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054: Famine, Food and Political Conflict with Ragini Kashyap (Day 9 SFW2)

“Famine is a process of conflict, rather than a result” - with this chilling statement Ragini Kashyap illustrated how the withdrawal or destruction of food is an oft used military strategy. The United Nations Security Council in 2018 censured starving citizens and blocking access to aid as a “war crime” through resolution no. 2417. This condemnation echoed the Geneva conventions of 1949 drafted following the horrors of World War 2.


Military powers often destroy the production of food (burn fields, force migration), dismantle transportation networks (bomb railway lines and bridges), sabotage stores (incenerate silos), and heavily control the points of export, distribution and sale of food (rations, sanctions) during wartime. Although we have been indoctrinated by the international media into associating famines with Africa, the largest ones took place in Europe and Asia. Examples include 1933-1945 Nazi concentration camps, the German Hunger Plan which lead to the death of 7 million Soviet civilians, and the ongoing ramifications in Ukraine due to the policies adopted by NATO and Russia.





Our current food ecosystem is highly interconnected and fragile. The awe inspiring shipping container map shared by Ragini, as well as the recent Evergreen fiasco, illustrate how dependent we are on the waterways for food production, transportation, consumption and waste disposal. Kurush Dalal remarked - if the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal and the Strait of Malacca are simultaneously destroyed, then the world will starve within a week. And he warned us that our monthly domestic grocery bills are likely to increase by 20% in the coming year.


Ragini reminded us of the “scorched earth policy” endorsed by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that led to the Great Bengal Famine of 1943. More than 3 million Indians (5% of the population) perished due to starvation and disease. The British cabinet confiscated 50,000 boats and burnt rice paddy fields in Imperial Bengal in order to deny rice and fish to the Japanese army that occupied neighbouring Burma. Simultaneously 60,000 tons of wheat left the colonial Indian port of starving Calcutta to feed Imperial England in January of the same year. These measures coupled with rising inflation, a never ending cycle of debt, forced land acquisition by the military, vote-bank policies factored into the massive famine.


In addition to food as a war weapon, Ragini touched upon the complex world of food aid (World Food Programme), global food corporations that became successful during war times (Nestle and instant coffee), and food as nation building following mass displacement (Punjabi refugee bread halwa, Tel Aviv as a culinary destination). Her talk exhibited the integral roles that food, hunger and famine continue to play in global conflicts.


"Food and Conflict" Lecture part of online Studying Foods Workshop with Ragini Kashyap conducted on March 17, 2022




Further Reading and Resources:

  1. World Food Programme - The World’s largest humanitarian relief organisation and winner of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize:



  1. Read more about Winston Churchill and the Bengal Famine of 1943


  1. The 2018 UN Resolution - forced starvation as a war crime

  1. Amartya Sen’s Seminal 1981 200 page essay on poverty and famine:


  1. Global Interdependence through Shipping Containers Map


  1. Suez Canal blocked by EverGreen cargo ship


  1. Documentary on Jews in Southwest America https://www.pbs.org/video/a-long-journey-the-hidden-jews-of-the-southwest-pjxuez/

  2. Sweet Potatoes, Nation Building and Nehru


  1. Sri Lanka’s Wheat dependency and “bread protests”


  1. Books on the 1943 Bengal Famine

Siegel, Benjamin Robert. Hungry Nation: Food, Famine, and the Making of Modern India. Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Mukherjee, Janam. Hungry Bengal: War, Famine and the End of Empire. United Kingdom, Oxford University Press, 2015.


  1. Book on Indian Chinese Internment

Ma, Joy, and D'Souza, Dilip. The Deoliwallahs. United Kingdom, Pan Macmillan, 2020.



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