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Journal Article

Politics of Food and Famine in Bangladesh

Rehman Sobhan
Economic and Political Weekly
Vol. 14, No. 48 (Dec. 1, 1979), pp. 1973-1980
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4368187
Page Count: 8
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Politics of Food and Famine in Bangladesh
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Abstract

Countries like Bangladesh are, even in normal times, vulnerable to pressures applied by donors of aid like the United States, and more so when they are faced with the prospect of natural or manmade famines, and when the aid sought is food. Such pressures have generally been related to specific issues of economic policy, though no doubt having political implications. In the situation of acute famine that prevailed in Bangladesh in 1974, however, the United States used food aid to exert political pressure - pressures which were to bear fruit in the political changes that were brought about in August 1975. This article reviews the nature and implications of the power of food as a political weapon. At the same time, it argues that while the famine in Bangladesh in 1974 might have had its immediate causes in the withholding of food by the US, such pressures could work because market forces remained controlled by big farmers and traders, and also because of certain obligations of the government towards segments of the population in the form of a commitment to statutory rationing in urban areas. The famine toll in 1974 could have been substantially reduced had only the government been able and willing to reallocate available food stocks and insist on shared austerity. This, manifestly, the government of Sheikh Mujib could not do. In conclusion, the anticle proposes the creation of a food reserve facility by Third World countries, in collaboration with OPEC, which could be used to stabilise the supply and price of foodgrains, and which could be availed of by these countries at times of crisis.

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