, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 25-35
Date: 24 Jan 2009

Why does famine persist in Africa?

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Abstract

Famines were apparently eradicated from Asia and Europe during the twentieth century, but not from Africa, where three countries—Ethiopia, Malawi and Niger—have suffered mass mortality food crises since 2000. This paper locates the persistence of famine in Africa in simultaneous or sequential failures of food supply, demand for food, and humanitarian responses. Each of the three recent crises was triggered by a moderate decline in crop and/or livestock production, exacerbated by ‘exchange entitlement failures’—food price spikes and asset price collapses. The critical analytical question, however, is not why these famines happened, but why they were not prevented. Information failure is rejected as an explanatory factor in favour of ineffective and inappropriate interventions, adverse relations between governments and donor agencies at critical moments, and unaccountability for famine prevention in low-income countries with weak democracies and interventionist development partners.