Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation

By Amartya Sen | Go to book overview
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Chapter 10
Entitlements and Deprivation

10.1
FOOD AND ENTITLEMENTS

The view that famines are caused by food availability decline -- the FAD view -- was questioned on grounds of cogency in the first chapter of this monograph. Empirical studies of some of the larger recent famines confirmed that famines could thrive even without a general decline in food availability (see Chapter 6, 7, and 9). Even in those cases in which a famine is accompanied by a reduction in the amount of food available per head, the causal mechanism precipitating starvation has to bring in many variables other than the general availability of food (see Chapter 8). The FAD approach gives little clue to the causal mechanism of starvation, since it does not go into the relationship of people to food. Whatever may be the oracular power of the FAD view, it is certainly Delphic in its reticence.

A food-centred view tells us rather little about starvation. It does not tell us how starvation can develop even without a decline in food availability. Nor does it tell us -- even when starvation is accompanied by a fall in food supply -- why some groups had to starve while others could feed themselves. The over-all food picture is too remote an economic variable to tell us much about starvation. On the other hand, if we look at the food going to particular groups, then of course we can say a good deal about starvation. But, then, one is not far from just describing the starvation itself, rather than explaining what happened. If some people had to starve, then clearly, they didn't have enough food, but the question is: why didn't they have food? What allows one group rather than another to get hold of the food that is there? These questions lead to the entitlement approach, which has been explored in this monograph, going from economic phenomena into social, political, and legal issues.

A person's ability to command food -- indeed, to command any commodity he wishes to acquire or retain -- depends on the entitlement relations that govern possession and use in that society. It depends on what he owns, what exchange possibilities

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