Robbins Chapter 6 Hunger, Poverty and Economic Development Introduction The period of optimism

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Robbins Chapter 6

Hunger, Poverty and Economic Development


  • The period of optimism

  • After WWII, public officials and scientists predicted that modern technology could end famine and poverty on the globe.

  • Colonialism was breaking down.

  • I remember growing up in the 1960s (the tail-end of de-colonialism) and my grade school teachers were among the optimists.

  • There seemed to be real hope that, with independence, global conditions would improve.

  • Expectation: Combined with organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank, the impoverished countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia could blast into developed countries with the aid of the core.

  • Today pessimism rules the landscape

  • Now hopelessness and resignation are the norm.

  • The number of humans who live on less than $1/day numbers 1.2 billion.

  • An additional 3 billion live on less than $2/day.

  • One of every six persons has insufficient food. Many of these are children who are dying at the rate of 1,500/hour.

  • The number of persons who go hungry, as estimated by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) is 900 million (13% of all humanity).

  • Of these 94% live in developing countries; most or subsistence farmers, landless, or working in fishing/logging. Others live in shantytowns and on the fringes of urban settings.

  • Hunger is not limited to poor countries; it is found in the US too.

  • (Mis)conceptions about world hunger. 1) World hunger is the result of insufficient food production; 2) famine is the most common reason for hunger; 3) famine is caused by food insufficiency and 4) hunger is caused by overpopulation.

The Evolution of Food Production 1

  • From gathering and hunting to the Neolithic Revolution

  • If humans are at least 200,000 years old as a species, it is only in the last 10-15,000 that farming became the way of life for any part of humanity.

  • Hunter-gatherers (I prefer the term forager and am going to use it from now on), generally had a good life.

  • This conflicts with the stereotype of foragers who barely eke out a living as compared to farmers.

  • Richard Lee and James Woodburn worked with foraging populations and learned some interesting facts:

  • Foragers have abundant sources of food (this does not mean there is never famine, only that it is rare).

  • They work much less (average 20 hours/week to gather and hunt for food).

  • Their health is excellent.

  • Prior to work such as Lee’s and Woodburn’s it was assumed that foragers were eating less well and that food insecurity was common.

  • Until recently virtually everyone lived on farms, grew their own food and used the surplus to pay taxes or tribute or they were gatherer/hunters or a combination of the two.

  • Up until 1880, more than 50% of Americans were farmers. By 1900 it was 38%, 1940 it was 18%.

  • Today less than 2% of Americans are involved in farming activities.

  • So these finding prompted two questions in anthropology/global studies:

  • If foragers were living well, why shift to farming? I shorten this to “Why farming?”

  • Why cities? The advent of farming is not separated from the advent of cities.

The Evolution of Food Production 2

  • From gathering and hunting to the Neolithic Revolution (continued)

  • Previously, I introduced the 4 human revolutions (agricultural, urban, industrial, and information).

  • This chapter we are going to go into these issues in greater detail.

  • Why farming?

  • Farming is actually a broadly used term that covers many practices but can be evaluated using these variables:

  • Tools: range from digging sticks to plows to tractors.

  • Land tenure: ranges from constantly shifting fields to centuries-long occupations.

  • Alteration of the land: ranges from virtually none to ditching, terracing, and irrigation canals.

  • Soil enrichment: ranges from minor (ashes from trash fires) through local fertilizers (pig droppings). to high-tech imported insecticides and fertilizers.

  • Crops: range from mixed cropping to monoculture.

  • Purpose: ranging from minor dietary supplements to subsistence to cash cropping.

  • Mark Cohen suggests the reason for farming is that, as populations grew, they needed to forage ever further from their base camp: It became more efficient to domesticate and cultivate one’s food.

  • The first location of domestication was in Mesopotamia.

  • Wheat, barley, rye, and lentils were among the plants they cultivated. Sheep, goats and cattle among the animals domesticated.

  • While the Middle East was the first place to use domesticated plants and animals, it was not the only area to invent farming.

  • Farming was invented independently at least 10 different places.

  • Each area used its own resources and borrowed from others.

  • One problem with the prime mover (single cause) idea of Cohen was that in some areas, farming occurred while people were still nomadic, in others they were sedentary and foragers.

The Evolution of Food Production 3

  • From gathering and hunting to the Neolithic Revolution (continued)

  • There are 4 major factors in agricultural production:

  • Land (as one shifts land often, land is intensively used, but is spread out over time).

  • Water (uses natural rainfall or carries water from rivers).

  • Labor (about 25 hours/week using axes, machetes, hoes, and digging sticks).

  • Energy (solar energy and human power).

  • Slash-and-burn (swidden) agriculture (I prefer the term horticulture) is the least complex when one looks at the tools needed (be careful, do not confuse simple tools with simple culture).

  • With swidden horticulture, a controlled fire is set, clearing the plot and releasing the nutrients from the ashes into the soil.

  • After the harvest, the farmer moves onto another area, leaving original fallow for up to decades. Swidden is an example of subsistence farming (the use of farming primarily to feed you and yours, although a small surplus may be used for local trade).

  • Swidden farming is very common in the periphery as it is a form of is subsistence farming.

  • Only recently have researchers come to realize how efficient it is as an agricultural practice.

  • When practiced correctly, the impact on the environment is minimal and the land quickly recovers during the fallow periods.

  • Each plot is polycultural (many species) and polyvarietal (many varieties of same species).

  • Industrialized agriculture relies predominately on monocropping (also called monoculture: single plant in one plot).

  • This decreases the complexity of the ecosystem.

  • Allows one or a few workers to completely run the production system.

  • Monocroppers often practice serial monocropping: Plant A is planted, harvested, then Plant B.

The Evolution of Food Production 4

  • From gathering and hunting to the Neolithic Revolution (continued)

  • So, given the usefulness of swidden farming, why the shift to more the more labor-intensive form of farming called intensive farming (or plow farming)?

  • New methods of farming appeared

  • Among them was the use of the plow, draft animals, irrigation, terracing and other practices

  • These greatly increased the yield on lands that were previously not useable for farming, and this shift is associated with a move to political scale cultures.

  • Irrigation and terracing sometimes allow for multiple harvests in a single year.

  • This increased productivity came at a cost.

  • Irrigation requires more labor, more water, more energy than swidden farming.

  • Irrigation can require more complex social and political structures (one exception was found in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, where irrigation has been used at least 8,000 without increasing social stratification).

  • Salination becomes a problem (salts are pulled out of the water and laid over the soils).

  • Today, in Iraq, 50% of irrigated land and 30% in Egypt is waterlogged or salinized.

  • They are trying to adapt with salt-loving plants.

  1. Waterlogged water may also be contaminated with parasites.

  2. In swidden farming, men tend to clear the land and women to plant/wee/harvest it. With plow farming, women do less farming but more work overall.

  • By about 2,000 ago all the plants and animals used today were domesticated.

  1. Plow farming was practiced extensively globally.

  2. Until the 20th century there was little improvement of agricultural techniques.

The Evolution of Food Production 5

  • Capitalism and agriculture

  • The Industrial Revolution was sparked by the expansion of trade to the global level and of the colonization of the periphery in the 16th-18th centuries.

  • There were at least 4 profound consequences of agricultural production:

  • Food became a commodity.

  • The growth of trade and the number of persons engaged in non-agricultural work increased.

  • This growth of non-agricultural workforce created greater vulnerability for food insecurity.

  • The increasing role of food as a capitalist commodity resulted in increased intervention of the state in food production.

  • Most important of all was the continual reduction of the amount of human energy and labor involved directly in food production and the non-human energy in the form of new technologies.

  • This all resulted in the introduction of what is called industrialized agriculture.

  • Here is an example of how industrialized agriculture looks in the US today; the components of industrialized agriculture are: Farming industry: Farms, family and corporate farms, ranchers, and fisher people agro-technological industries: producers of machinery, chemicals and biological inputs (seeds, etc.) purveyors of factors of production: financial facilities, information, training and seed, chemical and equipment sales intermediate industries: wholesalers; import/export, storage, transport and marketing boards food industries: processing, manufacturing, packaging, wholesale distribution, catering, and retailing scientific research: private and public research institutions regulation: state and national quality and safely monitoring as well as food security programs (food stamps, commodities) food consumption.

The Evolution of Food Production 6

  • Capitalism and agriculture (continued)

  • Reducing labor demands in agriculture and increasing the use of material technology accomplishes a whole range of things that contribute to trade and profit (in both agriculture and trade sectors):

  1. Substituting technology for human labor and reducing the number of people involved makes farming more profitable.

  • The more affluent are able to profit as they force the less affluent off their farms (remember the Irish example from Chapter 5).

  • The increased need for capital creates opportunities for banks, multilateral organizations and commodity traders) to enter the agricultural sector.

  1. This reduction in human labor and concentration of resources helps to keep food prices and industrial wages both low. This can be a problem.

  • Food monopolies can develop, causing prices to increase (that orange juice you are drinking is one example of this).

  • In the United States, food costs as a percentage of cost of living is among the lowest in the world.

  1. A competition for industrial jobs is another consequence and lowers the wages that are paid.

  2. The state subsidizes the food production sector:

  • Food aid, buying surpluses and using them for foreign aid, and food inspectors, etc.

  • Here is one example of farm subsidies.

The Evolution of Food Production 7

  • Capitalism and agriculture (continued)

  • In summary, capitalistic (industrialized) agriculture results in:

  • A capital-intensive agricultural system dependent on subsidized energy.

  • The exploitation of domestic farm labor and of foreign land and labor to keep prices low and profits high.

  • A large labor pool from which industry can draw workers, keep wages down by competition for scarce jobs and the availability of cheap food.

  • Up until 1950 the technological intensification of agriculture did not substantially increase yield.

  • The time needed to produced one hectare of corn decreased to 100 hours.

  • But, a farmer in Mexico could produce the same, but it did take 100 hours.

  • The Neocaloric & the Green Revolution

  • Ernest Schusky has dubbed the results of this industrialization of agriculture as the neocaloric revolution.

  • The vast increase in non-human energy devoted to food production in the form of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and machinery is the main characteristic.

  • I call this the industrialized agriculture; they are the same thing, different names.

  • David Pimentel and Marica Pimentel measured the kilocalories one produced per crop per hectare of land, comparing the amount of human and non-human labor expended in producing the crop.

  • Examples:

  • In Mexico, swidden farmer growing corn: the input-output ratio is 1 kilocalorie:11 kilocalorie.

  • Plow agriculture with ox the input- output ratio is 1:4.3.

  • 1980s American corn farmer: the input-output ratio is 1:3.7 (in 1970 it was 1:3.5).

The Evolution of Food Production 8

  • The Neocaloric & the Green Revolution (continued)

  • Here is where it gets really interesting: meat production in the United States:

  • Livestock production is where the neocaloric revolution comes to fruition

  • In the last 100 years more and more grain is being feed to livestock in the US, rather that free-ranging the animals on grasslands.

  • In 1975 of the 1,350 kilograms of grain produced, 1,250 was being feed to animals.

  • It now takes 190 kilograms of protein to produce 60 of milk (36 kcal in for 1 kcal out)

  • Beef get about 40% of protein from grazing and 60% from grains. This works out an input-output ratio of 78:1; a deficit of 77 kilocalories!

  • This actually results in what is called an energy sink (more energy goes in that is derived from the meat).

  • Here is a short article that summarized the Pimentel findings.

  • Think about all the costs that contribute to the energy sink:

  • Mechanized farming requires significant amount of gasoline.

  • Chemical fertilizers are made from natural gas, and pesticides require fossil fuels.

  • Food processing is a major natural gas and fossil fuel user.

  • Transport of food an average of 1, 300 miles is costly. Almost 85% of foods in most states is from outside the state.

  • Fast-food retailers are great consumers of energy.

  • There are other costs that are not calculated in terms energy:

  • Soil erosion was calculated for the United States to be 1.3 billion tons of soil lost by 1997.

  • Water pollution/shortages are becoming more common; water wars may be coming.

  • Small farms and farm communities are dying; labor is lost (social costs).

The Evolution of Food Production 9

  • The Neocaloric & the Green Revolution (continued)

  • Why has modern (intensive) agriculture become so energy intensive?

  • Much of this intensification is the result of the Green Revolution.

  • It began with research conducted in Mexico in the 1940s and 1950s.

  • The Rockefeller Foundation helped introduce higher yield hybrid strains of corn and wheat.

  • This is so ironic, as corn was first domesticated in Mexico.

  • There are literally hundreds of varieties of corn grown in Mexico.

  • These high yield varieties (HYVs) became popular all over the world.

  • They require more fertilizers and more water.

  • The greater use of fertilizers and water did not increase the yields of old varieties, and often decreased their yields.

  • Some people now refer to these HYVs as EIVs (energy intensive varieties).

  • The US Agency for International Development (USAID) promoted the HYVs everywhere and was backed by the Rockefeller Foundation.

  • Problems began

  • One result of the shift from subsistence farming with its investment in the land industrialized agriculture with investment in land, water and energy investments is that the costs are very high

  • These greater inputs of fertilizers and water strained the costs and famers skimped on them, and the yields decreased

  • The oil prices rose after 1973 and the costs of fertilizers skyrocketed

  • Pesticide and herbicide use went up as the new varieties were less adapted to the local conditions

  • The fertilizers were feeding the weeks too!, so more herbicides were used.

  • This cycle of dependence on industrialized technologies is sometimes called the technological treadmill (ever increasing expenses to maintain productivity).

The Evolution of Food Production 10

  • The Neocaloric & the Green Revolution (continued)

  • Problems began (continued)

  • Overall, Pimentel estimates that the average grain farmer expends 8 kilocalories for every 1 produced (if one includes the costs of transportation and so forth).

  • While this can work (in the short run, at least in industrialized societies) it is devastating in developing countries.

  • Expenses are rising because of the dependence on fossil fuels.

  • People are being pushed off the land.

  • Where the Green Revolution has worked, small farmers are being pushed off the land to become day workers.

  • On many farms in Oaxaca, Mexico, small farmers of coffee are losing their land to the wealthy as the Green Revolution goes full circle.

  • The Green Revolution II is the introduction of genetically modified foods into agricultural production

  • Monsanto is the single largest holder of patents on GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

  • How interesting, they used to produce herbicides and pesticides in great quantities.

  • I rarely urge the use of wiki’s but I suggest you read this! Monsanto.

  • One example of a GMO ‘success story” is golden rice.

  • It is a genetically engineered version of rice that increases vitamin A

  • But, unpolished rice provides it too (but agribusiness pushes polished rice; think white bread).

  • There are some success stories, but in general the culture of capitalism has failed to meet the global food needs.

The Politics of Hunger 1

  • Overview

  • As fewer persons are involved in food production, they are more vulnerable to food shortages, even though there is still plenty of food.

  • It becomes an issue of food access, not food availability.

  • When wages fall and/or prices rise, people can starve when food is available.

  • This is not to say the food insecurity is never associated with less food, but it is rare to have economic resources and not be able to get food.

  • There are other consequences of the role of food in a capitalist society:

  1. Food production may not be connected to the global need for food, but to the market demand and to those who can pay for it.

  2. There are not enough people to pay for the food that is needed, so that overproduction would result in lower prices and less profitability.

  3. This means that in many countries production is discouraged.

  4. Production may be delegated to non-food items such as tobacco, cotton, sisal, flowers and such).

  • The kind of food that is produced is determined by those who have the money to purchase it.

  • Amartya Sen suggested that people can demand food through entitlements, their socially defined rights to food resources (others call these entitlements as basic needs).

  1. It might be the right to inherit or purchase land for food.

  2. Employment to obtain wages to buy food.

  3. Sociopolitical rights such as religious or moral obligations of some to see that others have food

  4. State-run welfare or social security programs that guarantee adequate food to all.

  • Not all of these entitlements exist in all societies, but some do exist in all.

The Politics of Hunger 2

  • Overview (continued)

  • Viewing hunger as a failure of entitlement corrects the ideological biases of the culture of capitalism.

  • The culture of capitalism results in:

  1. The tendency to blame fast growth and production.

  2. The neglect of the problem of distribution.

  3. The hostility of the government intervention in food distribution.

  • Instead, we can focus on how to resolve the issues and work to establish, reestablish or protect entitlements (basic needs).

  • We can look to creating access to education and health care.

  • And we can see basic nutrition as a state-guaranteed entitlement.

  • We need to distinguish between the more publicized instances of hunger caused by war, government miscalculations, civic conflict, or climatic disruptions.

  • Then we can look at food poverty (where a particular household cannot meet the dietary requirements of its members) and food deprivation (where individuals in the household do not get adequate dietary intake).

  • The anatomy of famine

  • Robbins reminds us that famines have been known at least since recorded history.

  • Many historic famines caused by crop failure, climate, and war.

  • Even in these cases, it was failure of entitlement access, and not food shortages that caused the deaths. One new solution to extreme malnutrition is called Plumpy’Nut.

The Politics of Hunger 3

  • The anatomy of famine (continued)

  • Robbins outlines the events the famine in Malawi in 1948 to illustrate his points:

  • Anthropological background helps us to understand what happened

  • This is a matrilineal society where women and their brother(s) make up the basic economic unit

  • Prior to colonialism, they were a subsistence farming people.

  • By the time of the famine, they grew maize (introduced from Mexico by the colonizers), sorghum and a few root crops.

  • They were encouraged to add in tobacco as a cash crop.

  • This is a standard story:

  • Once there is a mixture of cash and subsistence crops, men gain more control over the land and the other resources.

  • This reflects a Western bias to dealing with men in economic situations and ignoring the women. What resources were available for women, traditionally?

  • Women tapped into the cash economy in several ways: she would use grains to brew beer and liquor, work for African farmers.

  • Women tapped into other resources such as that generated by her control over land, her connections with her kin group, the monies generated by her husband and her children and the government-established emergency food programs.

The Politics of Hunger 4

  • The anatomy of famine (continued)

  • What went wrong?

  • We need to understand that, during the famine, most men were thoughtful and caring husbands, but the ones who are not had a major impact on the survival of their wives and children.

  • When the famine hit, the British government made several critical decisions:

  • They forbade the sale of beer and liquor.

  • Assumed the family unit was nuclear and only distributed food through the husbands; if they were not there, the family went hungry.

  • As the famine got worse, the matrilineal line fragmented and collapsed.

  • Summary, women without men’s support suffered the worst (as did their children).

  • The anatomy of endemic hunger

  • Less well reported are cases of endemic hunger, even though the long-term effects are often much more severe.

  • One example of this is when a case of kwashiorkor (protein under-nutrition) with its symptoms of edema (failure of liquids to vacate the tissues and so swelling results) is called the “swelling disease”.

  • Compare with marasmus where both calories and protein are too low.

The Politics of Hunger 5

  • The anatomy of endemic hunger (continued)

  • Governments often refuse to recognize hunger as it an admission of the failure to provide basic needs.

  • This results in a lack of programs to address the problems. There are exceptions:

  • We know that death can occur from under-nutrition, but also stunting.

  • India is hardest hit, but has started a nation-wide school lunch program.

  • Robbins uses the case of Brazil to illustrate endemic hunger the more common response: governmental neglect:

  • Brazil’s post-WWII economic strategy is one of ‘trickle down’ (a.k.a., Reaganomics).

  • Peasants were deprived of their land and forced into cities or into day labor.

  • More and more of the population became dependent on others for their food.

  • Sugar, as a cash crop, dominated the economy in NE Brazil.

  • Policies required by the international lending agencies increased the problems. By the mid-1980s. Brazil could not repay its loans to World Bank and other financial institutions.

  • Today, Brazil is among the top 10-15 in the world. But the wealth is not evenly distributed and 40% of Brazilians are in poverty.

The Politics of Hunger 6

  • The anatomy of endemic hunger (continued)

  • In a famous article, Nancy Scheper-Hughes reported on the birth and death rates of children in the shantytown of Alto do Cruzeiro (Brazil) during the 1980s.

  • Economically, in these shantytowns, there was not enough money for women to buy food.

  • Prices had doubled between 1882-1988. It took 1.5 times minimum wages to survive.

  • Scheper-Hughes states that slow starvation is at the core of social life in the shantytowns.

  • People eat each day, but not enough.

  • Women went begging for food; their young children waited and were vulnerable.

  • About 1 million children under the age of 5 years of age died each year.

  • In NE Brazil the rate was 116/1000 (with significant underreporting).

  • Today the situation has shifted to one she calls “modernization of child mortality”: only the poor, left behind in the economic shift are at real risk.

  • Another of Scheper-Hughes findings is the medicalization of hunger. so in Brazil the symptoms of hunger became a medical problem. As anthropologists have learned, people place their experiences into systems of meaning that allow them to understand what is happening.

  • In Brazil, the illness, nervos, is a wasting disease that leaves the victim weak and with a nervous body.

  • This illness became synonymous with hunger.

  • In previous times, people reported fome (hunger) and delirio di fome, the madness that signals death.

  • Nancy Scheper-Hughes suggests that this shift is one of shifting blame, a famine-wracked body is the fault of the state, a sick on does not imply guilt, blame or responsibility. Medical personnel go along with this construct for a variety of complex reasons: demoralization, lack of resources to fix famine, and so forth.

Solutions and Adaptations 1

  • Overview

  • Is it best to focus efforts on:

  • Economic development on (called growth-medicated security systems)?

  • Should one work towards public support systems in the form of financed food and nutrition programs, state-funded employment or cash distribution?

  • This debate continues today, but a historical perspective is useful here.

  • Economic development

  • So what is the role of economic development in reducing poverty and hunger?

  • This concept of “economic development” is linked to a speech by Harry S. Truman in 1949

  • He called the poorer nations “underdeveloped”

  • This was at the time that the IMF and the World Bank were mobilizing massive social-economic changes globally.

  • The proponents point to increased life expectancy, lowered infant mortality rates, and increased literacy rates as signs of their successes.

  • Critics saw other issues:

  • After 50 year a higher percentage of the world’s population is hungrier.

  • About 2.8 billion people are in poverty (make less than $2/day).

  • The quality of life is also down, as a result of the development projects.

  • The Great Recession threatens to wipe any gains in the last 20 years.

  • So why have the attempts at economic development largely failed? Robbins suggests 3 reasons:

  • The tendency to define the goals of development too narrowly, in the context of the GNP.

  • Embraces an ideology that the culture and way of life of the core is universally desired.

  • Development efforts increased the power of the core.

Solutions and Adaptations 2

  • In his book, Seeing like a state: How human schemes to improve the human condition have failed, James C. Scott discusses several failed development projects.

  • One of the common threads was a form of economic reductionism (social factors were discussed solely in economic terms, for instance).

  • Second, an overconfidence in Western science and technology

  • The programs were implemented by authoritarian states which imposed the programs and squashed resistance.

  • The nature and growth of the informal economy

  • Having a job in a market economy is essential.

  • There are 195.2 million unemployed in the world, but 1.37 billion working poor.

  • Unemployment most heavily affects those aged 15-24 years as they are 44% of the unemployed.

  • In 2007, for the first time more than ½ the world’s population lives in cities and this is predicted to be 2/3 by 2030.

  • This sets up vulnerability as we have discussed above.

  • What happens when there are no jobs?

  • The stereotype is that the unemployed accept their situation passively.

  • This ignores how the unemployed and working poor adapt to their environment.

  • The informal economy is illegible (obscured) in the nation-state system.

  • Among the activities are drug sales, sales of ‘knock-offs’, under-the-table’ payments, piracy.

  • This enables the sale of illegal goods or goods at a lower price

Solutions and Adaptations 3

  • The nature and growth of the informal economy (continued)

  • Keith Hart looked at the informal sector in Ghana and found:

  • That the unemployed worked, but erratically and for low wages.

  • Poor women particularly depended on the informal economy for survival.

  • Not only were the poor engaged, even those in the formal sector took part by gardening, brewing and gambling.

  • The individual gains in the informal sector are small but they add up:

  • In the global GDP (Gross Domestic Product) – the new term for the GNP -- there is an estimated $590 billion to 1,5 trillion loss (1-5% of world GDP).

  • In the US, about 9.4% is lost.

  • Read about Christian Geffray’s work on illegal drug trafficking in the Amazon (pp. 190-191).

  • The nature and scope of the informal economy of drugs

  • Illegal drugs are one of the most important commodities produced, distributed and consumed in the global informal sector, and this has been true for over 300 years.

  • It began with tobacco, onto opium, cannabis and coca.

  • Trace the history of illegal drugs in the informal sector on pp. 191-196.

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