Home OPINIONS Is African population a boon or a bane? Japanese perspective of population...

Is African population a boon or a bane? Japanese perspective of population in development

By Judith Akolo

Many years of family planning campaigns on the African continent are now bearing the negative fruits of a misinformation campaign that is difficult to correct. While most countries see population growth as a source of labour and market for goods and services, African countries view population growth in terms of extra mouths to feed and new diseases to treat. Seldom is population looked at as an opportunity for growth.

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Looking at population theories posited by the likes of Thomas Robert Malthus, many African economists are still trapped in the Malthusian Population Theory, which envisages a population growth that is geometric, against a food supply growth that is arithmetic. Malthus sees population growth as a problem that must be contained as he argues that the human population grows faster than the ability of the earth to produce subsistence. He believes that when the Malthusian catastrophe is reached when population growth far outstrips food supply further growth would be prevented by both positive and negative checks.

Out goes Malthus and in comes Paul Ehrlich who believes that population growth can be controlled through birth control, by increasing literacy, more effective health care, and the introduction of birth control programs.

Esther Boserup a Danish Agricultural Economist has answers to the worries put forward by Malthus and Ehrlich. She sees an opportunity in the population growth and not a challenge. She proposes that, once the population begins to outstrip food production, what is needed is to upgrade the production and supply of food. Boserup argument is progressive, that under the pressure of numbers and more mouths to feed, people tend to put more emphasis on intensive production, and increase productivity through the use of fertilizer and other technologies that ensure more food is available.

This as it may, there is a widely accepted view that a society that hopes to attain development has to invest in its human capital. A senior research fellow at the Japanese Center for Economic Research (JCER) Prof Jun Saito gives an example of Japan saying the 125 million population is the foremost resource that is driving the country’s economic growth.

“Japan used to be an agricultural country, before the second world war and even after the second world war, in 1955 about half the people who were working were working in the agricultural sector,” he says and adds, “Gradually we managed to develop the manufacturing sector which happens to have great competitiveness.”

Prof Jun says that from the 1950s to 1970s Japan managed to post a gross domestic product growth rate of 10%, and the main factor for the growth has been the Japanese people, “as you may know we don’t have many natural resources to depend on and all we have is people, our population of 125 million people, that is the basis of our economic growth.”

Education attainment among the Japanese people is high, with a majority of the population having transitioned to high school and to university, it is the educational attainment that then enables the population to perform optimally and be productive. In order to increase per capita productivity, the companies “trained these workers from time to time so that they upgrade their skills, because of that the firms were able to improve their production process and provide good quality products.”

Prof. Jun says investment in people can very well be the silver bullet to realizing economic growth, but the shrinking and aging population in Japan is now a cause for worry as according to the Economist this will have an impact on economic growth. The lack of an increase in wages could also see less spending by families and this could also impact the economy.

“The wages haven’t increased, while the productivity has increased, the labour market has been tight, so that ideally the wages should go up but it hasn’t gone up, that is why private consumption has remained stagnant and economic growth has slowed down,” says Japanese researcher and economist Prof. Jun Saito and adds, “when we witness an increase in consumer prices, the real purchasing power of the households is declining. To Prof. Jun, the population is a dividend.

A Senior Advisor at Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Yoshizawa Kei says Japan’s growth is attributed to human capital and the demographic dividend and notes that Africa’s natural resource base together with its population, is sufficient to drive the continent’s economic development agenda.

He notes that Japan’s rich resource after the end of the second world war was the human capital, of a well-trained population through the education system, coupled with the working age population is more than the dependent population, that is the children and the elderly people.

Most of who ended up in labour-intensive industries, “manufacturing of textiles or garments, that were exported to the advanced economies, especially to the United States,” but soon the exports were reduced after the US in the 1960s limited the exports to the country.

Yoshizawa says the population in Africa is not a problem, it is an opportunity and holds potential for Africa’s future, “as you know now Japan’s population it is continuing to decline so then the market for Japan’s economy is also shrinking,” he says and adds that, “Japan is seeing Africa as the potential market.”

Yoshizawa says the Coalition for African Rice Development (CARD) which is in the third phase is one of the programs being implemented by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) the implementing agency of Japanese Official Development Aid (ODA) for the purpose of socio-economic development, recovery and economic stability of developing regions, to help countries in sub-Saharan Africa deal with food security challenges.

According to Yoshizawa, Africa needs to begin to produce and realize food sufficiency through improved productivity to be able to feed its population.

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