sums up the conclusions of the Commission:
“[N]o subs tantial benefits will result from further growth of the Nation’s population ... [w]e have looked for, and have not found, any convincing economic argument for continued population growth.”
In conclusion, an adequate local market and accessibility to foreign markets can enable a country’s business entities to attain both economies of scale and economies of scope, and ultimately bolster the country’s quest for heightened socio-economic development.
Business Week, “What is the Key to Progress?” May 16, 1964, p. 132.
Commission on Population Growth and the American Future (CPGAF), Population and the American Future (New York: New American Library, Inc., 1972).
Davis, K. and Blomstrom, R.L., Business and Society: Environment and Responsibili ty, Third Edition (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1975), pp. 115-16.
Kasun, J., The War against Population: The Economics and Ideology of World Population Control (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), p. 56.
Kyambalesa, Henry, The Quest for Technological Development: Const raints, Ca veats and Initiatives (Lanham, MD: Univer sity Press of Ameri ca, 2001).
______, Socio-Economic Challenges: The African Context (Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 2004).
Malthus, T.R., An Essay on Population (London: H. M. Dent and Company, 1914 [first published in 1798]).
Rodney, W., How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1982), p. 109.
Sibanda, A.E., “The Need for a Developmentalist State,” Sou thern Af rica Po liti cal and Ec o no mic Mo nth ly, July 1993, pp. 46 and 48.
Timberlake, L., Africa in Crisis: The Causes, the Cures of Environmen tal Bankruptcy (Philadelphia, USA: New Society Publish ers, 1986), p. 199.
Todaro, M., Economic Development, Fifth Edition (New York: Longman, 1994), pp. 100-103.
Chola Mukanga | Economist
Copyright © Zambian Economist 2013