In literature documenting occurrences of crises, the definition and discussion of famine has varied. Famine, an occurrence linked to the negative effects of both food security and globalisation, is used to different effects in discussions of case studies of Southern Africa (Bookstein & Lawson 2002, pp. 635-641), Iraq (Gazdar 2002, pp. 63 - 69) and India (Coghlan 2003, p. 7). Furthermore, the conclusions drawn from these case studies demonstrate how broadly the term famine can is applied to different instances of crisis, no matter the ways in which crises differ. This also demonstrates how both globalisation and food security interact to create what is often perceived as a famine.

What is famine?

Howe notes that due to "emerging crises of the 1990s" the way that we define a famine has been altered (Howe 2002, p. 19). A case study of a famine in Southern Africa, 2001, suggests that the "food crisis was not a natural disaster", and was instead a "catastrophe caused by poor policy" (Bookstein & Lawson 2002, p. 635). But these are just two examples of famine among many others; Gazdar (2002) suggests that there are three particular types of famine: 'Pre-modern famine', involving a lack of food availability, 'Modern' famine, involving the failure of 'entitlements', and 'Post-modern' famine, involving the failure of a nation to provide food and resources for its people.

Howe, citing Malthus, explores the theory that "famine would act as a natural check on population levels" and Sen's approach to famine, in which it is suggested that famine is due to a "failure of 'entitlements'" (Howe 2002, p. 19). This in turn relates back to the 'Modern' famine discussed in Gazdar's article. Coghlan seems to suggest that food can greatly aid a famine, therefore further relaying the idea that a famine is primarily a food crisis; he comments on Zimbabwe's refusal to accept Genetically Modified food "despite the famine" (Coghlan 2002, p. 4).

How do we define famine?

An article by Paul Howe delves deep in to defining famine; he explores the "temporal, scale and sectoral ambiguities" (Howe 2002, p. 26) of famine, in an attempt to challenge our assumptions of what famine is. He seems to ask this question: when does a food crisis or a shortage of other resources stop being a crisis and become a famine? How do we ultimately define famine, and distinguish what factors a crisis needs to qualify as a famine? Famine is a result of several different sets of circumstances, in which the suggested causes of crisis range from political factors, to natural disasters, politics, subsidies on trade and trade policies. However, as Howe suggests, the difficult thing to perceive is how we are to assess these causes in relation to each other, and acknowledge distinct phases leading from crises in to a famine.

Globalisation and economics in relation to Famine

Gazdar (2002) makes reference to globalisation using Iraq's previous economic position in the global market. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 resulted in trade restrictions; the UN Security council used Iraq's economic condition and reliance on the purchase of foreign produce to affect Iraq internally. As the sanctions remained on Iraq, there was a food shortage. As a result the populace plunged in to starvation in some sectors. Previous to the sanctions, 65-85% Iraq's food supplies were imported (Gazdar 2002, p. 63).

In Southern Africa 2001-2002 the price of Maize, a staple ingredient in the African diet, had risen by at least 400% (Bookstein & Lawson 2002, p. 636). However, the casual wage had not risen alongside this increase in food price, meaning people had "less purchasing power than ever" (Bookstein & Lawson 2002, p. 636). A rise in the price of food is often due to poor sales of local produce, and coupled with widespread poverty, as is the case in Southern Africa, there is a need for foreign aid. However, it is noted that in situations as these that "to bring in large quantities of food aid from outside the madness" (Comtex 2002, p. 1). If sales of local produce cannot be stimulated, then a country must compensate by importing more food. This could plunge the economy of a country in to an "ugly cycle" (Comtex 2002, p. 1), in which local farmers lose a market for selling their produce. This highlights a way in which globalisation has an effect on famine.

Food security in relation to famine

Food security is discussed little in literature, and there is no distinguishable, narrowed down instance of its usage beyond the broader sense. Food security relates to the accessibility of food, and how secure a nation may be at attaining it. It also affects the populace in general, depending on the situations of an individual. It may also relate back to foreign aid, and a nations ability to accept, and distribute it. When it was proposed that India's poor be supplied with the genetically altered "protato", it was greeted with a hopeful anticipation that a cheaper alternative to "pulses and legumes" would one day be available (Coghlan 2003, p. 7). This would make the food supplies more secure for India.

For the individual, "household food security" (Wambugu 1999, p. 17) is tied in with securing and attaining food that will be fit to eat. For example in Southern Africa, the local market in itself "cannot ensure food security" (Bookstein & Lawson 2002, p. 641), meaning that the individual cannot afford to attain an adequate amount of food; this links directly back to globalisation.

Conclusion and Solutions for Famine

Several articles point towards using Genetically Modified foods to eradicate famine. However, they explored the implications of using such produce: genetically modified foods that guard against pests can create evolved pests that bypass what was intended to kill them. Without proper testing, genetically modified produce is seen as dangerous. However, as best said by Alice Wynne Wilson of British charity ActionAid, "We should not reject grain even if it's GM, when it's at the expense of people's lives" (Coghlan 2002, p. 4). Famine could also be reduced by the elimination of debt to the World Bank. When a country borrows money to purchase goods, they are often in debt. Therefore their poverty cycle continues, as they can barely afford to pay back the interest of such a loan, let alone the actual sum owed. Working to eradicate these debts is a sure way to allow economic stability in nations. As previously mentioned, stimulation of local markets may also help to eradicate famine by allowing local farmers to sell surplus stock, and to attain a higher income.

Works cited

Bookstein, A. and Lawson, M. (2002) - 'Briefing: famine in Southern Africa'. African Affairs, 101: 635-641

Coghlan, A. (2002) - 'GM row delays food aid.' New Scientist 175, 2354: 4

Coghlan, A. (2003) - '"Protato" to feed India's poor' New Scientist, 177, 2376: 7

COMTEX (2002) - 'Making the market work for the poor: NGO's buy local food instead of importing', Africa News Service, January 25

Gazdar, H. (2002) - 'Pre-modern, modern and post-modern famine in Iraq.' IDS Bulletin, 33 (4): 63 - 69

Howe, P. (2002) - 'Reconsidering "famine". IDS Bulletin, 33 (4): 19 - 27

Wambugu, F. (1999) - 'Why Africa needs agricultural biotech', Nature, 400(6739): 15 -17

Fam"ine (?), n. [F. famine, fr. L. fames hunger; cf. Gr. want, need, Skr. hani loss, lack, ha to leave.]

General scarcity of food; dearth; a want of provisions; destitution.

"Worn with famine."


There was a famine in the land. Gen. xxvi. 1.

Famine fever Med., typhus fever.


© Webster 1913.

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