Overview: Famine

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Author: Yusur al Bahrani

In order to prevent famine and end an existing one, it is crucial to understand what famine is. This introduction will help define famine and identify some of the causes. While famine is a preventable threat to the human population, it will not end if the root causes are not addressed.

According to the www.dictionary.com definition, famine is a “noun” that means: Extreme and general scarcity of food, as in a country or a large geographical area; any extreme and general scarcity; extreme hunger and starvation. This is a broad definition, which could include many countries and geographic areas hit by food insecurities.

However, famine is not a word to be used lightly. Therefore, international organizations have agreed on a scientific frame that would help them identify when to declare a nation to be suffering from famine. According to United Nations, a famine can be declared only when certain measures of mortality, malnutrition, and hunger are met. The measures are:

  1. At least 20 per cent of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope.
  2. Acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 per cent.
  3. The death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.
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Related Videos and Podcasts

58. Famine in Africa
*Daniel Maxwell, Henry J. Leir Professor in Food Security, Friedman School of Nutrition, Tufts University

57. Gandhi: Justice, Technology
• Anand Mazgaonkar, National Alliance for Peoples Movement, Ahmedabad, India
• Carl Kline, Satyagraha Institute
• Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, Nonviolence International

54. Venezuela
• Nestor Garrido, Venezuelan journalist
• Yuriria Lanza, Venezuelan IT professional
• Isaac Nahon-Serfaty, professor of Communication, U of Ottawa
• Angel Alvarez, political science professor
• Francisco Wulff, economist

51. Biodiversity and Food
• Harriet Friedmann, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University of Toronto

45: Gandhian Sustainable Development Goals
• Jill Carr-Harris co- leader of the Jai Japal march from India to Geneva, starting in October 2020.
* Rajagopal, co- leader of the Jai Japal march from India to Geneva, starting in October 2020.

37. The War in Yemen
• Qais Ghanem, Retired professor of medicine, Ottawa University
• Paul Maillet, retired Colonel, Canadian Forces, now peacebuilding worker.

22. Famine
• Alex deWaal, Executive Director, World Peace Foundation

13. Yemen
• Yusur Al Bahrani, Journalist living in Yellowknife, Northweat Territories, Canada
• Ahmed Jehaf, Journalist living in Sana’a,

6. Famine and Food Security
• Haroon Akram-Lodhi, Professor of International Development, Trent University
• Mustafa Koc, Professor of Sociology, Ryerson U

5. Food and Regenerative Farming
• Lloyd Helferty, Agricultural Engineering Technologist
• Jodi Koberinski, Regeneration International, Climate Smart Food.
• Joanna Santa Barbara, New Zealand Activisy

General reference sources

Dolly, Justin. 2017. “The Cyber Cold War: The Silent, but Persistent Threat to Nation States.” ITPro Portal. April 19, 2017. https://www.itproportal.com/features/the-cyber-cold-war-the-silent-but-persistent-threat-to-nation-states/.
Hopma, Justa. 2017. “Famine Isn’t Just a Result of Conflict—It’s a Cause.” Newsweek, January 25, 2017. www.newsweek.com/food-insecurity-conflict-sudan-famine-548033.
Kostigen, Thomas M. 2015. “Extreme Weather to Cause Extreme Food Shortages, Task Force Finds.” USA Today, August 22, 2015. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/08/21/extreme-weather-cause-extreme-food-shortages-task-force-finds/32104685/.
Loria, Kevin. 2017. “Even a ‘Limited’ Nuclear War Could Trigger Cruel Nuclear Winters and Global Famine.” Business Insider, August 10, 2017. http://www.businessinsider.com/nuclear-explosions-earth-atmosphere-temperature-2017-8.
Mekonnen, Meedan. 2016. “Drought, Famine, and Conflict: A Case from the Horn of Africa.” Beyond Intractibility. September 2016. https://www.beyondintractability.org/casestudy/mekonnen-drought.
O’ Connell, Simon. 2017. “The True Cause of Hunger and Famine? War and Weak Governance.” World Economic Forum. April 28, 2017. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/04/conflict-and-famine-time-for-honesty/.

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Carol Wells

FEED A BEE! You don’t have to be a tree hugger to respect the environment that you live in. For two million years, before the agricultural revolution, humans foraged the land and brought thousands of species of animals to extinction. We can say that millions of years ago we didn’t know better, but now we do. Bees are pollinators, and without them, we wouldn’t be alive. They are responsible for feeding 90% of the world’s population. David Attenborough, the voice behind The Blue Planet and Planet Earth, warns “if bees were to disappear from the face of the Earth, humans… Read more »

Adam Wynne

Are bees sensitive to artificial sweeteners? This may work as an emergency energy boost – but what impacts do artificial and refined sweeteners have on bees vs. the molecules naturally found in nectar?

Adam Wynne

This article discusses the alarming interconnections between the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the destruction of food products. Title: ‘A Disastrous Situation’ : Mountains Of Food Wasted As Coronavirus Scrambles Supply Chain Author: Cagle, Susie Publication(s): The Guardian Date: 9 April 2020 Link: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/09/us-coronavirus-outbreak-agriculture-food-supply-waste Article Excerpt(s): “Billions of dollars worth of food is going to waste as growers and producers from California to Florida are facing a massive surplus of highly perishable items. As US food banks handle record demand and grocery stores struggle to keep shelves stocked, farmers are dumping fresh milk and plowing vegetables back into the dirt as… Read more »

Adam Wynne

This short documentary offers an interesting perspective on the importance of crop resilience (in this context kumara – a type of sweet potato). Crop resilience is a vital element of famine prevention.

Title: How Chinese Refugees Saved the Sweet Potato
Author: Ajaka, Nadine
Publication(s): The Atlantic
Date: 19 August 2016
Link: https://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/496655/chinese-refugees-saved-the-kumara/

Adam Wynne

For those of you looking for an interesting film to watch, I highly recommend PBS’ Documentary “Seed: The Untold Story.” The documentary discusses how an estimated 94% of vegetable varieties went extinct in the 20th century and the critical importance of preserving seed diversity for human security. It is noted in the documentary that many varieties of vegetables shown in old paintings and photographs have since vanished. There is hope that some seeds have been preserved. Of note is that a loss of seed diversity and increased monoculture planting has opened up a number of avenues for agricultural diseases and… Read more »

Adam Wynne

An interesting article discussing and encouraging resilience in Canada (and global) agricultural industries and sectors during COVID-19. Title: The resilience of the agriculture community is being tested anew amid the COVID-19 outbreak Author: Dyck, Toban Publication(s): The Chronicle Herald Date: 16 March 2020 Link: https://www.thechronicleherald.ca/business/perspectives-on-business/the-resilience-of-the-agriculture-community-is-being-tested-anew-amid-the-covid-19-outbreak-424674/ Notes: Article Excerpt(s): “In 1918, Canadian farmers seeded 17,354,000 acres of wheat, up from 14,756,000 the year before. Dry bean acres increased during the same period from 93,000 to 229,000, according to Statistics Canada. Prime Minister Robert Borden’s Conservative government at the time urged Canadian farmers to increase production to feed our First World War… Read more »

Adam Wynne

Did you know that Canada has several native cacti species? These are all in the Opuntia family of cacti – commonly called prickly pears. Opuntia (prickly pears) are more commonly found in Latin America, Mexico, and the Southwestern USA – though grow throughout the Americas. Indigenous and Latin American peoples have used the species for centuries as sources of dyes, fibers, and food. One common cuisine produced from Opuntia (prickly pears) are Nopales – which are grilled cacti pad. Thornless varieties or cacti pads with the thorns (glochids) removed are preferred for culinary applications. Prior to colonization, cacti were only… Read more »

Adam Wynne

Title: Cherokee Nation Donates Indigenous Crops to the Global Seed Vault Link: https://www.foodandwine.com/news/cherokee-indigenous-seed-vault-donation-norway Excerpt: “Earlier this week, the Cherokee Nation started to distribute its supply of heirloom seeds, which are free to any Cherokee. Last year, the Cherokee Nation Heirloom Garden and Native Plant Site distributed almost 10,000 packets of seeds to any Cherokee citizen who requested them. This seed bank was established in February 2006, and the number of participants who register to receive their two crops has steadily increased every February—although 2019 was its biggest year to date. […] Although the Global Seed Vault contains more than one… Read more »

Adam Wynne

Southern Africa has routinely faced droughts and famines. I am routinely shocked to see how much produce in Canada comes from South Africa, such as apples, grapes, etc. – in addition to the water intense wine industry. Is there an opportunity to source produce and wine from a more ecologically friendly region? What impacts would this have on the regional economies of southern Africa? Are these products coming from large – often international – corporations – or are they coming from small-scale, regional farmers? I am additionally shocked how many residents of Southern Africa (not just South Africa) are facing… Read more »

Adam Wynne

Almond Milk Is Even More Evil Than You Thought “In the past five years, almond milk consumption in the United States has exploded over 250 percent. The lower-calorie, vegan milk alternative is a staple in grocery stores and coffee shops across the country now, but its booming popularity comes at a heavy environmental cost. According to a new report from the Guardian this week, the titanic and growing demands of the California almond industry are placing a huge strain on the hives of bees used to pollinate their orchards, wiping out billions of honeybees in a matter of months.” […]… Read more »

Adam Wynne

Globally, between 1 and 2 billion people (20-22% of the world’s total population as of 2020) rely on “mountain water towers” – often interpreted as glacier meltwater – for their drinking and household water. These same water systems additionally have vital roles in natural ecology – supplying water for many ecosystems. These water sources are important in years of drought as they maintain a reservoir source of water even in the event of little to no rainfall. However, climate change is accelerating the rate of glacial melt – putting these whole systems and those reliant on them at risk. If… Read more »

Adam Wynne

Has anyone read Julian Cribb’s new book “Food or War?” What are your thoughts on the book? I just saw this article this evening and thought folks here may find it interesting – though I have personally not read their book… ““The most destructive object on the planet,” Cribb writes, “is the human jawbone.” Our agricultural ingenuity has enabled us to masterfully exploit our natural resources, Cribb maintains, but looming food insecurity, thanks to desertification, topsoil loss, dead zones in the ocean, and other climatic hazards, will ultimately lead to wars. […] War itself, of course, also results in starvation.… Read more »

Julian Cribb
Adam Wynne

Thanks for the link.

Kelvin Juma

We can protect famine by limiting the growing technology in the world,,the growth of famine is now day resulted from our daily growing technology

Adam Wynne

Kelvin – Can you clarify what you mean by this?