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How does Sen's approach to famine differ from the Malthusian approach?

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"Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough to eat. It is not the characteristic of there being not enough food to eat" (Sen) How does this approach to famine differ from the Malthusian approach? What policy recommendations does it lead to? "The most starling aspect of the World's food problem is not the statistics, though the United Nations say that more than 400 million people are underfed; nor the prognosis, though the World's population will double in the next 30 years, and the production is often failing to keep apace. It is that we are perfectly able, technically, to feed all the people well for at least the foreseeable future: we even have the necessary good will; and yet we pursue policies and encourage techniques that will make our real but man-made crisis worse" (Colin Tudge 1977) This is an important question to answer, because unfortunately famine is still a threat to a lot of people in this World. In the words of Stephen Devereux "[F]amine is not a matter for historians; it has yet to be defeated"1. Why is this? To answer this question I am going to concentrate on two of the most famous theories of famine; Thomas Malthus's population approach and Sen's Entitlement approach. ...read more.


That is a fact. But modern evidence from population data, as opposed to Malthus's opinion, suggests that this high birth rate is primary an adaptation"10. Firstly it's an adoption to agrarian life, because farming communities without modern technology, need lots of people to do the work. Secondly, it's an adaption to poverty and in some cases to political or social oppression. "[A]cceptance of famine as a necessary state and inevitable fate of the weak and the poor had led to actions which create famines and perpetuate famines. Many famines which have occurred might have been prevented or reduced in intensity by human efforts had decision-makers understood the meaning of the word famine and the causes of famine"11. So if Malthus's theory of famine is problematic what theory explains why famines occur? "[A]martya Sen (1981) investigated famines and argued that the primary cause of famine was the shift in the distribution of income and not, as we conventionally thought, a failure in crops"12 . Sen has studied many famines but concentrates on Bengal (1943-44), Ethiopia (1972-74), Sahel (1968-1973) and Bangladesh (1974). Through studying these famines Sen has concluded that there are four ways in which people can obtain food13: by growing it (production based entitlement), buying it (trade based entitlement), work for it (own labour entitlement) ...read more.


Sen's explanation maybe a little more complex than Malthus's but there is a way to prevent famine and the suffering of people. For Sen it is not the problem of population that causes famine but it's the problem of poverty. Poverty is now seen as a major cause of famine; only certain people are affected by famines and these are the poorest people living, most of the time, off the land. Those who rely upon production or labour based entitlements. I therefore believe that it is understandable that the global problem of famine can be combated through development processes as proposed by Sen. 1 Stephen Devereux, Famine in the Twentieth Century, page 8 2 William A Dando, The Geography of famine, page 5 3 Stephen Devereux, Famine in the Twentieth Century, page 16 4 Stephen Devereux, Famine in the Twentieth Century 5 Stephen Devereux, Famine in the Twentieth Century 6 Stephen Devereux, Famine in the Twentieth Century, page 17 7 Colin Tudge, The Famine Business, 8 Colin Tudge, The Famine Business, page 9 9 Colin Tudge, The Famine Business, page 10 10 ibid 11 William A Dando, Geography of famine, page 59 12Michael Nicholson, International Relations, Page 111 13 Stephen Devereux, Famine in the Twentieth Century 14 http://finance.commerce.ubc.ca/~bhatta/BookReview/arrow-on-sen's-poverty-and-famine.html 15Barbara Hendrie, A critique of an international relief operation, page 6 16 John Schischta, The capabilities approach as a metric for economic development 17 ibid 18 ibid ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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