Agriculture Reference
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rarely, there have only been a few in the past three decades (Gráda, 2009). They have complex
causes and nearly always occur in regions that have poor governance, have experienced con-
flict or are otherwise isolated from the international community.
Table 2.1 shows the triggers and the processes that are described in the literature on why
famines occur. Climatological triggers, such as drought and floods, are caused by long-term
processes of a changing climate or man-made reduction in the productivity of the land, or
desertification (Devereux, 2000). Demographic, economic and political triggers and processes
have also been seen to be the cause of famines (Shipton, 1990). Each of the theories alone is
a partial explanation and will not cause famine by itself. For example, an expanding popula-
tion that requires an exponential growth in food availability will not cause a famine by itself,
since processes of agricultural technology, transformation of transportation networks, techno-
logical advancements and industrial processes will also evolve as the population grows to
increase food availability to meet the demand.
Like airplane crashes, famines are caused by a sequence or cascade of failures where access,
“complex emergencies” by the humanitarian communities, these usually include poor or
non-functioning governance, blocked or distorted trade networks, lack of outside assistance,
conflict or war disrupted local food production activities, local economic collapse and under-
mined household coping strategies. A drought alone is not enough to cause a famine, nor is a
conflict or high food prices. But when there are multiple triggers and processes occurring at
one time, and there is a slow or ineffective response by local government or the international
community, then a famine can occur.
In the most recent famine that occurred in Somalia, the causes of the crisis included several
years of drought that culminated in a completely failed harvest due to an extreme lack of
rainfall, an expansion of the population with a resulting decline in per capita food production
and broad failure of entitlements to productive resources, and a severe conflict that prevented
TABLE 2.1 Primarytriggersandprocessesthatcausefamines
Global Warming
Demographic shift
Market failure
Entitlement failure
Civil unrest
Response failure
Government policy
Source : derived from Stephen Devereux, Institute of Development Studies, “Summer School on Food Security and
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