Food Security

, 1:25 | Cite as

Why does famine persist in Africa?

Original Paper


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.


Famine Food security Social protection Vulnerability Africa Ethiopia Malawi Niger 


  1. Africa Watch (1991) Evil days: 30 years of war and famine in Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  2. Alderman H, Haque T (2007) Insurance against covariate shocks: The role of index-based insurance in low-income countries of Africa, Africa human development series, Working Paper, 95. World Bank, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  3. Banik D (2007) Starvation and India’s democracy. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  4. Bradbury M (1998) Normalising the crisis in Africa. Disasters 22(4):328–338PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Buchanan-Smith M, Davies S (1995) Famine early warning and response: The missing link. Intermediate Technology Publications, LondonGoogle Scholar
  6. Carr S (1998) Root crop production in Malawi: some anomalies in the data, Mimeo, Zomba, MalawiGoogle Scholar
  7. Carr S (2003) Food shortages in Malawi 2001–2003, Mimeo, Zomba, MalawiGoogle Scholar
  8. Clay D, Molla D, Habtewold D (1999) Food aid targeting in Ethiopia: a study of who needs it and who gets it. Food Policy 24(4):391–409CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Darcy J, Hofmann C (2003) According to Need? Needs assessment and decision-making in the humanitarian sector, HPG Report, 15. Overseas Development Institute, LondonGoogle Scholar
  10. Davis M (2001) Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino famines and the making of the Third World. Verso, LondonGoogle Scholar
  11. de Waal A (1997) Famine crimes: Politics and the disaster relief industry in Africa. James Currey, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  12. de Waal A (2000) Democratic political process and the fight against famine, IDS Working Paper, 107. Institute of Development Studies, BrightonGoogle Scholar
  13. Devereux S (2000) Famine in the twentieth century, IDS working paper, 105. Institute of Development Studies, BrightonGoogle Scholar
  14. Devereux S (2005) Old failures feed new famines: Starvation strikes emerging democracies, New Internationalist, 383: 2–3 [, accessed 24/03/2006]
  15. Devereux S (2006) Vulnerable livelihoods in Somali Region, Ethiopia, IDS Research Report, 57. Institute of Development Studies, BrightonGoogle Scholar
  16. Devereux S (2007) Introduction: From “old famines” to “new famines”, Chapter 1 in Devereux S (ed) The new famines. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  17. Devereux S (2008) Innovations in the design and delivery of social transfers: Lessons learned from Malawi, Concern worldwide policy paper. Concern Worldwide, LondonGoogle Scholar
  18. Devereux S, Tiba Z (2007) Malawi’s first famine, 2001–2002, Chapter 7. In: Devereux S (ed) The new famines. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  19. Dorward A, Kydd J (2004) The Malawi 2002 food crisis: the rural development challenge. J Mod Afr Stud 42(3):343–361CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Drouhin E, Defourny I (2006) Niger: taking political responsibility for malnutrition. Humanitarian Exchange 33:20–22 MarchGoogle Scholar
  21. Edkins J (2007) The Criminalisation of mass starvations: From natural disaster to crime against humanity, Chapter 3. In: Devereux S (ed) The new famines. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  22. FAO (2004) Intergovernmental working group for the elaboration of a set of voluntary guidelines to support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security, final report of the chair. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
  23. FEWS NET (2001) Malawi monthly food security report: mid-May–mid-June 2001. FEWS NET, Lilongwe JuneGoogle Scholar
  24. FEWS NET (2002) Malawi monthly food security report: mid-March–mid-April 2002. FEWS NET, Lilongwe MarchGoogle Scholar
  25. FEWS NET (August 2005) Rapport Mensuel sur la Sécurité Alimentaire au Sahel et en Afrique de l’Ouest, FEWS NETGoogle Scholar
  26. Haggard S, Noland M (2007) Famine in North Korea: Markets, aid, and reform. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  27. Howe P (2007) Priority regimes and famine, chapter 15. In: Devereux S (ed) The new famines. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  28. Howe P, Devereux S (2004) Famine intensity and magnitude scales: a proposal for an instrumental definition of famine. Disasters 28(4):353–372PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. International Development Committee (2003) The humanitarian crisis in Southern Africa, Third Report of Session 2002–2003. House of Commons, LondonGoogle Scholar
  30. Khalif M, Doornbos M (2002) The Somali Region in Ethiopia: a neglected human rights tragedy. Rev Afr Polit Econ 91:73–94Google Scholar
  31. Lautze S, Maxwell D (2007) Why do famines persist in the Horn of Africa? Ethiopia, 1999–2003, Chapter 10. In: Devereux S (ed) The new famines. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  32. Lautze S, Raven-Roberts A, Teshome Erkineh (forthcoming) ‘Humanitarian Governance in the New Millennium—an Ethiopian case study, ODI Working Paper, London: Overseas Development InstituteGoogle Scholar
  33. Maxwell D (2002) Why do famines persist? a brief review of Ethiopia 1999–2000. IDS Bull 33(4):48–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Mousseau F, Mittal A (2006) Sahel: A prisoner of starvation? A case study of the 2005 food crisis in Niger. The Oakland Institute, OaklandGoogle Scholar
  35. Olsen G, Carstensen N, Hoyen K (2003) Humanitarian crises: what determines the level of emergency assistance? Media coverage, donor interests and the aid business. Disasters 27(2):109–126PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Overseas Development Institute (ODI) (2005) Humanitarian issues in Niger’, HPG Briefing Note. London, ODIGoogle Scholar
  37. Rubin O (2009) The Niger famine: a collapse of entitlements and democratic responsiveness, Journal of Asian and African Studies, 44(3) (forthcoming)Google Scholar
  38. Salama P, Assefa F, Talley L, Spiegel P, van der Veen A, Gotway C (2001) Malnutrition, measles, mortality, and the humanitarian response during a famine in Ethiopia. JAMA 286(5):563–571PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sandford S, Habtu Y (2000) Emergency response interventions in pastoral areas of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa: Department for International Development (DFID)Google Scholar
  40. Sen A (1981) Poverty and Famines: An essay on entitlement and deprivation. Clarendon, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  41. Sen A (1999) Democracy as Freedom. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  42. Watson F (2007) Why are there no longer ‘war famines’ in contemporary Europe? Bosnia besieged, 1992–1995, Chapter 12. In: Devereux S (ed) The new famines. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  43. World Food Programme (2000) Findings and recommendations of the mission to Kenya and Ethiopia between 17–23 September 2000. World Food Programme, RomeGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. & International Society for Plant Pathology 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Development StudiesUniversity of SussexBrightonUK

Personalised recommendations