Why can’t people feed themselves

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The title of this topic is a question that is actually rhetoric. Along with trying to answer this question, it is also necessary that we go deeper into the actual reason why people can’t feed themselves.

I am not of the actual opinion that starvation is an offshoot of non-availability of food grains. Yes, that is the effect. The actual cause is something else. There have been several thinkers and scientists who have put forth their views on the subject, and I have my own line of thought too.

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In Article 31, according to     Frances Moore Lappe, Joseph Collins, and Cary Fowler (originally published in Food First: Beyond the myth of Scarcity, Houghton-Mifflin, 1977), Colonialism seemed to be the key between the countries that had a food surplus, and the countries where people could not apparently feed themselves. Their explanation included various examples of countries like India and Bangladesh, where there is a lot of starvation. There is a lot of logic in their style of thought, as cited in an example of Calcutta in India. As colonialism made sure that the social system of the country was disrupted, people who depended on agriculture for their livelihood were forced out of it, leading to a widespread upheaval of the entire social fabric. This led to a lot of repercussions, and that is one of the key reasons why hunger became so widespread in all the so-called ‘under-developed’ countries. So, Colonialism is one reason why people lost the ability to feed themselves. However, I felt the need to look out for additional sources too, as this does not comprehensively address the reason why people can’t feed themselves.

The idea of colonialism is also subscribed to by Robin Broad (Global Backlash: Citizen initiatives for a just world economy, Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), who also quotes the speech of Lappe and Collins on page 80. The same speech is referred to at other places in the book too.

Michael Maren is of a different opinion. In his book ‘The Road to Hell: The ravaging effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity’ (Free Press, 1997), Mr. Maren is of the opinion that foreign aid is actually making people dependant on the inflow. One thing he agrees with is that this is not the cause of people losing the ability to feed themselves. Whatever be the actual cause, this process of continuing, and in fact increasing aid is only leading to people becoming more and more dependant. This is another very interesting stand point.

In his path breaking book ‘The Paradox of plenty: Hunger in a bountiful world’ (Food First books, 1999), Douglas Boucher talks about various stand points as to why people cannot feed themselves. Though he does not address the actual cause, he reaffirms that scarcity is a myth. To prove his point, he also takes the colonial route, and uses Bangladesh as a case study. The various chapters in the book, each covers a different effect – Pesticides, Rain forest destruction, Population, and even the American connection. One thing that he said in the book has been confirmed by thousands of thinkers over the ages – that the earth and mother nature provide us with enough to feed every single living being bountifully, and still be left with a lot!

So, if none of these are the actual reason for why people cannot feed themselves today, what is?
I also happened to read the post script of an address by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen on ‘Development – Which way now?’ delivered originally as the Presidential address of the development studies association of the United Kingdom and Ireland, at Dublin, on 23rd September, 1982. This address talks about the rise and decline of Development Economics. Though not directly addressing people’s ability to feed themselves, it has pointed my thought flow in a different direction.

According to me, the actual reason why people can’t feed themselves today, is because they have lost the belief that they can.

Everything is related to a thought and as it is said, ‘Watch your thoughts, they become words…… becomes your destiny’. Whatever be the reason, the root cause that has led people to lose out on the ability to feed themselves is a loss of belief. Also termed as self-image, once a person believes whole-heartedly that he can / cannot do something, and repeat the same to every person they meet, it happens. The same has happened with the cause of people fighting illness, and great scientists, but in a positive way – where their belief has actually helped them achieve something that was termed impossible.

Wherever we see, nature has endowed us with some kind of resources. Whether it be the barren Acrtic or the scorching Sahara. It is surprising to note that the people who can’t feed themselves are not located in these seemingly impossible-to-live areas. The actual people who need to be fed, are in areas that have been blessed with plenty! So, the reason is thought process. And that is what needs to be addressed. Yes, it is necessary that the effects continue to be addressed, as it will take time for belief to actually set in into the minds of the affected people. But I believe that the process has to begin immediately, so the results will be evident in a few years time.

Like Frances Moore Lappe and Joseph Collins mention in Article 31, ‘We have come to see that it is the force creating the condition, not the condition itself, that must be the target of change. Otherwise, we might change the condition today, only to find tomorrow that it has been recreated – with a vengeance.

Works Cited –

Lappe, Frances Moore and Collins, Joseph – Food First: Beyond the myth of Scarcity, Houghton-Mifflin, 1977

Broad, Robin – Global Backlash: Citizen initiatives for a just world economy, Rowman & Littlefield, 2002, Page 80

Boucher, Douglas – The Paradox of plenty: Hunger in a bountiful world, Food First books, 1999

Sen, Amartya – Speech on ‘Development – Which way now’ – Dublin, 23rd September, 1982

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Why can’t people feed themselves. (2017, Jan 26). Retrieved from


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