The global agricultural and food system contains a fundamental contradiction. On the one hand, it produces cheap and abundant food for the west. On the other, it creates a situation of regional socio-economic dependence that touches large segments of the population of developing countries and some segments of the population of developed countries.
(Bonanno et al., 1994, 256)
Analyses of hunger, famine or malnourishment are often written without reference to global processes which have structured and continue to structure the geography of food production and distribution. So undernourishment in Bangladesh, for example, is analysed with reference to internal factors alone: land ownership patterns, floods, urbanisation, etc. These national perspectives are important (see Chapter 4) but they must be understood within a larger geographical and historical frame. There are several compelling reasons why an international perspective is required for an understanding of world hunger.
Historically constructed political, economic and social structures continue to control access to and command over food, as well as decisions relating to food production and consumption. Within countries, entitlement packages are often based upon social and economic relations established under European colonisation: the result of changes wrought between the sixteenth and the nineteenth century. In external relations, some countries have a restricted entitlement package with which to command food for their populations. At the international scale, some countries are much more powerful politically and economically and can command food for their populations more effectively than countries in the South. As outlined in Chapter 1, the most critical requirement for any governing élite is to secure adequate food at prices which are affordable; if it fails to do this it loses legitimacy and risks being ousted. This rule holds for Chinese emperors in the past, new regimes in Eastern Europe in the 1990s, and contemporary governments in Africa and Latin America (see politics of structural adjustment, p. 43). This is not to argue that all relatively poor countries will contain hungry populations; not at all, it is simply to emphasise that an initial and vital constraint upon any country’s ability to command food is its status in the international political arena, because this is where crucial policies which influence developing-world revenues are negotiated.