Dry conditions are projected to continue over much of Eastern Africa, including parts of Rwanda, during the March to May 2023 rainfall season. The conditions are among the severest the region has experienced in more than 10 years. Carcasses of livestock and wild animals lying desiccated in the sun in the most affected countries tell the grim story. The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates close to 23 million people are currently highly food insecure in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. Aside from climate change being a factor, might the drought have been anticipated, and therefore better prepared for? This is not a new question and pondered about it while watching a short video on humanprogress.org, the influential data-driven website tracking human development and state of the world. If drought can risk lives with hunger, is it not part of the same argument about how to sustain overpopulation? Let’s pursue the argument. The documentary takes the global view and remarks that we are now 8 billion people living on the planet. It then wonders whether there is enough room for all of us. Aren’t we going to run out of natural resources? How are we going to feed everybody? The expert narrating the documentary reminds us that in 1798, an English economist named Thomas Malthus wrote his famous Essay on the Principle of Population. In it Malthus claimed that as the population grew exponentially, resources needed to feed that population grew at a slower, linear rate. The difference between the two growth rates, he argued, must lead to starvation. Malthus was wrong. As the population grew, food production improved. And so did almost everything else. To illustrate this, the narrator gives the example of an American blue-collar worker over a span of a century, but the example figuratively applies to any person anywhere in the world, including in Africa. He goes on to explain that, using a unit of measurement known as time prices, we can estimate the amount of time someone would have to work to buy a given item. Between 1900 and 2018, the amount of time a blue-collar worker had to work to earn enough money to buy a pound of pork fell by 98 per cent, a pound of rice fell by 97 per cent, and a pound of coffee by 94 per cent. While people can’t eat rubber, aluminium, or cotton, these are valuable inputs in the production processes that impact the prices of goods and services, and hence the overall standard of living. The cost of plastic fell by 99 per cent and that of aluminium by 98 per cent, and cotton 96 per cent, while the population of the United States rose from 76 million to 328 million. Famines, which were once common, have disappeared outside of war zones. But there are also acts of God, such as the severe drought the region is currently experiencing. The expert goes on to explain that the relationship between population growth and abundance may seem counterintuitive, but it is true. The more people we have, the more abundance we have. Relative to previous populations we now live in a world of superabundance. What makes this superabundance possible? The answer is knowledge. Unlike our human ancestors, we have a lot more of it, and we use that knowledge to make things from the same natural resources that existed during the time of the caveman, but which the caveman could never have imagined. Let’s look at something as simple as a grain of sand. It’s been lying around for billions of years. Then, some 4,500 years ago someone figured out that by heating sand to just over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,650 degrees Celsius) sand could be turned into glass beads, then glass jars and, much later, window panes. With every step of discovery, the value produced from the grain of sand increased. Today we use glass in fibre optic cables and computer microchips turbo-charging our productivity, thus making us much more prosperous than our ancestors. Counting the quantity of known raw materials like Malthus and many other people have done, might seem logical but it misses the ingredient that changes everything: Knowledge. The video does not end there and there’s no need belabouring the point. Drought upon the land affects a finite resource, threatening many with hunger. Such droughts however have been with us through millennia and will remain with us, climate change notwithstanding. It is how we will apply knowledge and attain overabundance to mitigate the effects of adverse weather events that will always matter. And, like the narrator in the video reminded us, unlike our ancestors, knowledge is what we have much of, today spearheaded by our scientists and other experts.