Proposal preview

Famine, relief and resilience in a long-run comparative perspective

One of the most salient of all modern generalizations concerning famines is the idea that given the political will to redistribute resources and to rely on international aid, famines are easily preventable – those that do happen are, essentially, allowed to happen. This view emerged gradually as scholars began to challenge the prevalent but oversimplified generalization that famines were merely localized events caused by calamity and poverty. The integration of the world economy and globalization of food trade have brought increasing attention to the role played by international markets and trade institutions in processes leading to famines and food insecurity. Transnational and internal political causes and international means of relief to counter famines are the hallmarks of the so-called new famine paradigm. However, dubbing the food crises that take place in the modern developing world as ‘complex emergencies’ and ‘new famines’, the paradigm has introduced an implicit interpretation that historical famines were somehow simple and local in their essence.

This session aims to historicize the current ‘globalization’ and the ‘new famine’ paradigms. While staged in multiple regions and time periods, two broader themes bind the various papers together. Firstly, using quantitative analysis of fine grained historical data about weather patterns, trade/commercialization and institutions, we aim to further our understanding of the variegated drivers and mitigators of famine and its consequences, especially in pre-industrial societies, from early modern Europe to colonial Asia. Secondly, we address the transformation of famine relief from private charity to global aid, and show that overseas famine relief goes back as early as the 1800s. We seek to contribute to our understanding of the international structure of relief networks, and of the emergence of famines in the context of transnational conflicts and global political systems, especially those of colonial and imperial in nature.

Organizer(s)

  • Michiel de Haas Wageningen University michiel.dehaas@wur.nl Netherlands
  • Kostadis Papaioannou London School of Economics kostadis.papaioannou@ekh.lu.se United Kingdom
  • Miikka Voutilainen University of Jyväskylä miikka.p.voutilainen@jyu.fi Finland

Session members

  • Cédric Chambru, Université de Genève
  • Ingrid de Zwarte, Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • Jessica Dijkman, Utrecht University
  • Antti Häkkinen, University of Helsinki
  • Kersti Lust, Tallinn University
  • Kostadis Papaioannou, London School of Economics
  • Bram van Besouw, Utrecht University

Discussant(s)

  • Daniel Curtis Leiden University d.r.curtis@hum.leidenuniv.nl

Papers

Panel abstract

The view that famines are easily preventable, given the political will to redistribute resources and to rely on international aid, emerged during the 1970s and 1980s. Dubbing the food crises that take place in the modern developing world as ‘complex emergencies’ and ‘new famines’, the paradigm shift introduced an implicit interpretation that historical famines were somehow simple and local in their essence. This session provides historical context to the current ‘new famine’ paradigm. Firstly, we aim to further our understanding of the variegated drivers and mitigators of famine especially in pre-industrial European societies. Secondly, we trace the roots of modern famine relief by showing the variety of formal and informal practices of aid during the past 500 years. We contribute to our understanding of the emergence of famines and their relief in the context of conflicts and political systems, especially those of colonial and imperial in nature.

1st half

Weather Variations, Social Distress and Institutions in Pre-Industrial France (1661-1789)

Cédric Chambru

I link high-resolution temperature data and a new database of social conflicts in France between 1661 and 1789 to investigate the historical relationship between variability in temperature and the onset of social conflict. I use a linear probability model with sub-regional and year fixed effects to establish a causal connection between temperature variability and conflict. The paper’s contribution is twofold. To my knowledge, these results are the first to substantiate that temperature variations have a significant impact on intergroup conflict in pre-industrial Europe. In particular, I demonstrate that higher temperature variability in spring increased the likelihood of social conflict. Second, I investigate the role of local institutions in the mitigation process against weather variations, and I show that the quality of individuals at the head of these institutions mattered to weaken the negative impact of weather.

I link high-resolution temperature data and a new database of social conflicts in France between 1661 and 1789 to investigate the historical relationship between variability in temperature and the onset of social conflict. I use a linear probability model with sub-regional and year fixed effects to establish a causal connection between temperature variability and conflict. The paper’s contribution is twofold. To my knowledge, these results are the first to substantiate that temperature variations have a significant impact on intergroup conflict in pre-industrial Europe. In particular, I demonstrate that higher temperature variability in spring increased the likelihood of social conflict. Second, I investigate the role of local institutions in the mitigation process against weather variations, and I show that the quality of individuals at the head of these institutions mattered to weaken the negative impact of weather.

Vulnerability, Resilience and the Role of Civil Society during the Dutch famine of 1944-45

Ingrid J.J. de Zwarte

In times of hunger and war, children form a notoriously vulnerable group. However, during the ‘Hunger Winter’ of 1944-45 children in the occupied Western Netherlands proved remarkably resilient to famine conditions. Previous studies on the Dutch Hunger Winter have generally focused on the role of the state (e.g. official rations, soup kitchens, state relief) and those of self- serving individuals (e.g. black markets, crime, food expeditions) when investigating responses to the famine. By paying little attention to civil society, this orthodox view on food provisioning fails to explain children’s resilience to the deplorable food situation. This paper investigates the role of civil society during the Dutch Hunger Winter, demonstrating that community efforts devoted to child relief likely mitigated the famine’s detrimental effects on this particular group. By doing so, this contribution argues for a better understanding of the relation between physiological vulnerability to food deprivation and social processes fostering resilience.

In times of hunger and war, children form a notoriously vulnerable group. However, during the ‘Hunger Winter’ of 1944-45 children in the occupied Western Netherlands proved remarkably resilient to famine conditions. Previous studies on the Dutch Hunger Winter have generally focused on the role of the state (e.g. official rations, soup kitchens, state relief) and those of self- serving individuals (e.g. black markets, crime, food expeditions) when investigating responses to the famine. By paying little attention to civil society, this orthodox view on food provisioning fails to explain children’s resilience to the deplorable food situation. This paper investigates the role of civil society during the Dutch Hunger Winter, demonstrating that community efforts devoted to child relief likely mitigated the famine’s detrimental effects on this particular group. By doing so, this contribution argues for a better understanding of the relation between physiological vulnerability to food deprivation and social processes fostering resilience.

Relief and resilience. Urban grain purchases and urban bread distribution in Amsterdam, 16th – 18th centuries

Jessica Dijkman

The Dutch Republic’s ”early escape from famine” in the late sixteenth century has often been explained from Amsterdam’s position as the center of the international grain trade, which ensured a steady supply of cheap Baltic rye. However, severe price shocks continued to occur in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Poor relief institutions had only limited possibilities to meet the need for emergency relief. The urban authorities in Amsterdam stepped in by establishing urban grain stocks, which were used to distributed bread at sub-market prices. This paper traces the evolution of this practice between c. 1550 and 1750. The paper examines explanations for shifts in stock and subsidization policies over time and discusses the contribution of this type of emergency relief to the coping capacity of the urban population.

The Dutch Republic’s ”early escape from famine” in the late sixteenth century has often been explained from Amsterdam’s position as the center of the international grain trade, which ensured a steady supply of cheap Baltic rye. However, severe price shocks continued to occur in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Poor relief institutions had only limited possibilities to meet the need for emergency relief. The urban authorities in Amsterdam stepped in by establishing urban grain stocks, which were used to distributed bread at sub-market prices. This paper traces the evolution of this practice between c. 1550 and 1750. The paper examines explanations for shifts in stock and subsidization policies over time and discusses the contribution of this type of emergency relief to the coping capacity of the urban population.

2nd half

The Great Famine of the 1860's in Finland. A Man-made Disaster?

Antti Häkkinen

The Great Finnish Famine of the 1860s is considered to have been the last peacetime famine in Western Europe. This paper discusses the famine from four separate perspectives. First, by using the famine classification developed by Howe and Devereux (2007) it is analyzed at four levels: the mortality rate, food supply, coping strategies and social breakdown. Second, the reasons behind the famine will be considered from the point of view of the structural and event history models. The paper will argue that the flow of events cannot be explained without combining both of these approaches. Thirdly, the locally adopted modes of poor relief, especially relief work will be discussed critically. The mortality outcome depended on the social structure of the community, relief traditions and whether localities adopted centralized or decentralized relief system.

The Great Finnish Famine of the 1860s is considered to have been the last peacetime famine in Western Europe. This paper discusses the famine from four separate perspectives. First, by using the famine classification developed by Howe and Devereux (2007) it is analyzed at four levels: the mortality rate, food supply, coping strategies and social breakdown. Second, the reasons behind the famine will be considered from the point of view of the structural and event history models. The paper will argue that the flow of events cannot be explained without combining both of these approaches. Thirdly, the locally adopted modes of poor relief, especially relief work will be discussed critically. The mortality outcome depended on the social structure of the community, relief traditions and whether localities adopted centralized or decentralized relief system.

Famine Relief in a Manorial Society under Imperial Rule The Case of Post-Emancipation Livland and Estland

Kersti Lust

Some authors believe that under manorialism, the only institution that might, at least to some extent, have insured local inhabitants against risks of economic stress was the manor itself. The Baltic serf emancipation laws of 1816–19 placed the responsibility for the peasants’ maintenance and social guarantees on the shoulders of their communities. The paper discusses how this principle failed and how the manorial lords were engaged in relief during the crisis of 1840s. Our data indicates that manorial estate was able to lower the impact of economic stress in the surrounding community, but it provided only limited insurance against extreme events and in some cases even exasperated the crisis. The paper aims to show that the effectiveness of the system was largely determined by a socio-political configuration of the society.

Some authors believe that under manorialism, the only institution that might, at least to some extent, have insured local inhabitants against risks of economic stress was the manor itself. The Baltic serf emancipation laws of 1816–19 placed the responsibility for the peasants’ maintenance and social guarantees on the shoulders of their communities. The paper discusses how this principle failed and how the manorial lords were engaged in relief during the crisis of 1840s. Our data indicates that manorial estate was able to lower the impact of economic stress in the surrounding community, but it provided only limited insurance against extreme events and in some cases even exasperated the crisis. The paper aims to show that the effectiveness of the system was largely determined by a socio-political configuration of the society.

The Horns of A Dilemma. Specialization, Food security and Colonial Policies in British Malaya Peninsula

Kostadis Papaioannou

The economic depression of 1929 was undeniably the longest, deepest and most widespread downturn in economic activity the developed world had ever seen. Yet it had far-reaching and devastating repercussions in countries of the global south specialized in commodity trade. Malay farmers encountered unprecedented threats to their livelihoods, as they were left with tons of unsold inedible crops. In 1931, the colonial government enacted the New Padi Policy (NPP) in an attempt to enhance local rice production and divert attention away from rubber cultivation. Building solely on original primary sources, this study intends to determine the extent to which smallholder farmers were better off in coping with food crises after the new policy was in effect. Were farmers in a better position to cope with extreme climatic variability in the post-1931 period when the new policy was in effect?

The economic depression of 1929 was undeniably the longest, deepest and most widespread downturn in economic activity the developed world had ever seen. Yet it had far-reaching and devastating repercussions in countries of the global south specialized in commodity trade. Malay farmers encountered unprecedented threats to their livelihoods, as they were left with tons of unsold inedible crops. In 1931, the colonial government enacted the New Padi Policy (NPP) in an attempt to enhance local rice production and divert attention away from rubber cultivation. Building solely on original primary sources, this study intends to determine the extent to which smallholder farmers were better off in coping with food crises after the new policy was in effect. Were farmers in a better position to cope with extreme climatic variability in the post-1931 period when the new policy was in effect?

Sharecropping as a short-term investment contract. Coping with warfare in the central Dutch Republic, ca. 1500-1550

Bram van Besouw

Recent historical literature has demonstrated the efficiency of sharecropping under certain circumstances, often associated with viticulture in specific Mediterranean regions when access to capital or commodity markets to tenants was limited. This article shows that, contrary to conceived wisdom, sharecropping was also used in the premodern Low Countries and there in a variety of different circumstances. One striking use of sharecropping is by capital-rich tenants in commercial livestock farming in regions with competitive, short duration lease markets, whereas neighboring smaller tenants used fixed rent contracts. Share contracts were used in the wake of crises and allowed tenant and landlord to replenish lost livestock jointly. Using evidence from an economically developed and commercialized part of northwestern Europe, this paper underlines the emphasis of recent historical studies on the importance of numerous margins in agricultural contracts, where share contracts provided a flexible alternative to fixed rent and wage contracts.

Recent historical literature has demonstrated the efficiency of sharecropping under certain circumstances, often associated with viticulture in specific Mediterranean regions when access to capital or commodity markets to tenants was limited. This article shows that, contrary to conceived wisdom, sharecropping was also used in the premodern Low Countries and there in a variety of different circumstances. One striking use of sharecropping is by capital-rich tenants in commercial livestock farming in regions with competitive, short duration lease markets, whereas neighboring smaller tenants used fixed rent contracts. Share contracts were used in the wake of crises and allowed tenant and landlord to replenish lost livestock jointly. Using evidence from an economically developed and commercialized part of northwestern Europe, this paper underlines the emphasis of recent historical studies on the importance of numerous margins in agricultural contracts, where share contracts provided a flexible alternative to fixed rent and wage contracts.

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