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Hunger, Poverty, and Economic Development

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Hunger, Poverty, and Economic Development


The persistence of widespread hunger is one of the most appalling features of the modern world. The fact that so many people continue to die each year from famines, and that many millions more go on perishing from persistent depriva­tion on a regular basis, is a calamity to which the world has, somewhat incred­ibly, got coolly accustomed. Indeed, the subject often generates either cynicism ('not a lot can be done about it') or complacent irresponsibility ('don't blame meit is not a problem for which I am answerable ').



—Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, Hunger and Public Action

Poverty is the main reason why babies are not vaccinated, why clean water and sanitation are not provided, why curative drugs and other treatments are unavailable and why mothers die in childbirth. It is the underlying cause of re­duced life expectancy, handicaps, disability and starvation. Poverty is a major contributor to mental illness, stress, suicide, family disintegration and sub­stance abuse. Every year in the developing world 12.2 million children under 5 years die, most of them from causes which could be prevented for just a few US cents per child. They die largely because of world indifference, but most of all they die because they are poor.

—World Health Organization, World Health Report (1995)

At the end of World War II public officials and scientists from all over the world predicted that with advances in modern technology it would be possible by the end of the century to end poverty, famine, and endemic hunger in the world. Freed from colonial domination and assisted by new global institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank, the impoverished countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, people assumed, would follow paths to economic development blazed by the core countries.

Today these optimistic projections have been replaced by hopelessness and resigna­tion as 1.2 billion people are estimated to still live on less than $1 per day, and almost 3 billion on less than $2 per day. Estimates of the number of people with insufficient food range from 800 million to well over a billion, virtually one-fifth of the world's population. Children are particularly vulnerable; food aid organizations estimate that 250,000 children


per week, almost 1,500 per hour, die from inadequate diets and the diseases that thrive on malnourished bodies. And hunger is not just a problem of the poor countries of the world. Estimates of the number of Americans living in hunger rose from 20 million in 1985 to 31 million Americans who presently live in households that are food insecure (hungry or at risk of hunger).

Common misunderstandings about world hunger should be quickly dispelled. First, world hunger is not the result of insufficient food production. There is enough food in the world to feed 120 percent of the world's population on a vegetarian diet, although proba­bly not enough to feed the world on the diet of the core countries. Even in countries where people are starving, there is either more than enough food for everyone or the capacity to produce it.

Second, famine is not the most common reason for hunger. While famines such as those in recent years in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Chad receive the most press cover­age, endemic hunger—daily insufficiencies in food—is far more common.

Third, famine itself is rarely caused by food insufficiency. When hundreds of thou­sands starved to death in Bangladesh in 1974, it was not because of lack of food. In fact, there was more food than there had been in the years leading up to the disaster and more food than was produced in the years following. The starvation resulted from massive un­employment brought on by flooded farmland and high food prices brought on by a fear of food shortages. People starved to death because they couldn't afford to buy food and had no land to grow their own.

Finally, hunger is not caused by overpopulation. While growing populations may require more food, there is no evidence that the food could not be produced and delivered if people had the means to pay for it. This does not mean population and food availability play no role in world hunger, but that the relationship is far more complex than it appears.

The question, then, is why do people continue to starve to death in the midst of plenty? More important, is it still possible to believe that poverty and hunger can be elim­inated? If so, how?

To answer these questions we need to know about the nature and history of food production and to understand the reasons why people are hungry. There is a prevailing view that hunger is inevitable, but that need not be the case. We will examine some possi­ble solutions to world hunger, and how specific countries, some rich and some poor, have tried to ensure that people have adequate food.

The Evolution of Food Production: From the Neolithic to the Neocaloric

Until recently in world history virtually everyone lived on farms, grew their own food, and used whatever surplus they produced to pay tribute or taxes, to sell at local markets, and to keep for seed for the following year. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolu­tion people have left the land in increasing numbers, converging on cities and living on wages. As late as 1880, half of the U.S. population was engaged in agriculture; this figure decreased to 38 percent by 1900, and 18 percent by 1940. Today less than 2 percent of Americans feed the other 98 percent, as well as millions of others around the world who


purchase the products of American agriculture (Schusky 1989:101). This shift of the pop­ulation from farming to other sources of livelihood is intensifying all over the world. Why do people leave the land on which they produce their own food to seek wage employment, which requires that they buy food from others?

To answer this question we need to understand the history of agriculture, why food production has changed, and how economic and agricultural policies have resulted in in­creased poverty and hunger.

From Gathering and Hunting to the Neolithic

For most of their existence human beings produced food by gathering wild plants—nuts, roots, berries, grains—and hunting large and small game. Generally these people enjoyed a high quality of life. They devoted only about twenty hours per week to work, and arche­ological studies and research among contemporary gathering and hunting societies indi­cate that food was relatively plentiful and nutritious. Life span and health standards seem to have been better than those of later agriculturists. Consequently, a major question for an­thropologists has been why human populations that lived by gathering and hunting began to plant and cultivate crops. Before 1960 anthropologists assumed that domesticating plants and animals provided more nourishment and food security than gathering and hunt­ing. But when the research in the 1960s of Richard Lee and James Woodburn revealed that the food supply of gatherers and hunters was relatively secure and that the investment of energy in food production was small, speculation turned to the effects of population in­crease on food production. Mark Cohen (1977) suggested that increases in population den­sities may have required people to forage over larger areas in search of food, eventually making it more efficient to domesticate and cultivate their own rather than travel large dis­tances in search of game and wild plants. Even then the shift from gathering and hunting to domestication of plants and animals must have been very gradual, emerging first on a large scale in Mesopotamia around 10,000 years ago, during the Neolithic era. From that point until 5,000 years ago settlements domesticated such plants as wheat, barley, rye, millet, rice, and maize, and began to domesticate animals such as sheep, goats, pigs, camels, and cattle. Traditionally, animals have served as a farmer's food reservoir, fed with surplus grains in good times and killed and eaten when grain became scarce. Some, such as sheep, goats, cattle, and camels, eat grasses that human beings cannot eat, thus converting cellu­lose to protein for human consumption in the form of meat and dairy products.

Slash and burn or swidden agriculture is the simplest way of cultivating crops; al­though it is highly efficient when practiced correctly it requires considerable knowledge of local habitats. In swidden agriculture a plot of land is cleared by cutting down the vegeta­tion, spreading it over the area to be used for planting, and then burned. Seeds are planted and the plants cultivated and then harvested. After one to three years of use, the plot is more or less abandoned and a new area cut, burned, and planted. If there is sufficient land, the original plot lies fallow for ten years or more until bushes and trees reestablish themselves; then it is used again. Of the four major factors in agricultural production—land, water, labor, and energy—swidden agriculture is land-intensive only. It uses only natural rainfall and solar energy and requires about twenty-five hours per week of labor. Tools consist of only an ax or machete and a hoe or digging stick.


Swidden agriculture is still practiced in much of the periphery, but only recently have researchers begun to appreciate its efficiency and sophistication. Burning vegeta­tion, for example, once thought only to add nutrients in the form of ash to the soil, also kills pests, insects, and weeds. When practiced correctly, it is environmentally sound be­cause it recreates the natural habitat. Swidden agriculturists must choose a site with the proper vegetation and desirable drainage and soil qualities. They must cut and spread the brush properly and evenly to maximize the burn and the heat. Cuttings that dry slowly must be cut earlier than those that dry quickly. Unlike in monoculture—the growing of a single crop—swidden plots are planted with a variety of foodstuffs as well as medicinal plants and other vegetable products. Swidden agriculturists must know when to abandon a plot so that grasses do not invade and prevent regeneration of brush and forest. Further­more, abandoned plots are rarely truly abandoned, being used to grow tree crops or attract animals that are hunted for food.

Just as there is debate as to why gatherers and hunters began to practice agriculture, there is some question as to why swidden agriculturists began to practice the more labor-intensive irrigation or plow agriculture. These techniques do not necessarily produce a greater yield relative to the labor energy used; however, they do allow use of more land more often by reducing or eliminating the fallow period. Land that in swidden agriculture would lie fallow is put into production. Irrigation agriculture also allows continual pro­duction on available land, sometimes allowing harvest of two or three crops in a year. Moreover, it permits the use of land that without irrigation could not be used for agricul­ture. Ester Boserup (1965) suggested that increasing population density required more frequent use of land, eliminating the possibility of allowing land to lie fallow to regain its fertility. Thus plow and irrigation agriculture, while requiring greater amounts of work, does produce more food.

The productivity comes at a cost, however. Of the four agricultural essentials—land, water, labor, and energy—irrigation requires more water, more labor, and more energy than swidden agriculture. In addition, irrigation generally requires a more complex social and political structure, with a highly centralized bureaucracy to direct the construction, maintenance, and oversight of the required canals, dikes, and, in some cases, dams. Fur­thermore, irrigation can be environmentally destructive, leading to salinization (excess salt buildup) of the soil and silting. For example, it is estimated that 50 percent of the irrigated land in Iraq and 30 percent in Egypt is waterlogged or salinized (Schusky 1989:72). Irri­gated sites may also be used to dump sewage and often harbor disease-carrying parasites and insects, resulting in an increase in such diseases as cholera, typhoid, schistosomiasis, and malaria. Irrigated areas also serve as a haven for weeds. Finally, the shift to plow or ir­rigation agriculture changed the division of labor between men and women (Boserup 1970). Generally in swidden agriculture men clear the land and women burn the cuttings and care for the crops. In some areas today, such as sub-Saharan Africa, women do the ma­jority of the agricultural labor. However, in plow or irrigation agriculture, women tend to do less of the labor. Women's labor shifts to domestic chores, and often the total amount of women's labor increases as their agricultural labor decreases (Ember 1983).

If we surveyed the world of 2,000 years ago, when virtually all of the food crops now in use were domesticated and in use somewhere, we would find centers of irrigation agriculture in China, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and India, with later developments coming in


the Andes and Mesoamerica. Plow agriculture was practiced extensively in areas of the Middle East and Europe. But where agriculture was necessary, swidden agriculture, when population levels and state demands for tribute permitted, must have been by far the most common. Moreover, until the twentieth century there was little change or improvement in agricultural techniques.

Capitalism and Agriculture

The next great revolution in food production was a consequence of the growing impor­tance of world trade in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries and the gradual increase in the number of people living in cities and not engaged in food production. The expan­sion of trade and growth of the nonfarming population had at least four profound conse­quences for agricultural production.

First, food became a commodity that like any other commodity, such as silk, swords, or household furniture, could be produced, bought, and sold for profit. Second, the growth of trade and the number of people engaged in nonagricultural production cre­ated competition for labor between agricultural and industrial sectors of the economy. Third, the growth of the nonagricultural workforce created greater vulnerability on the part of those who depended on others for food. The availability of food no longer de­pended solely on a farmer's ability to produce it but also on people's wages, food prices, and an infrastructure required for the delivery, storage, and marketing of food products. Finally, the increasing role of food as a capitalist commodity resulted in the increased in­tervention of the state in food production. For example, food prices needed to be regu­lated; if they were too high not only might people starve but industrial wages would need to increase; if they were too low, agricultural producers might not bring their food to mar­ket. Import quotas or tariffs needed to be set to maximize food availability on the one hand and protect domestic food producers on the other. New lands needed to be colo­nized, not only to produce enough food but to keep food production profitable. The state might also regulate agricultural wages or, as in the United States, not regulate them. (While the United States has had a minimum wage for industrial workers since 1937, there is still no minimum wage for farm workers.)

As it turned out, the most important change in food production inspired by the transformation of food into a capitalist commodity was the continual reduction of the amount in human energy and labor involved directly in food production and the increase of the amount in nonhuman energy in the form of new technologies, such as tractors, reapers, and water delivery systems. The results of this trend continue to define the nature of agricultural production in most of the world.

Reducing labor demands in agriculture and increasing technology accomplishes a whole range of things that contribute to trade and profit in both the agricultural and indus­trial sectors. First, substituting technology for human labor and reducing the number of people involved in agriculture makes agriculture more profitable. Labor costs are reduced and agricultural wealth is concentrated in fewer hands. Increasing technology also creates a need for greater capital investments. As a result, those people with access to capital, that is the more affluent, are able to profit, forcing the less affluent to give up their farms. This further concentrates agricultural wealth. The increase in the need for capital also creates


opportunities for investors (banks, multilateral organizations, commodity traders) to enter the agricultural sector, influence its operation by supplying and/or withholding capital, and profiting from it.

Second, reducing the number of people in agriculture and concentrating agricul­tural wealth to ensure profits of those who remain helps keep food prices and conse­quently industrial wages relatively low. This creates a danger of food monopolies and the potential for a rise in prices. For example, cereal production in the United States is con­trolled by only a few companies, and the prices of processed cereals such as corn flakes and oats are exorbitant. Yet as long as consumers are able to pay, the government is con­tent not to intervene. As it is, food cost as a percentage of the cost of living in the United States is among the lowest in the world.

Third, reducing agricultural labor frees labor to work in industry and creates com­petition for industrial jobs, which helps keep wages low. That is, the more people who are dependent for their livelihood on jobs, the lower the wages industry needs to pay.

Finally, to keep labor costs down and increase the amount of technology required for the maintenance of food production, the state must subsidize the agricultural sector. In the United States, for example, the government has financed irrigation and land reclama­tion projects, conducted agricultural research, and subsidized farm prices and/or energy costs. The U.S. government also subsidized agriculture by investing billions of dollars in Food Aid, buying surplus farm products and using them for foreign aid (although this aid often created a dependence on U.S. farm products while forcing local producers out of business).

In sum, the results for the capitalist economy of the reduction of agricultural labor and the subsequent increase in technology are:

    A capital-intensive agricultural system, dependent on the use of subsidized energy

    The exploitation of domestic farm labor and of foreign land and labor to keep food
prices low and agricultural and industrial profits high

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

It is important to note that until the 1950s the technological intensification of agricul­ture did not substantially increase yield. That is, though an American corn farmer needed only one hundred hours of labor to produce one hectare (2.41 acres) of corn, the amount of corn produced was no greater than that produced by a Mexican swidden farmer, working ten times as many hours using only a machete and hoe. In other words, while mechanization made the American farm more economical by reducing labor energy and costs, it did not produce more food per hectare (Schusky 1989:115). One question we need to ask is what happens when we export the American agricultural system to developing countries?

The Neocaloric and the Green Revolution

The culmination of the development of capitalist agriculture, a system that is technologi­cally intensive and substitutes nonhuman energy for human energy, was dubbed the neo-caloric revolution by Ernest Schusky. For Schusky, the major characteristic of the



neocaloric revolution has been the vast increase in nonhuman energy devoted to food pro­duction in the form of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and machinery.

David and Marcia Pimentel (1979) provided a unique perspective on the neocaloric. Their idea was to measure the number of kilocalories' produced per crop per hectare of land and compare it to the amount of both human and nonhuman energy expended in kilo­calories to produce the crop. Their work dramatized both the efficiency of traditional forms of agriculture and the energy use required of modern capitalist agriculture.

For example, to produce a crop of corn a traditional Mexican swidden farmer clears land with an ax and machete to prepare it for burning and uses a hoe to plant and weed. Pimentel and Pimentel (1979:63) figured that crop care takes 143 days and the worker exerts about 4,120 kilocalories per day. Thus, labor for one hectare amounts to 589,160 kilocalories. Energy expended for ax, hoe, and seed is estimated at 53,178 kilocalories, for a total of 642,338 kilocalories. The corn crop produced yields about 6 million kilocal­ories, for an input-output ratio of 1 to 11; that is, for every kilocalorie expended, eleven are produced, a ratio that is about average for peasant farmers. Nonhuman energy used is minimal, consisting only in the fossil fuel (wood, coal, or oil) used in producing the hoe, ax, and machete.

Now let's examine plow agriculture with the use of an ox. One hour of ox time is equal to four hours of human time, so labor input for one hectare drops to 197,245 kilo­calories from 589,160 kilocalories. But the ox requires 495,000 kilocalories to maintain. Moreover, the steel plow requires more energy in its manufacture, so fossil fuel energy used rises to 41,400, with energy for seeds remaining at 36,608, for a total of 573,008. However, the corn yield drops significantly, to half, so the input-output ratio drops to 1 to 4.3. The reason for the drop is likely the lowering of soil fertility. If leaves, compost, or manure is added to the soil yields might increase, but so would the energy required to gather and spread the fertilizer.

Finally, if we consider a corn farmer in the United States in 1980, we find that using modern farming machinery, herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers, transport, and irrigation, the fanner produces about 7,000 kilograms of corn per hectare, almost seven times that produced by the Mexican swidden farmer, but at a cost of almost 25 million kilocalories. Consequently, the input-output ratio is 1 to 3.5, far below the ratios of most 'primitive' swidden farmers. In fact, in the United States the ratio of kilocalories used in crop produc­tion to kilocalories produced declined from 3.7 to 1 in 1945 to 2.8 to 1 in 1970. The ques­tion is, why has modern agriculture become so energy intensive?

The intensification of the use of technology in agriculture is largely the result of what has been called the green revolution. The green revolution began with research con­ducted in Mexico by American scientists in the 1940s and 1950s, sponsored by the Rocke­feller Foundation. Their goal was to develop higher-yielding hybrid strains of corn and

'A calorie or gram-calorie is the amount of heat needed to raise 1 gram of water 1° C to 15° C. The kilocalorie (kcal) or kilogram-calorie is 1,000 gram-calories or the amount of heat needed to raise 1 kg of water 1° C to 15° C. It can also be conceptualized as follows; 1 horsepower of energy is the same as 641 kilocalories; 1 gallon contains 31,000 kilocalories; if used in a mechanical engine that works at 20 percent efficiency, 1 gallon of gas­oline is equal to 6,200 kilocalories of work, or one horse working at capacity for a ten-hour day, or a person working eight hours per day, five days per week, for 2.5 weeks.


wheat suitable for Mexican agriculture. Soon the research produced dramatic results all over the world as farmers began using specially produced strains of crops such as wheat, corn, and rice called high-yielding varieties (HYVs). The productivity of the new seeds lay largely in their increased capacity for using fertilizer and water. Whereas increased use of fertilizer and water did not increase the yields of old varieties (in fact, it might harm them), it vastly increased the yields of the new varieties. Consequently, more and more farmers around the world adopted them. Use of these new varieties was encouraged by the petrochemical industry and fertilizer production plants, which sought to expand their markets. Thus, research efforts to develop HYV plants were expanded in India, the Philippines, and Taiwan, encouraged by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Rockefeller Foundation.

But the green revolution soon ran into some problems. First, the new plants re­quired greater inputs of fertilizer and water. Because of the added energy costs farmers often skimped on fertilizer and water use, resulting in yields similar to those prior to the adoption of the new crops. Consequently, farmers returned to their previous crops and methods. Second, the OPEC oil embargo in 1973 raised oil prices, and since fertilizers, irrigation, and other tools of the green revolution were dependent on oil, costs rose even higher. Some people began to refer to HYV as energy-intensive varieties (EIVs).

The expense was increased further by the amount of water needed for fertilizers. Early adaptations of the new technology tended to be in areas rich in water sources; in fact, most of the early research on HYV was done in areas where irrigation was available. When the techniques were applied to areas without water resources, the results were not nearly as dramatic. It also became apparent that the energy required for irrigation was as great in some cases as the energy required for fertilizer.

In addition, the green revolution requires much greater use of chemical pesticides. If farmers plant only a single crop or single variety of a crop it is more susceptible to the rapid spread of disease, which, because of the added expense, could create catastrophic financial losses. Consequently, pesticide use to control disease becomes crucial. Furthermore, since the crop is subject to threats from insect and animal pests at all stages of production—in the fields, in storage, in transportation, and in processing—pesticide costs rise even further.

Finally, the new fertilizers and irrigation favor the growth of weeds; therefore, her­bicides must be applied, further increasing energy expenditure.

One result of the change from subsistence farming, in which the major investment was land, to a form of agriculture that is highly land-, water-, and energy-intensive is, as Ernest Schusky (1989:133) noted, to put the small farmer at a major disadvantage because of the difficulty in raising the capital to finance the modern technological complex. The result in the United States and elsewhere is the concentration of agricultural wealth in fewer hands and a constant reduction in the number of small family farms (see Table 6.1.)

It is in livestock production, however, that the neocaloric revolution really comes into focus. One innovation of the past hundred years in beef production was feeding grain to cattle. By 1975 the United States produced about 1,300 kilograms of grain for every person in the country. But 1,200 kilograms of that was fed to livestock. Dairy cows are relatively productive compared to beef cattle; it takes about 190 kilograms of protein to produce 60 kilograms of milk or about 36 kilocalories of fossil energy to produce one kilocalorie of milk protein. Beef get about 40 percent of their protein from grazing and 60


TABLE 6.1    Changes in Number of U.S. Farms by Size, 1950-1992

Size of Farm (Acres)                  1992                      1969                      1950                  % Change



1,310,000

1,944,224

4,606,497

-172%

255,000

419,421

478,170

-47%

186,000

215,659

182,297

+.08%

173,000

150,946

121,473

+58%

1,925,000

2,730,250

5,388,437

-166%

1-59

260-499

500-999

1,000+

Total

Adapted from Eric Ross, Beyond the Myths of Culture: Essays in Cultural Materialism. New York, Academic Press, 1980.

percent from grain. If we calculate the energy that goes into grain production and the op­eration of feedlots, the productive ratio is as low as 1 kilocalorie produced for every 78 kilocalories expended.

If we factor in processing, packaging, and delivery of food, the energy expenditure is even higher. For example, the aluminum tray on which a frozen TV dinner is served re­quires more calories to produce than the food on the tray. David Pimentel estimated that the American grain farmer using modern machinery, fertilizer, and pesticides uses 8 calo­ries of energy for every 1 calorie produced. Transportation, storage, and processing con­sume another 8 fossil calories to produce 1 calorie (see Schusky 1989:102).

As Schusky said, in a world short on energy such production makes no sense, but in a world of cheap energy, particularly oil, especially if it is subsidized by the nation-state, it is highly profitable. The real problem comes when agricultural production that substi­tutes fossil fuel energy for human energy is exported to developing countries. To begin with, there is simply not enough fossil energy to maintain this type of production for any length of time. One research project estimated that if the rest of the world used energy at the rate it is used in the United States, the world's petroleum resources would be ex­hausted on the food supply alone in the next ten to twelve years (Schusky 1989:119).

Furthermore, in countries with a large rural population the substitution of energy-intensive agriculture for labor-intensive agriculture will throw thousands off the land or out of work, resulting in more people fleeing to the cities in search of employment. And since modern agriculture is capital-intensive, the only farmers who can afford to remain will be those who are relatively wealthy, consequently leading to increasing income gaps in rural as well as urban areas. Where the green revolution has been successful, small farmers have been driven off the land to become day laborers or have fled to cities in search of jobs, as commercial investors bought up agricultural land. Or more wealthy farmers have bought up their neighbor's since only they had the capital to invest in fertil­izers and irrigation.

Then there is the potential for green revolution II, the application of genetic engi­neering to agricultural production. Genetically engineered crops are controversial, largely because of claims that they have not been rigorously tested, and that we do not know yet what affects they may have on the environment or on the people who eat them. Clearly


claims by agribusiness concerns, such as Monsanto Corporation, that such crops will help us feed the hungry are, as we shall see, disingenuous at best. Furthermore, in some cases, genetically engineered crops simply try to correct the damage done by capitalist agricul­ture. For example, there is the much touted 'golden rice,' a genetically engineered variety with vitamin A that is a cure for blindness that afflicts some 300,000 people a year. Yet, as Vandana Shiva (2000) notes, nature ordinarily provides abundant and diverse sources of vitamin A; rice that is not polished provides vitamin A, as do herbs such as bathua, am­aranth, and mustard leaves, which would grow in wheat fields if they were not sprayed with herbicides.

This is not to say there have not been some successes in modernizing agriculture without creating greater social and economic inequality and depriving people of access to food. Murray Leaf (1984) described how one Indian village succeeded in increasing access to water, using chemical fertilizers, and increasing production while maintaining landhold-ings and building farm cooperatives and credit unions. In fact, some countries, including South Korea, Taiwan, and Cuba, have had notable successes in improving agriculture, alle­viating poverty in the countryside, and promoting prosperity. But overall it is clear that we have developed a system of food production that is capital-intensive, favors large, state-subsidized agribusiness, minimizes the use of labor, and subsequently makes more people dependent on wage labor with which to obtain food. In the culture of capitalism, access to food is determined almost entirely by the ability to pay, not by the need to eat.

The Politics of Hunger

The obvious consequence of the reduction of labor needed for food production and the concentration of food production in fewer hands is that the world's population is more de­pendent on wage labor for access to food. People are consequently more vulnerable to hunger if opportunities for employment decrease, if wages fall, or if food prices rise; they can starve even in the midst of food availability. This is not to say that lack of food is never a factor in hunger, but it is rare for people to have economic resources and not be able to acquire food.

The role of food in a capitalist economy has other important consequences. For ex­ample, food production is not determined necessarily by the global need for food, it is de­termined by the market for food, that is how many people have the means to pay for it. That is why world food production is rarely at its maximum and why it is difficult to esti­mate how much food could be produced if the market demand existed. The problem is that not only are there not enough people with sufficient income to pay for all the food that could be produced, but so-called overproduction would result in lower prices and de­creased profitability. For that reason, in many countries food production is discouraged. Furthermore, land that could be used to grow food crops, is generally dedicated to non­food crops (e.g., tobacco, cotton, sisal) or marginally nutritious crops (e.g., sugar, coffee, tea) for which there is a market. Finally, the kind of food that is produced is determined by the demands of those who have the money to pay for it. For example, meat is notori­ously inefficient as a food source, but as long as people in wealthy countries demand it, it will be produced in spite of the fact that the grain, land, and water required to produce it



would feed far more people if devoted to vegetable crops. Thus people in Mexico go hungry because land is devoted to the production of beef, which few Mexicans can afford, but which brings high prices in the United States.

In sum, we need to understand the economic, political, and social relations that con­nect people to food. Economist Amartya Sen (1990:374) suggested that people command food through entitlements, that is their socially defined rights to food resources. Entitle­ment might consist of the inheritance or purchase of land on which to grow food, employ­ment to obtain wages with which to buy food, sociopolitical rights such as the religious or moral obligation of some to see that others have food, or state-run welfare or social secu­rity programs that guarantee adequate food to all. Not all of these kinds of entitlements exist in all societies, but some exist in all. From this perspective, hunger is a failure of en­titlement. The failure of entitlement may come from land dispossession, unemployment, high food prices, or lack or collapse of state-run food security programs, but the results are that people may starve to death in the midst of a food surplus.


One of the images that emerged from the famine in Somalia in 1992.


Viewing hunger as a failure of entitlements also corrects ideological biases in the culture of capitalism, the tendency to overemphasize fast growth and production, the ne­glect of the problem of distribution, and hostility to government intervention in food dis­tribution. Thus, rather than seeing hunger or famine as a failure of production (which it


seems not to be), we can focus on a failure of distribution (see Vaughn 1987:158). Fur­thermore, we are able to appreciate the range of possible solutions to hunger. The goal is simply to establish, reestablish, or protect entitlements, the legitimate claim to food. Seeing hunger as a failure of entitlement also focuses on the kinds of public actions that are possible. For example, access to education and health care are seen in most core coun­tries as basic entitlements that should be supplied by the state, not by a person's ability to pay. And most core countries see basic nutrition as a state-guaranteed entitlement, in spite of recent attempts in countries such as the United States to cut back on such entitlements. Thus, by speaking of entitlements, we can focus on the importance of public action in dealing with world hunger.

To understand the range of solutions to hunger, we also need to distinguish between the more publicized instances of famine, generally caused by war, government miscalcu­lations, civil conflict, or climatic disruptions; food poverty, in which a particular house­hold cannot obtain sufficient food to meet the dietary requirements of its members; and food deprivation, in which individuals within the household do not get adequate dietary intake (Sen 1990:374).

To illustrate, let's take a look at two situations of hunger, first the more publicized instance of famine and then the less widely publicized endemic hunger.

The Anatomy of Famine

Famines have long been a part of history. Administrators in India as early as the fourth century B.C wrote of measures to avert famines, and the people of India have been subject to massive famines throughout its history. China has also suffered major famines. The latest occurred in 1958-1961, when 15-30 million people starved to death.

Many historic famines were caused by crop failures, climatic disruptions, and war. Archaeologists have speculated that widespread climatic changes reduced the yields of Mayan agriculturists and resulted in the destruction of Mayan civilization. Yet it is clear that even historically famines resulted from entitlement failures rather than insufficient food (Newman 1990). Even during the Irish potato famine of 1846-1847, when one-eighth of the population starved to death, shiploads of food, often protected from starving Irish by armed guards, sailed down the Shannon River, bound for English ports and con­sumers who could pay for it.

We can better appreciate the dynamics of famine and the importance of entitle­ments by examining a famine crisis in the African country of Malawi in 1949. It was by no means the most serious famine in Africa in the past fifty years, but Megan Vaughn (1987), in her analysis of it, provides answers to the key questions, who starves and why?

The famine began with a drought. The lack of rain was first noticed after Christmas 1948 and drew serious attention when in January, normally the wettest month of the year, there was no rain at all; it remained dry until some rain fell in March. In some areas the first and second plantings of maize, the main food crop, failed completely, and wild pigs, baboons, and hippos devastated the remaining crops. Old people who remembered the last famine in 1922 said there were signs of a major crisis, and within a few months it was apparent that people were starving. The British colonial government began to organize relief efforts, sending agricultural representatives into the countryside to organize the


planting of root crops, replanting of crops that failed, and opening food distribution camps. By the time the rains came in October, there were reports of real malnutrition and of hundreds of children and adults starving to death. Many died, ironically, at the begin­ning of 1950 as the maize crop was being harvested, many from eating the crop before it ripened (Vaughn 1987:48).

According to Vaughn, women suffered most from the famine. The question is, what happened to women's food entitlements that resulted in their being the most severely af­fected? To answer this question we need to know a little about food production, the role of kinship in Malawi life, and the changing role of women in African economies.

Malawi at the time was under British control; agriculture was divided between cash crop agriculture—tobacco was the most important crop—and subsistence agriculture, the growing of such crops as maize, sorghum, and a few root vegetables. In addition, many people worked at wage labor, either in the formal employment sector, for European or Indian farmers or merchants, or the government, or in the informal employment sector, working on farms owned or worked by Africans. Cash could also be earned through mi­grant labor, almost exclusively a male domain, although women could earn money making and selling beer or liquor.

The predominant form of kinship structure was matrilineal, that is people traced re­lations in the female line. The most important kin tie was between brother and sister, and the basic social unit was a group of sisters headed by a brother. Under this system rights to land were passed through women, men gaining rights to land only through marriage. Traditionally, women would work their land with their husbands, who lived with their wives and children. In this system a woman's entitlement to food could come from vari­ous sources: her control of land and the food grown on it, sharing of food with matrilineal kin, wages she might earn selling beer or liquor or working occasionally for African farmers, or wages her husband or children might earn. In addition, during the famine the government established an emergency food distribution system from which women could theoretically obtain food. What happened to those entitlements when the crops failed?

Changes in the agricultural economy and the introduction of wage labor under Eu­ropean colonial rule had already undermined women's entitlements (Boserup 1970). The British colonial government was under pressure, as it was in other parts of Africa, to pro­duce revenue to pay the cost of maintaining the colonies. Consequently they introduced cash crops, such as coffee, tea, cotton, and tobacco. The latter proved to be the most prof­itable in Malawi and was the major cash crop when the famine struck. But cash cropping was generally a male prerogative and provided wages for African men only when they worked for Europeans or Indians. Cash cropping by Europeans and Indians also took land that might have been used for food crops, contributing to a growing land shortage for Af­ricans. Thus, in addition to providing new ways for men to gain economic power, Euro­pean practices led to the decrease of women's power in the agricultural sector. This combination of changes in access to land, decreasing amounts of land available for Afri­cans, and the growing importance of wage labor for men made women more dependent on men for their food entitlements when the famine struck.

When the famine became evident to the British authorities, they took measures that further reduced women's entitlements. First, partly to conserve grain and partly because of a fear of social disorder, they forbade the making and sale of beer, removing a major


source of income for women. Next, they assumed the family unit consisted of a husband, wife, and children, presided over by the husband, and, consequently, refused to distribute food relief to married women, assuming they would obtain food from their husbands. How­ever, many husbands were traveling to seek work elsewhere to buy food, and they might or might not send food or money home. Next, the government food distributions gave prefer­ence to those, mostly urban people who were employed in the formal economy by Europe­ans, Indians, or the government, neglecting those in the rural economy such as part-time women laborers. Furthermore, Europeans and Indians, who had ample food supplies during the famine, often shared with their workers who, again, were mostly men. Many of these men, of course, were conscientious husbands, fathers, brothers, and uncles and shared the food they received. But some did not, either keeping it for themselves or selling it at high prices on the black market.

To make matters worse, as the famine wore on social units began to fragment. This is a common feature of famines. Raymond Firth (1959) reported that during the early phases of a famine on the island of Tikopia, families recognized extended kin ties in the sharing of food, but as the famine wore on food was shared only within individual house­holds. In Malawi the situation was even worse; at the beginning of the famine there seems to have been sharing within the main matrilineal kin group, but as it wore on the sharing unit became smaller and smaller until people ate secretly. Since one of a woman's entitle­ments consisted of food received from relatives, this would have further reduced the amount of food she received. Finally, divorce rates apparently increased significantly, par­ticularly in families where the husband was a migrant laborer, further isolating women and reducing their food entitlements.

In sum, then, the most vulnerable portion of the population was women without male support but for whom the colonial authorities took no responsibility, married women whose husbands had abandoned them, and wives of long-term migrants who did not remit money (Vaughn 1987:147). In addition, of course, the children of these women suffered and died disproportionately.

The lesson of the Malawi famine is that starvation can be very selectively experi­enced within a population because of the distribution of food entitlements. Given the amount of food already available in the areas most affected by the famine and the food available through relief efforts, it is unlikely that anyone had to starve. But many did.

The Anatomy of Endemic Hunger

While famine as a cause of hunger has decreased, endemic hunger caused by poverty has in­creased. One problem with endemic hunger is that it goes largely unnoticed, by the press who prefer to cover the more spectacular instances of famine, and by governments whose economic and social policies might be held responsible for the hunger. Yet endemic hunger is a far more serious problem. India, for example, which has done an excellent job of famine prevention, has done poorly in solving the problem of endemic hunger. Consequently, every eight years, more Indians die as a result of hunger than Chinese died in the famine of 1958-1961. Yet the deaths in India do not receive nearly the public attention that is given to famine. One of the questions we need to ask is how and why is endemic hunger ignored, un­recognized, and sometimes denied by state agencies, as well as by the hungry themselves?


Governments often refuse to recognize hunger because it marks an admission of failure to provide adequately for its citizens. And hunger sometimes goes unrecognized because it is assumed to be a medical problem, rather than a problem of food entitle­ments. Doing anthropological fieldwork in Mali, Katherine A. Dettwyler (1994:71-73) encountered a little girl with swelling of the face, hands, feet, and abdomen, classic symp­toms of kwashiorkor, a disease that results from a diet that is sufficient in calories but de­ficient in protein. The girl's mother said she had funu bana, 'swelling sickness,' and asked Dettwyler for medicine for her daughter, failing to recognize that what her daughter needed was extra meat or milk. When Dettwyler suggested just that, the mother re­sponded by saying the little girl wasn't hungry and that she needed medicine. For the mother it continued to be a medical problem not a food problem.

The denial of hunger prevents the development of programs to alleviate it. More in­sidiously, when hunger goes unrecognized or unacknowledged, problems that are a conse­quence of hunger, such as poor work performance, poor academic achievement, and stunted growth, are attributed to other factors, such as lack of motivation or cultural background.

To illustrate how social, economic, and cultural factors converge to produce hunger in the midst of plenty, as well as the complexity of identifying hunger and even admitting it exists, let's examine the problem of starvation in Brazil. Brazil is not a poor country, in fact it is among the top ten to fifteen economies in the world. During the period of great optimism following World War II, Brazil was one of the first of the so-called underdevel­oped countries to embark on a concerted policy of economic and industrial development. A large number of Brazilians have become very wealthy, yet 40 percent of its population lives in poverty, and it has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in Latin America, with some regions having an infant mortality rate as high as those in impoverished coun­tries of Africa. Exploring why this happened will help us understand the dynamics of world hunger.

Brazil set out to develop economically by imitating the pattern followed by core countries such as England, France, and the United States. The strategy was to build indus­try, export cash crops, and create jobs, with the idea that the wealth created would 'trickle down' to others in society. However, to date that hasn't happened. Instead, peasants once able to secure a reasonable subsistence through simple agriculture are deprived of land, through either expropriation of land or privatization of communal land, and forced to work as wage laborers on the surviving farms or to flee to cities to seek work, often ending up in the shantytowns that surround the cities. Their wages are insufficient to buy food, and structural adjustment policies imposed by international lending institutions have forced the reduction of social support programs. One thing stands out: the vast ma­jority of the population becomes dependent on others for food, food they must buy and which must be affordable. Unfortunately, in many cases, they do not have the means to buy food, or prices keep it out of reach. The problem of hunger and poverty is particularly severe in northeastern Brazil.




Sugar has dominated the economy of northeastern Brazil for over four hundred years. Fueled by a growing European demand for sugar, Portuguese colonists established plantations in the sixteenth century and imported slaves to grow and process sugarcane. The colonialization of Brazil and the nature of the economic relations created by sugar production created a pattern of class relations that remained largely intact through the


mid-twentieth century. A plantation-owning elite ruled over a large peasant population that cut sugarcane for wages, using unused land to grow their own food crops. A few others worked for wages in the sugar mills and refineries. However, as the sugar industry expanded and as technological improvements were made in the 1950s and 1960s because of government policies to expand production for export, many peasants were evicted from the land, fleeing to the cities in search of jobs. Poverty was widespread, and even people with jobs did not make enough to meet family expenses. For example, in northeastern Brazil in 1989, the legal minimum monthly income was $40, while food expenses alone for a family of four were four times that amount.

To make matters worse, in the mid-1980s Brazil and other countries could not keep up their payments to the World Bank and other Western financial institutions from which they had borrowed to industrialize and, consequently, threatened to default on their loans. To help these countries avoid default, the World Bank allowed them to renegotiate their loans. These countries had to agree to change their economies by, among other things, re­ducing government spending on such things as public education, welfare, housing, and health, entitlement cutbacks that resulted in still greater hardships for the poorest portion of the population.

In 1982 Nancy Scheper-Hughes returned to a shantytown, Alto do Cruzeiro, located in the city of Bom Jesus da Mata, where she had worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1965. The shantytown consisted of five thousand rural workers, one-third of whom lived in straw huts. The vast majority of residents had no electricity, and water was collected by the women twice a day from a single spigot located in the center of the community. Most men and boys worked as sugarcane cutters during the harvest season. A few men and some women worked in the local slaughterhouse. Other than this part-time work, there was little employment. Many women found jobs as domestics among the middle- and upper-class families or sold what they could in the market. Many women and children worked in the cane fields as unregistered workers at less than minimum pay.

The economics of hunger in the shantytowns is simple—there is not enough money to buy food. Because of the economic situation in Brazil, Scheper-Hughes reported that groceries cost twice in 1987-1988 what they cost in 1982. Furthermore, a basic subsis­tence costs one and a half times minimum wage. Many of the residents do not make min­imum wage and are unemployed from February to September when there is no cane to cut. Furthermore, fresh vegetables that some used to grow or that were available from rel­atives in the countryside are no longer available because so many have been forced off the land by the sugarcane growers. In the 1960s brown beans cooked with slices of native squash, pumpkin, and onions were a staple; now the beans are cooked with only a little salt and flavoring. Dried beef was once available but is now prohibitively expensive and has been replaced by salted fish caught in the polluted river that passes through town. Even dried beans have become prohibitively expensive and dried cornmeal has taken its place.

With jobs scarce, available wages inadequate, land unavailable to grow food, and government assistance inadequate or nonexistent, residents of the shantytown scramble as best they can to acquire food. In fact, according to Scheper-Hughes, slow starvation is a primary motivating force in the social life of the shantytowns. People eat every day, but the diet is so meager that they are left hungry. Women beg while their children wait for


food, and children's growth is stunted by hunger and malnutrition. Children of one and two years of age cannot sit unaided and cannot or do not speak. Breastbones and ribs pro­trude from taut skin, flesh hangs in folds from arms, legs, and buttocks, and sunken eyes stare vacantly. The plight of the worker and his or her family is, according to Scheper-Hughes (1992:146), 'the slow starvation of a population trapped in a veritable concen­tration camp for more than thirty million people.'

Perhaps the most tragic result of hunger is the death of infants. Approximately 1 million children younger than five years of age die each year in Brazil. Northeastern Bra­zil, which accounts for 25 percent of child deaths, has an infant mortality rate of 116 of every 1,000 live births, one of the highest in the world. And not all deaths are reported. In northeastern Brazil Scheper-Hughes estimates that two-thirds of infants who die do so without a medical diagnosis.

Scheper-Hughes found that reliable statistics on infant mortality in the shantytowns were difficult to acquire. She finally obtained statistics for selected years in the 1970s, all of which indicated an infant mortality rate of 36 to 41 percent. From information she col­lected by combing public records, Scheper-Hughes found the following infant mortality rates for Bom Jesus da Mata: 49.3 percent in 1965; 40.9 percent in 1977; 17.4 percent in 1985; and 21.1 percent in 1987.

While the infant mortality rate in northeastern Brazil has generally declined, the de­cline, said Scheper-Hughes (1992:280), is misleading. Instead of a decline in infant mor­tality there is a 'modernization of child mortality,' characterized by containing child death to the poorest families and by a change in the major reported causes of child death from the 'old killers,' diseases now controlled by immunization, to 'new killers,' espe­cially infant malnutrition and dehydration caused by diarrhea.

News reports and government studies about poverty in Brazil do mention the prob­lem of infant mortality, but they generally attribute it to malnutrition and disease. But Scheper-Hughes's study revealed a more basic problem: People, especially infants and children, are not just malnourished, a term that implies only a poor diet; in fact they are starving to death. Yet even medical authorities rarely mention starvation. When Scheper-Hughes examined medical records of children and infants who died she found that in 34.8 percent of cases the cause of death was cessation of heart beat and respiration; in 22.2 percent it was listed as dehydration. Only 3.4 percent were attributed to malnutrition and only 1.7 percent to diarrhea. One wonders, wrote Scheper-Hughes (1992:303),

Amid the sea of froth and brine that carried away the infants and babies of the Alto do Cruzeiro, what kind of professional prudery it was that 'failed to see' what every mother of the Alto do Cruzeiro knew without ever being told. 'They die,' said one woman going to the heart of the matter, 'because their bodies turn to water.'

One way to mask the evidence of starvation is to turn it into a medical problem; the medicalization of hunger is exactly what Scheper-Hughes discovered in Brazil. People in­terpret the symptoms of starvation, even in children, as conditions that require medical treatment rather than food.

One of the things anthropology teaches about the human capacity for culture is that people place experiences in systems of meaning that allow them to make sense of their




A homeless mother and child trying to survive on the streets of a Brazilian city.


experiences. Illness and disease are no exception; different people define differently what constitutes illness as opposed to something that is not illness. Moreover, people will define what constitutes a medical problem (e.g., infant diarrhea) as opposed to, say, a social problem (e.g., hunger). In northeastern Brazil hunger, a social problem, has been redefined as a medical problem. How and why this has been done reveals much about how human beings construct their own world of experience and how people construct sys­tems of meaning that best enhance their social or political interests.

One of the major traditional illness syndromes in Brazil, and indeed in much of Latin America, is assumed to be a wasting sickness that leaves the victim weak, shaky, dizzy, tired, depressed, and disoriented. When people are suffering from these


symptoms, they say they are sick with nervos. People believe nervos is the result of an in­nately weak and nervous body. In years past when people thought they suffered an attack of nervos, they drew on their traditional store of herbal medicines and the practical knowledge of elderly women in the household. Today they seek medical help from one of the local clinics; now nervos, a traditional disease category, is thought to be treatable by modern medicine.

But there was another more insidious change in how people defined their physical condition: symptoms associated with hunger began to be talked about as nervos. That is, hunger and nervos became synonymous. This was not always the case. Starvation and famine have long been a feature of life in northeastern Brazil; people frequently com­plained of fome (hunger) and its terrifying end, delirio de fome, the madness that signaled the end of life from starvation. But hunger is rarely mentioned today. If a person is weak, tired, or dizzy he or she will not complain of hunger and seek food but instead complain of nervos and seek medicine to cure it. In other words, people who may be suffering from hunger and who twenty years ago would have defined themselves as suffering from fome now define themselves as suffering from nervos, an illness separate from hunger that just happens or is the result of innate weakness. Moreover, if weakness, fatigue, dizziness, and other symptoms that may be related to slow starvation just happen, then no one is at fault and social causes of the problem can be ignored.

Nancy Scheper-Hughes (1992:174) said a hungry body represents a potent critique of the nation-state in which it exists, but a sick body implicates no one and conveys no blame, guilt, or responsibility. Sickness just happens. The sick person and the sick social system are let off the hook. A population suffering from starvation, however, represents a threat to the state that requires economic and social solutions—social programs, jobs, or land redistribution. Nervos, a sickness, is a personal and 'psychological' problem that re­quires only medical intervention and faults no one, except perhaps the person suffering from it. Sickness requires little state action, other than supplying the occasional prescrip­tion of tranquilizers, vitamins, or sleeping pills. Instead of the responsible use of state power to relieve starvation and hunger, there is a misuse of medical knowledge to deny that there is a social problem at all.

Scheper-Hughes (1992:207) related the story of a young single mother who brought her nine-month-old child to the clinic, explaining that the baby suffered from nervoso in-fantil. She complained that the small, listless, and anemic child was irritable and fussy and disturbed the sleep of family members, especially the grandmother, who was the fam­ily's economic mainstay. Herbal teas did not work, and the grandmother threatened to throw them out if the child did not sleep. The doctor refused to give her sleeping pills for the child and instead wrote a prescription for vitamins. The doctor failed to acknowledge the mother's real distress, as well as the child's state of malnutrition, and the vitamins served virtually no purpose other than to redefine the infant's condition from starvation to sickness or malnutrition.

On other occasions children will be brought to doctors with severe diarrhea, a clas­sic symptom of starvation. Simple rehydration therapy, feeding the child special fluids, will usually cure the diarrhea for a time. But the child is still returned to an environment where, with lack of food, the problem is likely to recur until after being 'saved' perhaps a dozen times the child finally dies of hunger.


The question, said Scheper-Hughes, is how do people come to see themselves as primarily nervous, and only secondarily hungry? How do they come to see themselves as weak, rather than exploited? How does overwork and exploitation come to be redefined as a sickness for which the appropriate cure is a tonic, vitamin A, a sugar injection? Why do chronically hungry people 'eat' medicines and go without food?

One reason is that since hungry people truly suffer from headaches, tremors, weak­ness, irritability, and other symptoms of nervous hunger, they look to doctors, healers, po­litical leaders, and pharmacologists to 'cure' them. They look for strong-acting medicines, so they line up at clinics and drugstores until they get them. One cannot, said Scheper-Hughes, underestimate the attractiveness of drugs to people who cannot read warning labels and who have a long tradition of 'magical medicines.'

Furthermore, she said, health is a political symbol subject to manipulation. Slogans such as 'health for all by the year 2000,' or 'community health,' filter down to poor, ex­ploited communities where they serve as a cover for neglect and violence. There is power and domination to be obtained by defining a population as sick or nervous and in need of the power of politicians and doctors:

The medicalization of hunger and childhood malnutrition in the clinics, pharmacies, and political chambers of Bom Jesus da Mata represents a macabre performance of distorted institutional and political relations. Gradually the people of Bom Jesus da Mata have come to believe that they desperately need what is readily given to them, and they have forgotten that what they need most is what is cleverly denied. (Scheper-Hughes 1992: 169-170)

Conspiracy by medical workers is not necessary to effect this transformation. Doc­tors and clinic workers themselves accept the magical efficacy of cures; either that or they are demoralized to the extent that they prescribe drugs as the only solution they have to ills they are ill-prepared to solve but called on to treat. As one doctor (cited Scheper-Hughes 1992:204) said:

They come in with headaches, no appetite, tiredness, and they hurt all over. They present a whole body in pain or in crisis, with an ailment that attacks them everywhere! That's im­possible! How am I to treat that? I'm a surgeon, not a magician! They say they are weak, that they are nervous. They say their head pounds, their heart is racing in their chest, their legs are shaking. It's a litany of complaints from head to toe. Yes, they all have worms, they all have amoebas, they all have parasites. But parasites can't explain everything. How am I supposed to make a diagnosis?

Solutions to Poverty and Hunger

What solutions are there to the problem of world hunger and the poverty that ultimately causes it? Is it best to focus on economic development or, as some call it, growth-mediated security systems, assuming so-called market mechanisms will improve people's lives? Or are famine and endemic hunger best addressed by public support systems in the form of state-financed food and nutrition programs, state-financed employment, or cash distribu­tion programs? The answer to these questions are not easy. Some argue, for example, that


state-run programs take money needed for economic development and divert it to pro­grams that may in the short run alleviate poverty and hunger but in the long run will simply aggravate the problem by undercutting the growth of private enterprise. This is the position generally taken by multilateral organizations, such as the World Bank and IMF, which insist on limitations or cutbacks in state spending as conditions for loans or struc­tural adjustment programs to assist countries in debt. Others respond that state-run anti-poverty programs represent an investment in the human capital necessary for economic development, that a population that is hungry, undernourished, and subject to disease is less productive. To answer these questions we'll first examine the role of economic devel­opment in reducing poverty and hunger, then examine the role of foreign aid, and, finally, examine the potential of what are called 'micro-credit' programs.

Economic Development

The concept of 'economic development' is generally traced to U.S. President Harry S. Truman's inaugural address before congress in 1949 in which he referred to the condi­tions in 'poorer' nations, and described them as 'underdeveloped areas.' At that point multilaterial institutions, such as the World Bank and the IMF were mobilized to further development goals, often recommending massive economic and social changes, and a total reorganization of societies deemed to be 'undeveloped.' For example, the 1949 World Bank report sent back from Colombia (and similar to that of hundreds to be issued in subsequent years) advised that

piecemeal and sporadic efforts are apt to make little impression on the general picture. Only through a generalized attack throughout the whole economy on education, health, housing, food, and productivity can the vicious circle of poverty, ignorance, ill health, and low productivity be decisively broken (IBRD 1950: xv)

Proponents of economic development point to successes in raising life expectancy rates worldwide, lowering infant mortality rates, and raising literacy rates. They can point to the development of successful national economies in South Korea, Malaysia, and Bra­zil, among others.

Critics, however, paint a different picture. They argue that the goal of economic de­velopment to raise the living standards of people in the periphery, fifty years after its in­ception, has largely failed. A higher percentage of the world's population, they say, is hungrier today than in 1950. Studies by the very institutions at the forefront of develop­ment, such as the World Bank and IMF, conclude that the goals of development have not been met. While poverty rates have declined somewhat in East Asia (from 26.6 percent in 1987 to 15.32 percent in 1999), and the Middle East (from 4.3 percent to 1.95 percent), elsewhere they have remained the same or increased. The poverty rate in Latin America and the Caribbean remains at 15.57 percent, at 39.99 percent in South Asia, and at 46.30 percent in sub-Saharan Africa (Chen and Ravallion 2000). In Eastern Europe the number living in poverty has climbed from 0.24 percent (1.07 million) in 1987 to 5.14 percent (24 million) in 1999. Furthermore, the absolute number living in poverty in the periphery in­creased over the same period from 1.1 billion to almost 1.2 billion. If the number of


people living on less than $2 a day is added, those living in poverty number 2.8 billion people.' Furthermore, the projects that were to promote 'development' have notably de­creased people's quality of life. Hundreds of millions of people have been displaced from their communities and homes or thrown off their land by World Bank hydroelectric and agricultural mega-projects. Instead of lifting the standard of living of peripheral countries, there has been a doubling of the degree of economic inequality between rich and poor countries in the past forty years. As one study concludes:

.. .there is no region in the world that the [World] Bank or [International Monetary] Fund can point to as having succeeded through adopting the policies that they promote—or, in many cases, impose—in borrowing countries (Weisbrot et al. 2000:3)

The question then is, why, up to this point, has the economic development initiative largely failed?

There are three features of the economic development program that we need to ex­amine. The first is the tendency to define the goals of development and an acceptable standard of living in the very limited terms of income and gross national product (GNP). Income and the level of production has become the measure of the worth of a society.

Second, economic development embodies an ideology that assumes that the culture and way of life of the core is universally desirable and should be exported (or imposed, if necessary) on the rest of the people of the world. As Wolfgang Sachs (1999:5) notes, 'de­velopment meant nothing less than projecting the American model of society on the rest of the world.'

Third, the concept of development greatly increased the power of core governments over the emerging nation-states of the periphery. If development was to be the goal, then 'undeveloped' or 'underdeveloped' countries must look to the expertise of the core for financial aid, technological aid, and political help. Furthermore, by embracing develop­ment as a goal, leaders of peripheral states gain military assistance and support that permit many of them to assume dictatorial powers over the rest of the population.

In his book, Seeing Like a State: How Human Schemes to Improve the Human Con­dition Have Failed (1998), James C. Scott examines a series of failed development projects. Among these, says Scott, are the design and building of cities such as Brasilia, the Soviet collectivization of agriculture, the Russian revolution itself, and compulsory villagization in Tanzania. All were characterized, he says, by the same basic features mentioned above of economic development programs.

First, all these projects engaged in a form of economic reductionism; social reality was reduced to almost solely economic elements, ignoring institutions and behaviors essen­tial to the maintenance of societies and environments. Reductionism of this sort is attractive to nation-states because it makes populations and environments more 'legible,' and, conse-

1 The figures of $ 1.00 and $2.00 a day used by the World Bank, the United Nations, and other international agen­cies to measure poverty may also be misleading. In the United States, for example, poverty is measured, not by an arbitrary dollar amount but by the costs of necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, and education. In 1996 in the United States, that amounted to $11 a day per person. The poverty standard used by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reports a lower poverty rate in Mexico than the United States, and a lower rate for Jamaica than Canada (see, e.g., Chossudovsky nd).


quently, amenable to state manipulation and control. The guiding parable for understanding this reductive tendency is, for Scott, that of the 'scientifically' managed forest.

Scientific forestry emerged in Prussia and Saxony in the last half of the eighteenth century. It viewed the forest almost solely as a source of revenue for the timber that might be annually extracted. Missing in this view was the foliage that might have been feed to animals, game that might be hunted by farmers, or social interactions for which the forest served as a backdrop. Consequently the first scientifically planted forests were set only with 'productive' trees, with anything that was thought to interfere with timber produc­tion eliminated. Underbrush was cut, flora and fauna eliminated, and so on. The result in the first generation of trees was impressive; however, forestry officials soon found that the new forest was living off of the capital of rich soil created by the disordered forest, and by the second and third generation, not only had timber production declined dramatically, but the soil itself lost the capacity to produce. Thus without all of the 'worthless' ele­ments of the forest, the forest itself collapsed.

The language of capitalism, says Scott, constantly betrays its tendency to reduce the world to only those items that are economically productive. Nature, for example, becomes 'natural resources,' identifying only those things that are commodifiable. Plants that are valued become 'crops'; those that compete with them are stigmatized as 'weeds.' Insects that ingest crops are called 'pests.' Valuable trees are 'timber,' while species that com­pete with them are 'trash' trees or 'underbrush.' Valued animals are 'game,' or 'live­stock,' while competitors are 'predators,' or 'varmints' (Scott 1998:13). In the language of economic development the focus is on GNP, income, employment rates, kilowatts of electricity produced, miles of roads, labor units, productive acreage, and so on. Absent in this language are items that are not easily measured or that are noneconomic (e.g., quality of social relations, environmental aesthetics, etc.).

The second ingredient in failed projects, says Scott, is what he refers to as 'high modern ideology.' This ideology is characterized by a supreme (or, as Scott refers to it, a 'muscle-bound') version of self-confidence in scientific and technical progress in satisfy­ing human needs, mastering the environment, and designing the social order to realize these objectives. This ideology emerged as a by-product of unprecedented progress in the core and attributed to science and technology. High modern ideology does not correspond to political ideologies and can be found equally on the left and the right. Generally, how­ever, it entails using state power to bring about huge, Utopian changes to people's lives.

The idea of economic development is a product of high modern ideology. It repre­sents an uncritical acceptance of the idea of scientific and technological progress, and an unrestrained faith in the wisdom of core economic, scientific, and technological princi­ples. The green revolution and the attempt to widely apply the technology of genetic en­gineering discussed earlier are but two other products of high modern ideology.

Scott is careful not to reject outright the application of high modern ideology. In some cases it can and has led to significant improvements in peoples' lives. Thus eco­nomic reductionism and high modern ideology are not, in themselves, sufficient to con­tribute to a failed project. For failure to occur there is a third ingredient—an authoritarian state. When high modern ideology, and the nation-state's tendency to reduce the world to legible, manipulative units is combined with an authoritarian state willing and able to use the full weight of its coercive power to bring these high-modernist designs into being,




along with a civil society that is unable to resist its manipulations, the stage is set for a development disaster. As Scott says,

the legibility of a society provides the capacity for large-scale engineering, high-mod­ernist ideology provides the desire, the authoritarian state provides the determination to act on that desire, and an incapacitated civil society provides the leveled social terrain on which to build (1998:5)

To illustrate how the goals of economic development and modernization can lead to disruption, Scott describes the ujamaa village campaign in Tanzania from 1973 to 1976. it represented a massive attempt to permanently settle most of the country's population in vil­lages planned, partly or wholly, by officials of the central government (Scott 1998:221).

Clearly, the village scheme emerged from a desire of the Tanzanian state to make its population more legible and manipulable. At the beginning of the development scheme there were some 11 to 12 million rural Tanzanians living in scattered settlements, growing crops and herding animals, using techniques developed over generations. As the natural forest con­tained elements to sustain it, so these settlements sustained themselves with local knowledge and practice built up over the years. From the viewpoint of the state, however, these popula­tions were economically unproductive, disordered, and, somehow, primitive. The project, which succeeded in moving over 13 million people into 7,684 villages (Scott 1998:245), was to transform the citizenry into producers of exportable crops, strung out along paved roads, where state services could be easily delivered, and where the population could be easily monitored. Furthermore, the success of the villagization program could be easily tracked by counting the number of people moved, the number of villages built, and so on.

Clearly, the project was driven by a high modern ideology imported from the West that assumed that 'modern' settlement patterns, agricultural techniques, and modes of communi­cation were clearly superior to those practiced by the indigenous population. In fact, notes Scott (1998:241), these premises were holdovers from the colonial era. Project designers and supporters assumed that African cultivators and pastoralists were backward, unscientific, and inefficient. They assumed that only through the supervision or, if necessary, coercion by specialists in scientific agriculture could they contribute to a modern Tanzania.

Finally, as with most development schemes, there had to be an authoritarian state to impose the program and to suppress resistance to it. From the beginning, Tanzanians were skeptical about villagization. While they had knowledge of the areas in which they lived, the new, selected sites were chosen without consideration of water or fuel resources and, in fact, threatened to exceed the carrying capacity of the land. They feared that concen­trating people in villages would result in overcrowding for people and domestic animals. To meet this resistance the state moved its machinery into place to force compliance. It was, said officials, for the people's own good. 'We cannot tolerate,' said Tanzanian pres­ident Julius Nyerere, 'seeing our people live a 'life of death.'' All of this was keeping with World Bank reports, such as one in 1964 that said:

How to overcome the destructive conservatism of the people and generate the drastic agrarian reform which must be effected if the country is to survive is one of the most diffi­cult problems political leaders of Tanzania have to face (quoted in Scott 1998:241).


Given the situation, violence was inevitable. The police and militia were given au­thority to move people, first threatening that they would not be eligible for famine relief if they did not move, later forcing them to tear down and load houses and belongings onto trucks. In some cases houses were burned or run over with trucks. When people realized that resistance was futile, they saved what they could move and fled the new villages at the first opportunity (Scott: 1998:235-236).

As might be expected, the results of villagization were disastrous. Huge imports of food were necessary from 1973 to 1975 because of the immediate decline of agricultural production, the cost of which would have bought a cow for every Tanzanian family. Some 60 percent of the new villages were built on semi-arid land that required long walks to reach farm plots. Peasants were moved from fertile farm lands to poor lands or land on which the soil was unsuitable for the crops the government demanded farmers grow. Vil­lages were located at a distance from crops that left the crops open to theft and pests. The concentration of people and livestock resulted in cholera and livestock epidemics, while herding cattle in concentrated areas devastated both range-land and livelihoods (Scott 1998:247). Instead of achieving legitimacy, the villagization campaign created an alien­ated and uncooperative peasantry for which Tanzania would pay a huge financial and po­litical price.

Of course, the scheme was not totally Tanzanian. It resembled hundreds of colonial schemes, built on the supposed promise of modern science and technology, as well as projects still supported by the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and other development agencies. That it was a disaster, should come, in retrospect, as no surprise, in spite of the conviction of virtually everyone in­volved that it would vastly improve the life of the subjects. More disturbing yet is that the Tanzanian government, at the urging of the World Bank and the U.S. government contin­ues to relocate indigenous peoples with similar negative results (see, e.g., Fratkin 1997a, 1997b).

Based on his examination of failed projects, Scott (1998:348) concludes that the major fault is that the project planners thought that they were smarter than they really were and that they regarded the subjects of their plans as far more stupid and incompetent than they really were. By trying to impose a vision of modernization and progress built largely on economic criteria and a vision of life that emerged in the West, high modern ideologues fostered the social and cultural equivalent of unsustainable, impoverished, monocropped, 'scientifically managed' forests, environments devoid of the social stuff that enable people in communities to form cooperative units and work together to achieve common goals.

Yet the same ingredients for failure—economic reductionism, high modern ideol­ogy, and an authoritarian state combined with a suppressed civil society—are evident (and yet unexamined) in countless development efforts. Another of these involves the case of U.S. foreign aid to Russia.

Foreign Aid: The Case of Russia

The ideologues of high modern ideology received a wonderful opportunity with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989. Through an infusion of aid and expertise from core


countries and international financial agencies, the ex-communist economy was to be transformed into a market economy modeled after those in the West. By the end of 1992 the major industrial countries along with international financial institutions contributed some $129 billion in debt relief, loans, and export credits to the former communist bloc countries (Wedel 1998a: 18). The IMF alone contributed another $22.6 billion bailout to Russia in July 1998.

The plan to transform Russia and the former Soviet-bloc countries from centralized socialist economies to market economies resembled many of the development schemes of the past fifty years that advocated 'a generalized attack throughout the whole economy.' Economists, such as Jeffery Sachs of Harvard's International Institute of International Development (HIID) were advocating 'shock therapy' for Eastern Europe and Russia— an immediate rather than gradual shift to a market economy. 'You can't leap a chasm in two jumps,' was one of Sachs' favorite metaphors. And, as in most other grand develop­ment schemes, it was the 'people' of Russia and Eastern Europe who would benefit. But, so far, that is not the way it has turned out.

In 1998 an estimated one out of every five people in the transition countries of Europe and Central Asia survived on less than $2.15 per day. A decade ago fewer than one out of twenty-five lived in such absolute poverty. The decline in Russian economic output rivaled that of the 1930s global depression. Unemployment soared, the Russian currency lost most of its value, male life-expectancy fell by five years between 1989 and 1994, largely due to a 100 percent increase in mortality in males between the ages of 49 and 59. Suicides of young males increased by 50 percent between 1989 and 1997. Prosti­tution and drug use rose rapidly, and economic inequality in Russia, which in 1989 had been among the lowest, now is among the highest in the world. Even the population is collapsing as women have fewer children, and as the death rate from disease, including HIV/AIDS, increases. If trends continue, Russia's population will be 134 million by 2015, down from 150 million in 1991 (see, e.g., Klugman and Braithwaite 1998).

Why, in spite of billions of dollars of foreign aid and the influsion of expertise from the West, have these conditions developed? There are probably no simple answers. Among the factors contributing to Russia's collapse are the economic crisis of 1997 triggered in Asia, the decline in the price of oil (one of Russia's major exports) through the 1990s, and wars fought by Russia in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Massive capital flight certainly didn't help. One estimate is that as much as $140 billion (U.S.)—almost $2 billion per month— fled Russia during the first six years of market reforms, as much as left Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, and Peru during the economically turbulent 1980s. Another factor, however, was aid efforts directed largely by the United States that tunneled millions of taxpayer dollars to individuals in Russia for privatization efforts that enriched a few people but did little for and may have helped impoverish the bulk of the Russian population.

The case of foreign aid to Russia is described by anthropologist Janine R. Wedel, and involves three major players; the U.S government, HIID, and a group of Russian business­men and government officials Wedel refers to as the 'Clan' (1998:122). The affair, which Wedel in one article dubbed 'The Harvard Boys Do Russia (1998b)' provides a cautionary tale of the dangers and difficulty of distributing foreign aid.

As in most failed projects, foreign aid to Russia first involved a form of economic reductionism. The element to be transformed was the state-ownership and control of pro-


duction characteristic of Soviet socialism. Aid was to be used to privatize these institu­tions in the belief that this particular reform would result in the restructuring of Russia's economy and society. Much of the money was supplied by the U.S. Agency for Interna­tional Development (USAID) and was to encourage privatization. Privatization had the added benefit of being easily quantified; officials could count the number of businesses, farms, or services that had been transferred to private hands or the number of people em­ployed by privately run enterprises. Missing from this view, of course, were the social, political, and legal structures necessary for a society built around the private ownership of property. Missing also was the recognition of the extent to which 'private' businesses and services in the capitalist core are subsidized by the state (see Chapter 4).

The second ingredient in the story is a high modern ideology. This was supplied, in this case, by Western economic experts who were paid by core governments and agencies to 'advise' their counterparts in Russia and the former Soviet bloc on the proper steps to take to transform the socialist economy into a market economy.

The third ingredient was an ability by those involved in loan schemes to bypass democratic institutions and rely for reforms on the authority of the Russian state. In this case, this involved a few Russian government officials who, because of their ties to West­ern economic institutions, were able to work around elected officials.

The story begins with Western governments searching for 'Russian reformers' to work with to transform the Russian economy. They focused on a group of men from St. Petersburg, the 'Chubais Clan' after its leader, Anatoly Chubais. The United States needed a nongovernmental group to work with the reformers and selected HIID, members of which had already been serving as advisors to Eastern European governments. HIID was given some $40.4 million from USAID between 1992 and 1997 to help facilitate privatization and ended up controlling an additional $300 million in USAID funds that were supposed to be used for privatization, legal reform, and the establishment of other Western-style financial institutions (Wedel 1999: 6).

Chubais, who spoke English, had Western contacts and was conversant with aid donor vernacular of 'markets,' 'reform,' and 'civil society,' served as a useful intermedi­ary both for American advisors and for the Russian government of Boris Yeltsin. Chubais was appointed head of Russia's first privatization agency, served as head of Yeltsin's reelec­tion campaign, and became Russia's first deputy prime minister and minister of finance. Access to USAID money also catapulted other members of the Clan into influential govern­ment positions. One of Chubais's functions as head of Russia's first privatization agency was to prevent corruption in the transfer of state property to private hands. Instead, the pro­gram instituted by Chubais (a 'voucher' scheme that was viewed from the beginning with suspicion by most Russians) allowed a few people to accumulate vast amounts of state prop­erty. Furthermore, to implement many of the reforms supported by U.S. agencies, Chubais was forced to bypass the Russian parliament, the Duma, and implement programs by presi­dential decree. In effect, Chubais, largely with the support of American aid officials, cir­cumvented Russia's democratically elected representatives. This had the effect of greatly weakening support for reforms among the very people—elected officials—who, in the end, would have been responsible for sustaining them (Wedel 1999: 7-8).

The privatization program led by Chubais shaped the new distribution of wealth in Russia as well as its citizens' perception of democracy and capitalism. The Russian public


began to associate terms such as market economy, economic reform, and the West with dubi­ous activities that benefited a few at the expense of everyone else who suffered a devastating decline from the standard of living under socialism (Wedel 1998a: 132-133).

In addition, the Clan leveraged its support from USAID and HIID to solicit funds from other international donor agencies. One of the agencies set up by the Clan and HIID was the Russian Privatization Center, a supposedly private organization to provide funds and loans for privatization efforts and to establish democratic institutions and nongovern­mental organizations (NGOs). The head of the agency estimated that some $4 billion in Western funds were managed by the center.

Unfortunately, the Clan seemed less interested in market reform than in establish­ing political power. Furthermore, they were not well regarded by Russians who consid­ered them little more than a communist-styled group that created and shared profits (Wedel 1999:11). As a result, by supporting one specific political faction, U.S. assistance undermined its objectives and generated skepticism by most Russians of capitalism, re­form, and privatization. Chubais, because of his association with failed economic reform, was considered the most 'hated' man in Russia (Wedel 1998a: 133). By the end of the 1990s, Russian economists actually advised against more loans, claiming that most of the money went for speculation on financial markets and had no effect on the economy but were left for the Russian people to repay.

The situation was also ripe for corruption. Thus members of the Clan and of HIID were in the position of recommending aid policies while being, at the same time, recipi­ents of aid money, as well as overseeing aid contracts. The situation made it easy for Clan members and supporters to, as Wedel put it, 'work both sides of the table.' It perhaps is not surprising that in September 2000, the U.S. government filed a 40-million-dollar civil complaint against Harvard University, two members of HIID and their wives, charging that they used their positions and insider information for personal business interests and investments while doing research in Russia for USAID.

To what extent the case of foreign aid to Russia is typical of other aid initiatives is difficult to say, although many critics of foreign aid would claim it is the norm. More, im­portantly, perhaps, the case of Russia illustrates how a group of advisers with limited goals, a high modern ideology, and considerable power can contribute to the disruption of an entire society. The same arrogant assumptions of 'expert knowledge,' the ignoring of the social underpinnings of society, and a lack of trust or outright denigration of the abil­ity of the people to which the aid is directed led to the failure of foreign aid to Russia to affect any benefits for the larger population while greatly enriching a few.

Targeting Vulnerable Populations: The Grameen Bank and Microcredit

As we saw in the case of the 1949 famine in Malawi, women are particularly vulnerable to hunger and poverty. Globally, over 60 percent of those living in poverty are women as are two out of every three poor adults in the United States. Therefore, one possible way of alleviating hunger and poverty is to focus on women.

One oft-cited example of programs to aid women is the Grameen Bank in Bang­ladesh. The simple premise of the Grameen Bank is that small loans ($100 or less) to


mostly poor women who, with no collateral, are unable to borrow from regular banks will enable them to establish small retail businesses (e.g., vegetable vendor, fruit seller, tea stall owner, lime seller, egg seller) or small manufacturing businesses (e.g., incense maker, plastic flower maker, wire bag maker, mat weaver, toy maker) whose income will enable them to pay back the loan with interest.

Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world. Unemployment is high, and women in Bangladesh suffer systematic discrimination revealed by, among other things, the 0.940 to 1 ratio of females to males in the population. Descent in Bangladesh is patri­lineal and residence is patrilocal, that is women are expected to live with or near their hus­band's family after marriage. Most Bangladesh families also observe purdah, a system based on the belief that women must be isolated to protect them and ensure that they ob­serve socially accepted standards of modesty and morality. Purdah effectively limits a woman's physical mobility to the area around her homestead and her social contacts to immediate family members. Consequently, girls learn to accept dependence on male family members and, later, husbands. Education for women is often considered irrelevant.

The Grameen Bank was founded by Mohammad Yunus, an economics professor at Chittagong University in Bangladesh. Yunus reasoned that women are more likely to invest earnings in their children. Thus funds lent to women are more likely to promote a

The vast majority of borrowers from the Grameen Bank are women. Here a lender makes one of her regular loan payments.


qualitative change in the living conditions of more members of the household. As of 2000, the Grameen Bank lent more than $2 billion to more than 2 million villagers, most of them women.

The Grameen Bank is unique also because it combines its lending activities with a regimented social program. Money is lent, not to individuals, but to groups of five to six persons who, as a group, meet regularly with bank staff. They are required to observe the bank's four major principles—discipline, unity, courage, and hard work. They must also pledge to shun child marriage, keep families small, build and use pit latrines, and plant as many seedlings as possible during planting seasons. At meetings they are required to sa­lute, recite their obligations, do physical drills, and sit in rows of five to mark their group affiliation. Furthermore, they are responsible, as a group, for the repayment of loans; that is, if one person in the group defaults, others in the group are responsible for the payment.

The question we need to ask is does extending financial credit to poor women serve to empower them economically, socially, or politically? Some research suggests that women borrowers work more, have higher incomes, and eat better (Wahid 1994). Other ethnographic research (Schuler and Hashemi 1994) suggests that bank membership not only empowers women economically but significantly increases contraceptive use and fertility control. One study revealed that over 50 percent of Grameen members escaped poverty over a ten-year period, as opposed to only 5 percent in a control group (Gibbons and Sukor 1994).

However, while the Grameen Bank, and microcredit institutions themselves have been widely praised by development agencies and emulated worldwide, recent research by anthropologist Aminur Rahman (1999) suggests that the highly patriarchal structure of Bangladesh society undermines many of the goals of the bank. In the villages in which he worked, Rahman found that loans to women are often considered a household resource and that the patriarchal norms of the society allow men to claim control over them (Rah­man 1999:151). He found also that 71 percent of the women who asked for permission to join the bank were persuaded by husbands or other male relatives. Furthermore he found that loans were generally used by persons other than the female borrower. Of general loans, 61.4 percent were used by husbands, 17.5 percent by sons, 5.26 percent by the bor­rower, 6.1 percent jointly, and 9.6 percent by others (1999:110). Rahman concluded that in the study community it is the men who use the loans and supply the installment pay­ments to the women.

Rahman also questioned whether or not the loans were economically viable. He found that only 33 percent of installment loans came from the investment, 10 percent were paid by using the principal from the loan, and 57 percent were paid from other sources—relatives, peers, moneylenders, and others.

The loans may also negatively affect relations between women and other family members. While 18 percent or 120 women borrowers interviewed by Rahman (1999:123) reported a decrease of verbal and physical assault because of involvement with the bank, 57 percent reported an increase of verbal assault, and 13 percent report an increase in verbal and physical assault.

Rahman (1999:148) concludes that women are targeted for microcredit largely be­cause they are vulnerable, submissive, shy, passive, immobile, and easy to discipline. It is only because of their vulnerable societal position that women regularly attend the weekly


meetings of borrowers and honor the rigid schedule for repayment of loans. For example, if a woman fails to make installment payments on time, according to one of Rahman's in­formants, she is verbally humiliated by peers and male bank workers. If a woman is pub­licly humiliated, it gives males in the household a bad reputation. Peers may take the defaulter and lock her in the bank building. To do this to a man would mean almost noth­ing in the village; but, for a woman it will bring durnam ('bad reputation') to her house­hold, lineage, and village (Rahman 1999:75).

Whether or not the problems reported by Rahman in Bangladesh is an anomaly in microcredit because of the society's highly patriarchal social structure or whether other microcredit programs have similar problems is difficult to say. However, as Rahman (1999: 150-151) puts it,

loans alone (which are also debt-liability), without viable opportunities for women to trans­form the power relations and create their own spaces in the prevailing power structure, make equitable development and empowerment of women unattainable in the society.

Conclusion

It is apparent that hunger is not caused by a lack of food, but rather by some people's lack of ability to purchase food. It is apparent, also, that the poverty that causes hunger is a consequence of global economic forces, such as the financial debt that peripheral coun­tries accumulated in the 1970s. Other instances of hunger and famine are generally a con­sequence of political unrest. Even in relatively wealthy countries such as Brazil, the growing gap between rich and poor that has seemingly resulted from growing integration into the world economy results in thousands dying of starvation.

We have seen, furthermore, that economic policies of the wealthy countries are not designed to help the poor countries but to further the interests of corporate and political agendas. Economic development programs, as we have seen, have, by and large, done very little to help their intended beneficiaries, and, in many cases, have created enormous suffering and economic and environmental devastation.

Finally we examined the role of women in development and examined programs and initiatives, such as the Grameen Bank, that, by improving the position and power of women, have attempted to reduce poverty and the threat of hunger. We have also seen, however, that their potential for success is severely compromised by societies in which women are oppressed.








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