Famine and hunger have human, not physical, causes
This statement is not entirely true. Physical causes play a major role in famine and hunger, but famine and hunger is amplified because of human factors. I will focus on Africa as the main case study, although other examples will be included where appropriate.
Famine and hunger occur because of the inability to produce sufficient food to feed a country’s population. The main causes of this can be attributed to physical factors, such as unfavourable climatic conditions.
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Global climate change has made farming very unreliable when it comes to producing a constant and sufficient amount of food. In Somalia, farmers have been unable to produce much food because of drastic climatic conditions. In 1997 and 1998, Somalia experienced heavy monsoon rains, which brought about floods due to the El Nino effect. However in 2000 and 2001, Somalia’s luck turned for the worse as the country was ravaged by drought. Either way, crops could not be grown, leading to mass starvation.
The countries around the Sahara desert also suffer when it comes to finding sufficient food. Only a recorded 50mm of rainfall or less falls in the Sahara desert a year, making farming extremely difficult. In the likelihood that it does rain, it results in flashfloods that can wipe out entire tribes and their animals. Although farming can take place around oases, the Sahara is well known for its dust storms, which can cover up these potentially fertile farming grounds. Over the years, oases have been disappearing and reappearing in the desert. They too, are not the most reliable long-term source of food.
Although many other countries, such as those in Asia, also suffer from famine and hunger, the extent to which they experience this is much less compared to their African counterparts. The main reason is that climatic conditions influencing are much milder and less harsh. The other reason being that governments in other countries are more efficient than those in Africa.
The role of governments is a human factor. Other human factors causing famine and hunger are previous colonists and their effects, and also economic and social factors. Some human factors have actually led to physical deterioration of the environment causing famine and hunger.
Africa is one continent where both previous European colonialism and current dictatorship have not served the people well. The Europeans divided Africa into different countries, ignoring the natural territorial boundaries of the native tribes. Many countries ended up having multi-tribal populations, which led to clan wars. Now dictators have taken up the position of previous European powers in at least ten of the African countries. Corrupt individuals have used up the country’s money and natural resources for their own pleasures. Money is also spent on military arms to protect their own countries or to attack others, instilling a sense of insecurity in other neighbouring countries and provoking them to do the same. Many African countries are at war with each other. This takes much of the human resources off farmlands, mainly men, but even many children have been made child soldiers.
Other countries outside of Africa do suffer from famine and hunger. Russia is one country that has experienced a political change in administration, from that of Communism to Capitalism. Statistics have shown that social factors are not improving – life expectancy has been reduced and there is a higher death rate than before. However, Russia’s population does not experience hunger to the extent of African countries, because of the availability of technology and because Russia is more developed. Africa is simply too poor to afford any technological changes in farming. Farmers in Africa are encouraged to buy crop seeds from multinational companies. Although the seeds are high yielding, they are unable to reproduce or propagate. Hence, farmers have to spend more money buying these input-intensive seeds, making the industry extremely unprofitable. Most farmers are unable to afford even the tools needed for a successful growing and harvest season.
Some parts of India and Bangladesh suffer from famine because of land fragmentation. Large areas of land are divided up among children and siblings. Every year, the area of land owned by each individual is getting smaller and smaller. Farming is inefficient and the land runs out of nutrients very quickly and crop farming is unable to continue. However, because of the population pressure on the land to build more houses, farmland cannot be opened up, leading to a drop in crop production. In Africa, another main problem leading to increasing food problems is the increase in cash crop production.
The above is an example of how physical factors leading to hunger have been caused by human factors. This is also the case in Africa. Deforestation, dam building and animal overgrazing of pastures have led to the increasing desertification of land. More and more farmland is rendered useless because of desertification. Also many African farmers lack the farming knowledge essential in successful farming European and North American countries, such as the benefits of crop rotation.
Another human factor causing famine and hunger in Africa is simply because of the demographic trends. Africa is experiencing one of the highest population explosions in the world. There are just too many people for the country’s resources to support and there is not enough food. Sudan has one of the highest population densities in Africa, whereas another country with similar densities, the Netherlands, has the highest in Europe. Yet the people in the Netherlands are well fed, one of the reasons being that is does not suffer from the same physical and human crises in Africa. Another reason is that the Netherlands is able to control population growth and is one of the European countries whose population growth rates are approaching below replacement level.
Aside from that, there are other economic and political factors associated with Africa’s elevating food problems. Firstly, because of the harsh climate, African farmers are gradually being forced to switch from their traditional subsistence farming to the more profitable cash crop farming. Not only are cash crops such as tobacco and cotton more resistant to the changes in climate, but they are also more commercial because of the demand of overseas markets. This means, however, that farmers are producing less food for themselves and their families and this decreasing self-sufficiency causes them to depend more on foreign products, such as seeds provided by multinationals, such as those mentioned earlier.
Secondly, Africa’s dependance on international and foreign aid is worsening its plight. Many African countries are only in the second stage of the Demographic Transition Model, and some countries are even going backwards development wise. They more or less fit themselves into Thomas Malthus’ model of the unsustainability of increasing population growth on natural resources. However, I believe that it is international aid, in the form of food and medicine, which contributes to Africa’s population growth. Were it not for international aid, the population of many of Africa’s countries would have decreased accordingly to which the countries’ own natural resources would have been able to support, therefore avoiding the food crisis plaguing Africa today.
To conclude, famine and hunger are not only cause by human problems, but they also have physical causes behind them. However, the problems in food production caused by physical factors have been magnified by human factors. Countries in Africa and Asia, namely LEDCs, are overwhelmed by the problems brought about by physical causes, as they do not have the money and technology to overcome these causes. However, human causes including social and economic problems have been no help in improving the situation, but have simply worsened it.