Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


Why people go hungry
Paper and paperboard
Predicting changes in climate
Conservation glossary in English
Oxford encyclopaedia of trees of the world
National forestry statistics from FAO
Remote sensing textbook
Study and management of large mammals

Why people go hungry

Poverty and famines: an essay on entitlement and deprivation. Amartya Sen. Oxford University Press. 257 p. Price: US $ 17.95

A localized famine is commonly thought of as resulting from a local failure of crops that is not mitigated by importing food, as happened in the Sahel region of Africa in the late 1960s. Countries where hunger is widespread are frequently blamed, moreover, for allowing excessive population growth. The simple Malthusian ratio of food supply to population is further simplified so that the cause of misery is often seen as a matter of over-population alone; we even hear advocates of "lifeboat ethics", whereby countries should be abandoned to their fates.

Mr Sen makes a strong case against such views and is highly qualified to do so. He is a scholar of unusually wide interests in an era in which most economists have become highly specialized. As Drummond Professor of Political Economy at Oxford University, he holds the oldest chair in the United Kingdom. He has been a student of economic development since his first work, the well-known monograph Choice of techniques, where his cool insistence on proper economic principles argued against simplistic planning and political doctrines in India. He is also known among philosophers for his ideas on ethics and the basis of good social action.

In brief, he argues that famine results from the working of the economic system in allocating the ability of people to acquire goods. Famine cannot be explained by a simple relation between food supply and population. Sen illustrates this argument by detailed studies of four famines: the great Bengal famine of 1943-44, in which perhaps three million people died (mostly by lowered resistance to disease); the famine in several provinces of Ethiopia between 1972 and 1974; the highly publicized drought and famine in the Sahel between 1968 and 1973; and the famine in Bangladesh in 1974 (the same region as the 1943-44 famine, but under a different political regime).

AT A REFUGEE CAMP IN ETHIOPIA - where hunger knows no boundaries

Most striking are the statistics on the two Bengal famines, the first of which Sen analyses in the greatest detail. The 1943 crop of rice and other foods was somewhat low, especially in relation to the extraordinarily large harvest of 1942, but it was distinctly higher than the crop of 1941, which was not a famine year. Sen finds that the per caput availability of food supply was 9 percent higher in 1943 than in 1941 and only about 10 percent less than the average of the five preceding years.

Therefore, he concludes, famine cannot be accounted for simply by lack of available food. Relatively small changes in the food supply can be accompanied by dramatic increases in the number of deaths from famine. Why should this occur? Sen points to the simple fact that goods reach people through their ability to "command" that they have goods, as provided by the workings of the socioeconomic system. At any given moment each economic agent has an "entitlement", a range of different goods that he or she can acquire. This concept can most easily be understood in a private enterprise economy with little government intervention, although, as Sen emphasizes, the concept is much broader than that.

In a free-enterprise economy, goods or services each have a price, and every economic agent starts out by owning some goods or services. The rice farmer owns some land, used for producing rice, which can then be sold on the market at the going price or reserved for use by the farmer and his family. The receipts from sales can be spent on other goods - different foods, spices, clothing, and so forth. The agricultural labourer has only his or her labour to sell; the proceeds can be spent on rice or other goods. Similarly, the cities contain workers who sell labour for money to buy food, shelter, and clothing; and entrepreneurs who buy goods and labour, produce other goods, sell them, and use the proceeds for personal consumption and investment in business expansion.

People will starve, then, when their entitlement is not sufficient to buy the food necessary to keep them alive. The food available to them, in short, is a question of income distribution and more fundamentally, of their ability to provide services that others in the economy are willing to pay for.

This, of course, does not mean that the supply of food is irrelevant. A decrease in the supply of food will usually increase its price, as people compete for the scarcer quantity. This will in turn decrease people's ability to buy food by using their entitlement and, if they start close enough to the margin of hunger, may drive them to the point of starvation. Furthermore, the entitlement approach, simple as it is, enables the analyst to say something about the distribution of the burden of starvation. Farm owners and, to a lesser extent, share-croppers, should be less affected than others because the reduction in the amount they sell is at least partly offset by the higher prices. If the reduction in supply is caused by some factor, like flood, that reduces the amount to be harvested, farm labourers or forest workers are thereby more likely to be seriously affected.

Thus, studies of different entitlements and how they are affected by variations in food supply, alone or in conjunction with other shifts in the economy, are capable of giving a much greater insight into the causes of famine than a simple measure of the amount of food available. But the real point of Sen's analysis is to show that relatively small changes in food supply may nevertheless be accompanied by famine. Indeed the economic theory he presents would allow for the possibility that, with no changes in the food supply at all, famine could be caused by other economic factors.

In his analysis of the Bengal famine of 1943-44, Sen points to just such factors. Predominant among them, in his view, is the effect of the war against the Japanese in increasing demand. (He is careful to add that the evidence is not strong enough to establish one sequence of causes as against another.) Government expenditures, especially on construction, rose sharply. This clearly increased the entitlements of the newly employed urban workers; and since the total supplies were unchanged, the entitlements of the rural groups had to fall. Indeed, rice prices rose sharply even before any evidence that crops had failed.

In Bengal, when conditions are sufficiently desperate, a person will, if necessary, spend the whole of his or her income on food. Even many of those who do not live in fear of starvation will be hungry enough to spend a large fraction of any increase in income on food. Indeed, in the poorer, less-developed countries, roughly two thirds of total income is spent on food.1 Hence, as groups such as urban workers newly employed in war work gain increased entitlements, their willingness to buy additional food is high. Prices rise, and the entitlements of other groups will necessarily fall unless there is a corresponding rise in food supply. If these other groups are already on the margin of sustainable life, then indeed a famine may be created without any decline in food supply.

1 T.T. Poleman, Quantifying the nutrition situation in developing countries. Food Research Institute Studies, XVIII (1981), p. 25.

Sen offers additional explanations. Perhaps the most controversial is that of hoarding, either for oneself or for speculation. When situations of scarcity arise, hoarding is always blamed. The evidence for the degree and the effects of hoarding is usually difficult to come by, but, apart from this empirical question, there is a significant theoretical problem concerning its implications. If the famine is prolonged, then hoarding at the beginning means greater stores will be available later on. In fact, if the hoarder was correct in his expectations, that is, if the farmer does not need to consume his own grain at a later date or if the speculator makes money by selling at a higher price, then hoarding will have improved the availability of food later on, at the cost of making things worse initially.

A still better result might be achieved if the government took over some part of the hoarded stores and distributed them to the needy; but it should also withhold some from immediate use. Such a policy would amount to changing the entitlements. Indeed, when a famine occurs it would certainly require an inhuman preference for established property rights over human needs not to redistribute purchasing power and other forms of entitlements. But that does not alter the basic point about hoarding: if the entire period of famine is considered, hoarding will only worsen the famine if it turns out to be excessive, that is, if some of the hoards are retained beyond the end of the famine.

In view of the absence of detailed data on famines, it is not surprising that Sen's analysis does not explain everything. His point of view would suggest that if the total food supply changed only mildly, the terrible losses of some people should be reflected in greater food consumption by others. Yet in Table 6.7 (p.71), concerning the Bengal famine of 1943-44, the proportionate increase in destitution is much the same for non-cultivating landowners (admittedly a poor group at the best of times) as for peasant cultivators or for those who worked partly for themselves and partly for others. If the rice crop failure is treated as minor, the landowners should have gained; any reduction in quantity would have been more than offset by the rise in the price of rice compared with other prices. However, the table covers only some rural regions; it may well be that greater supplies of grains were to be found in the urban regions. In Calcutta itself, only migrants from the rural areas seem to have suffered from famine.

Many other insights are to be gained from Sen's emphasis on entitlement, especially concerning the subtlety of the interaction between pastoralists and farmers, a subject he discusses in his chapters on the famines in the Sahel and in Ethiopia.

What policies does an entitlement approach suggest? Sen is surprisingly chary of answers to this question. A brief chapter mostly tends to emphasize the complexity of the analysis introduced by the entitlement approach. He correctly points out that the market mechanism cannot be relied upon, for it is precisely the failure of market power that chooses the victims of famine. He does speak of insurance arrangements, that is, ways by which entitlement of a particular group, for instance rural labourers, could be automatically increased under famine conditions. However, he seems to emphasize the difficulties rather than the advantages of such a device.

For example, he points out that general famine conditions affect only selected persons, and an insurance programme based on aggregate food supply, for example, would therefore miss its intended beneficiaries. If, on the other hand, insurances were highly individualized, this would, in my view, affect the incentives people have to work and to plan for the future. Still, it does not seem to me so difficult to propose that, at certain levels, a programme for insurance (or, what is equivalent, relief) should go into effect, based on the ability of some designated fraction of the population to buy food; nor does it seem excessively difficult to direct aid to the groups most likely to be affected. This will not feed every starving person, since some will receive help who do not need it and some who need help will not receive it; but no system will avoid problems of this sort.

Although famine is a fairly unusual event, and improvements in transportation and communication have made it less and less likely, the need to respond to specific famines is no less urgent. The three famines of the mid-1970s discussed by Sen, though apparently much less severe than the 1943-44 famine in Bengal, are horrifying enough. Indeed, the fact that famine is becoming less frequent and less intense should make it all the easier to provide prompt aid. On a world scale, hunger and malnutrition are far greater problems. Of course, they are intimately related. As is obvious from Sen's analyses, famine is the result of pushing already hungry populations over the relatively low threshold that separates them from genuine starvation.

What has become clear is that hunger and ultimately famine are basically questions of the distribution of income and the entitlements to food. Food supply is not irrelevant, but it is far from determining who will go hungry.

The extent of world hunger as expressed in protein-calorie malnutrition has been much disputed. Estimates range from 100 million to 2.5 thousand million people affected. In any case, it is certainly very large. Since the various aid programmes that nations and international organizations are now willing to support are sure to be inadequate to deal with even the lowest estimates, the exact figure is really of little practical consequence.

Among experts there is an increasing tendency to regard hunger as primarily a problem of income distribution, of purchasing power. In this sense, Sen's book can be seen as part of a larger effort to make a fresh analysis of hunger. His entitlement approach adds to the emphasis on income distribution by stressing its causes, rather than merely taking the distribution as given. But since the analysis of causation is necessarily complex and uncertain, the two approaches are similar. The pioneering work in connecting income distribution with hunger is that of Shlomo Reutlinger and Marcelo Selowsky for the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank).2 They estimated (very imperfectly) a relation between calorie consumption and income; then, with the aid of the fragmentary income distribution data available, they estimated the calorie consumption for different income classes. On this basis, they could estimate the number of people whose supply of calories fell below some critical level. Because there is little data available, the possibilities for error are enormous; but this approach gets at the underlying determinants of hunger.

2 Malnutrition and poverty: magnitude and policy options, World Bank Staff Occasional Paper No. 23 (1976).

What has become clear is that hunger and ultimately famine are basically questions of the distribution of income and the entitlements to food. That does not of course mean that food supply is irrelevant, but that it is far from determining who will go hungry. At higher levels of consumption, hunger fades away as a basic problem but is replaced by other needs, including medicine, shelter, and the like. In short, averages are insufficient guides to economic performance, though they cannot be ignored.

The appropriate measures to change income and food distribution, especially those that relieve famine, hunger, and poverty, partly depend on the information available; but they also require conceptual definitions, and these are intimately tied to value judgements and measures of welfare. As a counterpoint to his analysis of famines, Sen discusses some of the problems of measuring poverty. He shows the inadequacy of the usual United States measure, the number of people whose incomes are below the so-called "poverty line". He would equally reject a measure of hunger based on the number of people whose food consumption falls below a fixed level defined as "adequate". The distribution of income below the poverty line or of calorie consumption below the critical level may still allow for sharp differences among poor people. In the case of calorie consumption the difference may be between widespread hunger and appalling famine.

Sen's book, together with other recent work on the world problem of hunger, should alert us even more strongly to the need for studying the distribution of income and of improving the relative situation of the very poor in order to curb the worst consequences of the economic system. The political implications of this shift in emphasis may be serious indeed, pointing up the responsibilities of the governments of the less-developed countries. Poor as they may be these countries generally have more control over their domestic income distribution than the advanced nations they deal with.

from The New York Review of Books
15 July 1982

SLUSHED PULP - the starting-point for papermaking

ROLLS OF FINE PAPER - slid to fit printing presses

Paper and paperboard

Paper and paperboard-manufacturing and convening fundamentals. James E. Kline. Miller Freeman Publications, Inc., San Francisco, California. 1982, 149 tables, figures and photographs. 232 p., soft cover. Price: US$39.50.

Paper and paperboard-manufacturing and converting fundamentals is a comprehensive guide to papermaking and converting processes. Explaining the entire range of operations from timber harvesting to packaging, it also examines the interrelationships between raw materials, manufacturing processes and finished products.

The book's 12 chapters are organized into three sections. The first section gives a general overview of the industry. Historical background, economic development and grade structures are covered, along with product properties and the relationships between properties, operations and grades. The second section focuses on unit operations of papermaking and is comprised of chapters on pulping, stock preparation, manufacturing operations and web modification. Devoted to converting operations, the third section discusses printings methods and grades, corrugating operations and raw materials, packaging, tissues, business papers. A glossary and index complete the book.

Predicting changes in climate

Climatic variations and variability: facts and theories, ed. A. Berger. D. Reidel Publishing Co., Dordrecht, Boston and London, 1981. Numerous figures, tables. xxvi + 795 p. Price: fl 175 or US$87.50.

This book constitutes an excellent updated review of the problems involved in searching for improved understanding and prediction techniques of climatic changes. It is based on a two-week teaching course given by 45 lecturers at the Ettore Majorana Centre for Scientific Culture at Erice, Trapani, Italy in 1980. These lecturers included some of the leading researchers involved in the analysis of past climatological data and in developing climate computer models. The volume will undoubtedly serve as a pleasurable source of reference for both teaching and research purposes.

Its publication is in response to the needs of an increasing number of scientists for up-to-date information on the known facts and latest theories relating to climatic change. These needs are more and more pressing due to the world's ever-growing demand for energy and food, and the risks of crop failures and consequent social and political difficulties.

Those components requiring urgent treatment are the effects of surface albedo interactions (for example, in the regions of seasonally varying polar ice, the Sahara-Sahel or land surfaces of varying vegetation cover and moisture content), the ocean-atmosphere interactions, and the possible effects of human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels.

The results of studies of past climates are discussed, the major changes in climatic history being revealed through a wide variety of climate-sensitive chemical, biological and geological properties, preserved in natural layered deposits. These yield pictures of climatic variations over the past million years. Finally, several leading exponents of general circulation computer models present excellent accounts of the whole hierarchy of model developments, ranging from comparatively simple energy balance systems to complex systems as used in weather forecasting.

From a review by D.R. DAVIES
in the World Meteorological Organization Bulletin,
Vol. 31, No. 2.

Conservation glossary in English

Resource conservation glossary, published by the Soil Conservation Society of America. Ankeny, Iowa. 200 p. US$7.00 (US $6.00 for SCSA members), postpaid.

An expanded edition of the Resource conservation glossary has been released by the Soil Conservation Society of America (SCSA).

This third edition of the glossary includes more than 4000 terms used in soil and water conservation and 32 other natural resource disciplines and technologies. Among the disciplines and technologies represented are agriculture, fish and wildlife biology, cartography, conservation education, computer science, ecology, economics, engineering, geology, forestry, horticulture, hydrology, irrigation, land-use planning, outdoor recreation, plant materials, mining, range science, remote sensing, waste management, and weather modification.

The 200-page, 6 × 9-inch book features a durable softbound cover suitable for field use.

The Resource conservation glossary is available from SCSA, 7515 N.E. Ankeny Road, Ankeny, Iowa 50021, USA.

Oxford encyclopaedia of trees of the world

The Oxford encyclopedia of trees of the world. Bayard Hora (Consultant ed.). Oxford University Press, 1981. 288 p. ISBN 0-19217712-5. Price: UK£12.50.

This splendidly illustrated book (with more than 280 photographs), which has a preface by the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, introduces its subject by first discussing the nature of trees, giving a birds-eye view of the forests of the world, and outlining the dependence of man on trees and forests. The latter subject is discussed under the headings of forestry, forest products, amenity and urban forestry, and diseases and pests of trees.

These well-written introductory chapters take up 53 pages and are followed by the core of the book which is a description of a cross-section of the world's trees (p. 54-267). Each genus is provided with a key. The emphasis, however, is placed on well-chosen illustrations and general rather than technical information. A final chapter takes the form of keys to the families and genera of broad leaved and coniferous trees covered in the book. This is followed by a bibliography, a glossary, and indexes of common and Latin names.

Obviously a book of such format could not hope to deal with all the trees of the world, or even a significant number of them, and a more appropriate title might have been "The world of trees". Nevertheless, the book does convey succinctly and successfully the extraordinary diversity and grandeur of trees and forests. At £12.50 it is an undoubted bargain, and makes an ideal gift, being both instructive and beautiful, as well as easily undestandable to the layman.

Forest ecology and management

National forestry statistics from FAO

Country tables: basic data on the agricultural sector. FAO, Economic and Social Policy Department, Rome, 1982. 340 p. Of computer-generated tables.

About 90 different forestry products from 213 different countries, together with extensive data on agriculture and fisheries, are presented in this annual prepared by means of the FAO Inter linked Computer Storage and Processing System of Food and Agricultural Commodity Data (ICS).

The ICS system has been in operation since 1972 and the amount of information stored has been continually increasing. In addition to including 90 different forestry products, ICS- and this volume-supply data on the production, trade and utilization of about 250 primary and 310 processed crops, livestock and fishery products. In addition, there are figures for some 100 commodities relating to the production and use of agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and farm machinery. The computer files also contain data on population, land use, producer prices, certain macroeconomic information such as total and sectoral GNP, private and government consumption expenditure, gross capital formation and exports and imports of goods and services.

Within FAO, the Forestry and Fishery Departments are responsible for data within their fields. They cooperate with the FAO Statistics Division to ensure a coordinated system.

Remote sensing textbook

Remote sensing: optics and optical systems. Philip N. Slater. Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., Reading, Mass., USA, 1980. Numerous figures and tables. xvi + 575 pages. Price: US$34.50.

This book deals mainly with the optical wavelength region from 0.4 to 16 u, and contains detailed information of techniques and instrumentation for spectroradiometric measurements. The fundamental methods of remote sensing and the nature of the information obtained are discussed in the first sections of the book, together with some theoretical problems concerning the propagation of electromagnetic waves and their interaction with the atmosphere and surface. Several chapters are devoted to the theory of optical systems and instrumentation, and to problems of the formation of images.

Other parts of the book include: detailed analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of the main types of spectroradiometric instruments used in remote sounding; colorimetric instruments and the advantages of colorimetry; radiation sensors and the basic technical characteristics and structural features of the most well known remote sensing satellites, including Tiros, Nimbus and Landsat.

Notable is the simple and comprehensive exposition of the material, with a minimum of mathematical expressions. References are liberally provided, and the numerous tables, monograms, graphs and figures enable one to find quickly an optical system for solving a specific problem. However, such a presentation cannot be exhaustive, and the lack of information concerning correlation spectrometry is regrettable.

This monograph will undoubtedly be useful for graduates and postgraduates specializing in fields connected with optical studies of the atmosphere or natural features of the earth.

From a review by K. KONDRATYEV
in the World Meteorological Organization Bulletin,
Vol. 31, No. 2.

Study and management of large mammals

Study and management of large mammals. T. Riney. Published by J. Wiley and Sons Ltd (1982). 552 p.

Both author and publisher are to be congratulated for a book that will be of considerable assistance to land managers concerned with natural ecosystems in which large mammals are a significant component. The author combines the humility of an experienced practical fieldman and the pragmatism of a tried administrator in describing an approach for solving real-life problems that is especially appropriate to Third World countries.

A straightforward simple approach is used to emphasize the need for collecting information simultaneously from both the animals and their environment, where seeking to define and solve problems. Many useful techniques are described for building up an understanding of the complex dynamic relationship between animals and their environment, but Riney is no slave to his own methods and frequently advises his readers to devise their own, provided that those selected are appropriate to the question being asked. Here there is a clear warning against the tendency to apply techniques as an intellectual exercise and [or their own sake.

WILDLIFE OFFICERS IN BOTSWANA - good management needs precise data

Riney's method stresses the need for systematically obtaining sets of integrated data that are relevant and can be related to each other, at the occurrence, utilization (or relationship) and response levels, from both the animal and environmental components of the ecosystem. In a simple case, this means determining the key animals and plants that are present in a system, their more important relationships with each other, and how they respond to these relationships. This highlights the important distinction between the present status of a particular animal or plant population. Or set of soil characteristics and the trend taking place toward a changing situation. This is essential to understanding the dynamics of the system and hence is fundamental to its intelligent management.

All too often, the most sophisticated studies involving large mammals or their environments can be of limited value to management unless information from the three levels and two components of the system are truly comparable. It becomes difficult to know how to interpret the various sets of data, even when they are available. Using absolute scientific integrity. Riney's approach draws on any source of relevant information (some of which may be coarse and rather imprecise) toward developing a syndrome capable of only specific interpretation for correctly defining a problem and devising solutions to it. This can obviate the need for protracted research projects while still providing the essential background for proper management action when there is a true need for it.

Welcome stress is also placed on two aspects of mammalian ecology that are important to management, but have been neglected by research because they are difficult to study. These are an understanding of the essential habitat requirements of the various species of animals and plants, and the way in which large mammals disperse from their parental home ranges. Casual reflection will indicate the key role of this knowledge in a wide spectrum of management situations varying from the protection of biotic communities through the conservation of desirable and harvestable species to the control of problem animals.

In addition to advocating a holistic approach to the study and management of large mammals (particularly browsing and grazing species) in a given area and suggesting methods appropriate for doing this, the book is a useful source of information. It provides hints for planning an investigation: gathering data; determining habitats; for the management of special areas; and for recognizing animal problems, but also indicates common wildlife problems in developing countries, as well as providing a chapter on the collection, labelling and preservation of biological specimens. Eight useful appendixes provide ready guidelines for ageing animals from tooth eruption and classifying African elephants and buffalo in the field into sex and age classes; for collecting data from multipurpose transects; for establishing national legislation for wildlife and Parks; for drying meat for sale; for seeking outside aid, and for planning and managing National Parks. Appendix 6 summarizes the red data book categories.

There are a number of editorial errors which are irritating and the author has made one "booboo" on page 102 where he describes July as the wettest month in that part of southern Africa (the Kruger National Park) where Stevenson-Hamilton worked. In fact July falls at the height of the cold dry season.

The unfortunate slips do not detract from an excellent and most readable book. It will be especially useful to fieldmen in the training of fieldmen and as a guide for "in-house" investigations which are appropriate and can be undertaken by conservation agencies facing day-to-day problems and short on resources for understanding and solving them. It should also be required reading for young biologists and agriculturists embarking on a career in research or management in areas having significant populations of large mammals. Established scientists might also enjoy its simplicity and pragmatism in allowing nature to ask the questions and provide the answers.

Director, National Parks and
Wild Life Management, Zimbabwe

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page