Date Published: June 30, 2009
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Bapu Vaitla, Stephen Devereux, Samuel Hauenstein Swan
Partial Text: Most of the world’s acute hunger and undernutrition occurs not in conflicts and natural disasters but in the annual “hunger season,” the time of year when the previous year’s harvest stocks have dwindled, food prices are high, and jobs are scarce (See Text S1, Note A). Nearly seven out of every ten hungry people in the world, or about six hundred million, are either landless rural laborers or members of small farm households . Many of these six hundred million people live in areas where water or temperature constraints allow only one crop harvest per year. Their poverty is driven by seasonal cycles, worsening especially in the preharvest months (see Text S1, note B) . During this “hunger season” period, household food stocks from the last harvest begin to run out: low production levels, inadequate storage facilities, and accumulated debt all combine to force families to sell or consume their agricultural production well before the new harvest. In many poor rural communities, the majority of families are affected, so mutual support networks are undermined. Household-level food deficits translate to general shortages at the local economy level, so food prices on the open market increase considerably during the hunger season.
However, this essay—which summarizes more extended arguments made by the authors in the book Seasons of Hunger: Fighting Cycles of Quiet Starvation Among the World’s Rural Poor—argues that seasonal hunger is not inevitable. Governments across the world have experimented with a wide array of policies that have proven successful in combating seasonal hunger. Figure 2 illustrates a selection of these interventions—some of which have been practiced for decades, others being more recent innovations—arranged into categories of “emergency assistance,” “the social protection safety net,” and “rural livelihoods development” .
Despite the fact that all of the components of the intervention framework above have proven their effectiveness in settings around the world, they are rarely implemented on a large scale or in an integrated manner. This is primarily because “non-emergency” chronic and seasonal hunger have historically occupied a low place on the list of global political priorities, and as a result antihunger efforts do not receive the resources they need to be universally and effectively implemented.