Archive for the ‘Famine’ Category

Sen on Famine (and a Reflection on Hunger)

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

In a situation of direct entitlement failure, food availability in shops may not go down very much even when total food availability sharply goes down. When during the Irish famine in late 1846, people were starving, Major Parker, the local Relief Inspector sent the following report on December 21st from Skibbereen: “On Saturday, notwithstanding all this distress, there was a market plentifully supplied with meat, bread, fish, in short everything. Similar reports from all over Ireland made Trevelyan insist that all the “resources” of the country should be, as he put it, “drawn out.” In fact, however, the apparently paradoxical situation had arisen from a decline in entitlement in excess of the supply of food. That situation is, in fact, quite a common occurrence in famines. What has to be guaranteed to prevent starvation is not food availability but food entitlement.

That’s 1998 Nobel laureate for economics Amartya Sen, in an 1980 essay in World Development titled “Famines,” which I assigned as a reading in my food policy seminar. (more…)

China’s Great Famine

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Courtesy of one of the students in my development seminar, here are links to a two-part NPR story about China’s famine of 1958-1962: part 1 and part 2.

Between 1958 and 1962, an estimated 20 to 43 people died of hunger in China, which China’s official statistics claiming 15 million deaths and the highest estimates reporting a death toll of 45 million. For comparison, the death toll from World War 1 is estimated to be about 17 million. During the Chinese famine, people eventually survived on anything they could find, eventually going so far as to eat their dead and their own children.

The NPR story discusses Tombstone, a book which just came out in English and which took Chinese reporter Yang Jisheng 10 years of working in secrecy to write. I’m about 100 pages into the book. It is a fascinating and monumental account of China’s Great Famine. And as one might reasonably expect, it is banned in China. (more…)

Measuring Who Wins and Who Loses from High Food Prices

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Anecdotally, one would be tempted to infer the existence of a strong positive relationship between higher food prices and poverty. After all, it is the poor who spend a higher share of their food on basic staples and have the least means to buy food with their meager income. And several studies using the available, imperfect data tend to confirm that relationship.

This is despite the fact that three quarters of poor people live in rural areas and the majority of them earn their living from farming. Some poor farmers produce more food than they consume and hence benefit from higher prices, but many others are net buyers of food and hence lose out when food prices rise. But identifying which households gain and which lose, and hence the overall impact on poverty, requires knowledge of this relationship for all vulnerable households. A major problem is that we still lack the data for accurately gauging who, for a given level of production and pattern of food consumption and purchases, is more likely to be negatively impacted by higher food prices.

From a post by Gero Carletto over at the Development Impact blog.

This is a point that is too often forgotten by nonexperts when discussing the effects of high food prices: that rising food prices (much like food price volatility) generates winners and losers. (more…)