Theories of famines

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The conventional explanation until 1951 for the cause of famines was the decline of food availability (abbreviated as FAD for food availability decline). The assumption was that the central cause of all famines was a decline in food availability.[1] However this does not explain why only a certain section of the population such as the agricultural laborer was affected by famines while others were insulated from them.[2]

Failure of exchange entitlements[edit]

It has been suggested that the causal mechanism for precipitating starvation includes many variables other than just decline of food availability such as the inability of an agricultural laborer to exchange his primary entitlement, i.e. labor for rice, when his employment became erratic or was completely eliminated.[2] According to the proposed theory, famines are due to an inability of a person to exchange his entitlements rather than to food unavailability.[2] This theory is called the failure of exchange entitlements or FEE in short.

Lack of democracy[edit]

Amartya Sen advances the theory that lack of democracy and famines are interrelated; he cites the example of the Bengal famine of 1943, stating that it only occurred because of the lack of democracy in India under British rule. He further argues that the situation was aggravated by the British government's suspension of trade in rice and grains among various Indian provinces.[3]

Olivier Rubin's review of the evidence disagrees with Sen; after examining the cases of post-Independence India, Niger, and Malawi, he finds that "democracy is no panacea against famine." Rubin's analysis questions whether democracy and a free press were sufficient to truly avert famine in 1967 and 1972 (the Maharashtra famine involved some 130,000 deaths), and notes that some dynamics of electoral democracy complicate rather than bring about famine relief efforts. Rubin does not address colonial period famines.[4]

On the other hand, Andrew Banik's study Starvation and India's democracy affirms Sen's thesis, but indicates that while democracy has been able to prevent famines in India, it has not been sufficient to avoid severe under-nutrition and starvation deaths, which Banik calls a 'silent emergency' in the country.[5]

According to a FEWSNET report, "Famines are not natural phenomena, they are catastrophic political failures."[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica 2010.
  2. ^ a b c Chaudhari 1984, p. 135.
  3. ^ Sen, A. Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, 1981; Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198284632
  4. ^ Rubin 2009.
  5. ^ Banik 2007.
  6. ^