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Famines. Chapter 2 AG 201 Dr. WJ Mueller. Famines get a lot of attention. Fairly small part of the world food problem If we solved the famine problem The hunger problem would not be much less Famines are: Localized Temporary Severe food shortages Almost always the result of:

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Chapter 2

AG 201

Dr. WJ Mueller

Famines get a lot of attention
Famines get a lot of attention

  • Fairly small part of the world food problem

  • If we solved the famine problem

    • The hunger problem would not be much less

  • Famines are:

    • Localized

    • Temporary

    • Severe food shortages

  • Almost always the result of:

    • Natural disaster &

    • Poor policy response

Famines cont
Famines (cont.)

  • Where undernutrition is a problem it does not take much of a natural disaster to create a famine


  • When I moved to California I asked a colleague of mine:

    “What is normal weather for this time of year?”

  • He said:

    "There is no such thing a normal, only averages.”

    That is a profound statement, and helpful for our understanding of droughts and famines

The most famous famine
The most famous famine?

  • The Irish Potato Famine (1840’s)

    • 40 percent of farmers worked for others

      • They lived on small plots of land (landlord owned)

      • They grew potatoes to sustain family

        • Cheap

        • Nutritious

        • Grow in relatively poor soil

      • They also made butter for landlord (buttermilk left for them)

Irish potato famine cont
Irish Potato Famine (cont.)

  • This diet was quite nutritious

    • Among the tallest and healthiest laborers in Europe

  • Foundation for low-wage agriculture

  • Food exports fueled the industrial revolution of Great Britain

Irish potato famine cont1
Irish Potato Famine (cont.)

  • 1845-1949 – Potato Late Blight hit (weather conditions were just right)

    • Potatoes rotted in the ground

    • 1 million died of starvation

    • 1 million immigrated

Famines created by government policies
Famines Created by Government Policies

  • Ukraine Famine (1930’s)

  • Chinese Famine (1950’s) “Great Leap Forward” famine

  • Irish potato famine caused by a free-market economy

  • The two above caused by centrally-planned economies

Ukraine famine 1932 33
Ukraine Famine 1932-33

  • Soviet Union was a collectively-owned and centrally planned system (Stalin)

    • In other words they took away private ownership of land, factories, etc.

    • From farmers they took land, machinery, livestock

    • Consolidated them into large farms


  • Seizure of all food and stock caused the famine

  • 6-8 million Ukrainians died


  • Russians did not really like the Ukrainians

  • Their policies caused the problem

    • Not famine

    • Not war

    • It was completely man-made

Chinese famine 1959 61
Chinese Famine (1959-61)

  • Most destructive famine in recorded history

  • Mao Tse-tung – “The Great Leap Forward” (1952-1961)

    • A plan to convert from an agriculture society to Industrial

    • Moderately successful until 1958

    • Policies set in place to:

      • Further consolidate farms

      • Farmers were forced to work in local industries as well as the farms

      • Food exports were increased to pay debts

    • Poor weather conditions exacerbated the problem from 1959-1961


  • 30 million people died

  • Provinces abandoned Mao’s plan in 1961

    • Ag productivity rebounded

North korea
North Korea

  • Famine since the 1990’s

  • Closely aligned with the Soviet Union & China

  • North Korean officials played one against the other for food aid

  • USSR broke up and aid halted

  • Agriculture in terrible shape

  • Drought in 1995

    • 2-3 million died


  • Farm workers were given a ration of grain from what they produced on the communal farms

  • With the drought, rations were cut to the workers by 1/3

    • Food for the urban areas

    • Reports of cannibalism of children in 2003

  • Still they build missiles and nuclear weapons

Southern africa drought
Southern Africa Drought

  • 2002-2003 Drought followed by heavy rains during harvest

  • Food aid from USA and other countries saved millions

  • Zimbabwe (formerly called Rhodesia, when it was a British colony) confiscated land from white commercial farmers and gave it to indigenous supporters of the ruling party

  • Production dropped by 75%

Southern africa drought cont
Southern Africa Drought (cont.)

  • When I taught at Cal Poly, I had brothers from Zimbabwe in my class. Their land was confiscated and they had to leave by cover of darkness to escape. They told me some of what their families went through trying to get some of their property out of the country without being caught and killed themselves

  • They have since invited the farmers back. The brothers said that there was not a chance that their family would ever go back

  • Their agriculture is still a disaster


Haiti than a decade

  • Distribution went to gangs

  • Depressed local farm prices

    • Let’s see, I can pay the farmers for their goods or I can get them for free from the USA. Which should I do??

  • Dependence on foreign aid is a big problem

    • The UN World Food Program

What should be done
What should be done? than a decade

  • Increase food availability

  • Distribution policies?

    • Pay cash or coupons for food??

      • What problems do you see with this?

  • Help them improve their farming practices

  • Education?

  • Work incentives?