The causes of famine

A refutation of Professor Sen's theory

Peter Bowbrick

This article argues that Sen's theory of famine will lead to the wrong diagnosis and the wrong remedies for famine and will therefore worsen the situation. His analysis of the Bengal famine is a case in point. It is based on unreliable and inaccurate statistics. Even the statistics he does use contradict his thesis. His explanatory hypotheses are shown to be theoretically and factually wrong. The actions of the Bengal government of 1943 are looked at in the light of Sen's recommendations. It is shown that Sen misstates the facts in his sources throughout his work, he misquotes sources, and the facts in his sources contradict him.

This is an edited version of a paper that first appeared in the leading international journal on the subject, Food Policy, in 1986The author would like to thank the referees, not only for their helpful comments, but for the large amount of work they put into checking sources and quotations; and also Professor G. Peters for the use of the facilities of the Institute of Agricultural Economics, Oxford University. The paper draws heavily on the full report of the study (P. Bowbrick, A Critique of Professor Sen's Theory of Famines, Institute of Agricultural Economics, Oxford, UK, 1986) in which the arguments, the facts and the references are set out at some length.

Dr Bowbrick has spent most of his life in the Third World. He has worked on food policy and food marketing in over 25 countries, working with organizations like FAO, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the EEC and the UN. He has published a large number of books and papers, and has been Research Fellow at Henley, Research Associate at Oxford, etc.

He can be contacted at 87 Harrow Road, Nottingham NG8 1FJ. 0115 9160 565

The rest of this document is available as ONE FILE or linked sections below:

Causes of famine
Food availability
Why does it matter?
Obtaining the documents
Dealing with a famine
Professor Sen's version
Professor Sen's explanations examined
Boat denial policy

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