Thinkers on feeding growing populations
Thinkers on feeding growing populations
Famine and Feast
Life on the margins: the inequality of food and nutrition security
THINKERS’ VIEWS ON FEEDING GROWING POPULATIONS
PowerPoint presentation by
Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders
Schools Team: Mary Doherty and Severa von Wentzel
THE THINKERS’ VIEWS ON
FEEDING GROWING POPULATIONS
Population explosion? The claim that population was exploding was not
exaggerated. Population growth has been exponential, not linear, and
resources are finite. Does more people meant more poorer people? Actually, it
matters not only what new people cost, but also what they can add.
Action for students: Although the population in absolute numbers continues to
grow, the growth rates have slowed down. How can both be happening? Watch
the Population Reference Bureau’s Video “7 billion and counting”
explosion’ lead to famine?
Action for students:
1. Work in a group of four and study each of the graphs etc on the previous
slide separately, discuss and agree what each one shows and also agree a
written conclusion for each. What is the role of population pressure in
creating food insecurity? Take into account how population numbers,
densities and rates of growth impact on the adequacy of food production.
2. Use the world map and key to identify the highest rate of increase of
population and the lowest. Take into account net migration, a fundamental
component of population growth along with natural increase.
3. Discuss what drives these rates and whether they lead to famine.
Further info: Multimedia resource on population trends
and correlations –
http://www.7billionactions.org/data?gclid=CK-qlZCs8rcCFa7JtAod5ykAOA On population growth and food production –
the looming food crisis in Asia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UKpQKOjids
Famine: the thinkers
Supply approach (1)
“No possible form of society could prevent the almost constant
action of misery upon a great part of mankind” - Thomas Malthus
• For Thomas Malthus “An Essay on the Principle of Population”:
(1789) - supply approach - the growth of population causes more
food demand, while the food supply is limited.
• A rapidly increasing population could not be matched by growth in
food supply, so could result in famine or possibly lead to civil war.
• Since the 18th century the world population has grown from 1 billion
to 6.6 billion. During this time food production and living standards
• Written prior to industrialisation and modern technology
• Critiqued as static world view.
Famine: the thinkers
Supply approach (2)
Malthus theory (1826)
• Horizontal scale = time
• Vertical scale = volume of
food production and
The neo-Malthusians have been
predicting global famine because of an
overpopulated planet. In The Population
Bomb (1968) Dr. Paul Ehrlich pronounced:
“The battle to feed all humanity is over.”
In the 1970s the concept of a global food
crisis, the Malthusian catastrophe, took
hold with concerns that there would not be
enough food to feed the growing world
population. Based on the Malthusian
premise, the people in development with
power implemented neo-Malthusian
policies and aid focused on increasing
food supply and containing population
growth through population control.
• Paul Ehrlich argues that the increased agricultural and industrial activity
needed to feed the population will lead to environmental and economic
– “A dying planet”
– “Too many people”
– “Too little food”
– “Environmental degradation”*
• Neo-Malthusians predict a crisis of food, energy water and land resources.
“Solving the population problem is not going to solve the problems of
racism…of sexism…of religious intolerance… of war… of gross economic
inequality. But if you don’t solve the population problem, you’re not going to
solve any of those problems. Whatever problem you’re interested in, you’re not
going to solve it unless you also solve the population
* Ehrlich quoted in Weeks, J R (1999) Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues 7th
Edition pp673 Belmont, CA: Wadsworth
and food supply
Action for students:
Do you think Malthus’s ideas were correct? If not for food, do they hold for water?
Did the Industrial Revolution debunk his theory?
PHOTO: JAN JØRGENSEN
Ester Boserup argued that societies under pressure from population
growth invent their own technologies to increase food production.
• More people means that existing land must be farmed more
• Long fallow is replaced with short fallow periods.
• More labour is required for farming.
• Forests became grasslands requiring the application of nutrients and
the turning of the soil.
• Men cleared the land and women grew the food
• Women weeded the fields to enable the use of short fallow periods
• Increased population led to more intensive agricultural systems
using animals to pull ploughs
• Common land was substituted for private ownership
Source: Adapted from Witherick M. And S. Warn Farming, Food and Famine, Nelson Thornes: 2001
Amaryta Sen –
the capability approach
Amaryta Sen wrote on poverty, famines and deprivation
based on the 1943 famine in Bengal, India. He argued that
the cause was “entitlement failure” against the Food Availability http://scholar.harvard.edu/sen
Decline (FAD) hypothesis. FAD holds that the central cause of all famines is a
decline in food availability. His approach has been influential in the trade justice
and sustainability discourse.
“I attempted to see famines as broad "economic" problems (concentrating on how
people can buy food, or otherwise get entitled to it), rather than in terms of the
grossly undifferentiated picture of aggregate food supply for the economy as a
whole.” – Sen in his book Poverty and Famines (1981)
• Sen argued famine occurs not only from lack of food, but from inequalities built
into mechanisms for distributing food
• Sen points to a number of social and economic factors, e.g. declining wages,
unemployment, rising food prices, and poor food distribution systems which
lead to starvation amongst certain groups in society (the landless labourer or
urban service providers like hair cutters)
Further info on different approaches
International Development Institute
Critique by Stephen Devereux (IDS): “Sen’s Entitlement Approach –
Critiques and Counter-critiques”
“A complementary analysis is required, one that recognizes the importance of
non-market institutions in determining entitlements, famine as social process
and epidemiological crisis, and violations of entitlement rules in the complex
emergencies that typify most contemporary
The issues of food security has broadened beyond the economics
perspective and the Individual as a unit of analyses. It includes:
– political regime,
– natural disaster,
– civil war,
– local and global governance,
– climate change and
– environmental issues (Devereux 2000).
Population growth and
Thomas F. Homer Dixon argues that a global population expected to
pass 8 billion in 2025 and rapid growth in the global economy
exasperates depletion of resources and lead to profound social
Countries with capable states, efficient markets and an educated
population tend to adapt better to scarcity than those without these traits.
Link to download
The effects of environmental scarcity are indirect and together with other
socio-economic and political stresses can include:
• Deepened poverty and sharpened inequality
• Large-scale migrations
• Weakened institutions
• Forms of civil violence (e.g., insurrections, ethnic clashes, urban
• On-going turmoil and violence (E.g,Chiapas, Mexico; many African
and Asian countries)
Source and image: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/6640.html)
Famine in spite of plenty
Is food security primarily determined by whether poor people have access to food?
Famine is not usually caused by absolute scarcity but by inequity in the distribution of food
production, the inability to produce food (lacking resources) and to import the shortfall (lacking
means). As such, it is avoidable.
Kalahandi Syndrome: Kalahandi district is major provider of rice to the India Food
Corporation. The Syndrome describes cases where famines occur because farmers grow
cash crops to meet demands of the global markets instead of feeding themselves, so famine
linked more to uneven access to food, resources and technologies than ability to increase
global agricultural production and aggregate food availability. Landless farmers could not afford
to buy the rice they had grown from their landlords.
Famine can occur in areas with low access to food infrastructure markets because of
social and economic issues and / or low agricultural potential because of
biophysical constraints rather than in areas favoured with high levels of both.
Devereux, S, 2000,“Famine in the twentieth century”, IDS working Paper, no105,Intitule of
Development Studies, Brighton.
____2001,“ Sen’s entitlement Approach: Critiques and Counter-critiques, Oxford Development Studies,
Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 245-263
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