06 March 2010

International Food Politics

Among the things for which Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize in Economics was research demonstrating that famine is a political-economic not a "natural" phenomenon. In his research he shows that famines typically occur not because there is an absolute lack of food (hence the seeming paradox that sometimes countries experiencing famine actually also are exporting foodstuffs) but of access to food where access is determined by institutions (e.g., markets, property rights, and so forth). In The Guardian today is this report on what looks to me like what will turn out sooner rather than later to be a disastrous situation in various African nations as food becomes an export while domestic populations confront severe food insecurity in one or another form. The underlying problem is that markets - for land or water or labor - don't work in attractive ways in the face of extreme resource asymmetries.

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