Henry Kissinger famously said, “Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world.”
History shows us this is true – especially when it comes to controlling food.
Many people would like to believe that famines are a natural phenomenon. Unfortunately, this is seldom the case.
Time and time again, famines are man-made and the result of political agendas.
Alex de Waal, author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine, says, “Famine is a very specific political product of the way in which societies are run, wars are fought, governments are managed. The single overwhelming element in causation —in three-quarters of the famines and three-quarters of the famine deaths—is political agency. Yet we still tend to be gripped by this idea that famine is a natural calamity.”
It is a difficult pill to swallow – that one’s own country would allow their people to starve, and in some cases, purposely. And yet, history doesn’t lie.
Let’s take a look back at some of the worst man-made famines in history to better prepare ourselves for this sad possibility.
The Great Potato Famine
The Great Potato Famine of Ireland was one of the worst events in Irish history. While there were natural causes for this famine, it wasn’t the reason so many people died.
A mass amount of food was exported OUT of Ireland during the Great Potato Famine.
Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum claims, “Up to 75 percent of Irish soil was devoted to wheat, oats, barley and other crops that were grown for export and shipped abroad while the people starved. […] Almost 4,000 vessels carried food from Ireland to the ports of Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool and London during 1847[…]. A wide variety of commodities left Ireland during 1847, including peas, beans, onions, rabbits, salmon, oysters, herring, lard, honey, tongues, animal skins, rags, shoes, soap, glue and seed.”
Ukraine under Stalin’s Rule
In the early 1930s, Ukraine experienced famine at the hand of Stalin.
According to The History Channel, “The Ukrainian famine—known as the Holodomor, a combination of the Ukrainian words for ‘starvation’ and ‘to inflict death’—by one estimate claimed the lives of 3.9 million people, about 13 percent of the population.”
Sadly, these deaths came as a result of totalitarian politics. Stalin aimed to control all the people, and he did so by controlling all the food. He forced people to join state-run collectives rather than operating their own farms. Those who resisted were deemed “enemies of the state” and punished.
When collectives did not meet production quotas, Stalin confiscated what food remained as punishment.
China under Mao’s Rule
The Great Famine of China took place from 1958-1961 under the leadership of Mao Zedong. Similar to Stalin’s idea of state-run collectives, Mao confiscated pots and pans and forced Chinese peasants into communes or collectives.
In addition to forming collectives, the government made huge missteps agriculturally, such as requiring close planting of crops. Close planting was desired for productivity reasons, but it made the plants die in a short time.
This resulted in millions dying of starvation.
San Jose Department of Economics explains, “Altogether about thirty million people died in the famine. The famine was caused by the shortfall in food production but this was a result of the bad policies and centralization of power in the central government. It was made worse by the refusal to admit the problem.”
Ethiopia under Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Rule
Do you remember the song “We Are The World” that was a charity single produced in 1985? It was produced to raise money for starving children in Africa.
But, once again, the children were not starving because of a famine brought on by the weather. It was a famine born out of corrupt politics.
According to The Economist, “It was not the weather that killed perhaps 1m people in 1983-85. It was the policies of a Marxist dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam, who forced peasants at gunpoint onto collective farms. Mengistu also tried to crush an insurgency in the northern region of Tigray by burning crops, destroying grain stores and slaughtering livestock.”
Zimbabwe under Mugabe’s Rule
Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, was accused multiple times of using food as a weapon throughout his presidency (1987 to 2017). Specifically, he withheld food from international aid agencies by not allowing them to serve (or give away food) in certain areas he believed supported opposing political candidates.
In rural areas, he withheld food to pressure citizens to vote for him in upcoming elections.
Syria under Bashar Al-Asad’s Rule
Currently, Syrians are suffering from a food crisis, specifically when it comes to bread. The armed conflict in the area has made bread the main staple of many Syrians’ diets. However, the armed conflict has also halted wheat production.
Unfortunately, the government has made the problem worse instead of better for its people.
According to a Human Rights Watch article from March 2021, “The Syrian government provides subsidized flour and fuel to public bakeries, which then sell subsidized bread. In September, Syria’s State News Agency, SANA, announced a new formula, limiting the amount of government-subsidized bread people can buy based on family size. On October 29, the Syrian government doubled the price of the subsidized bread.”
Keep in mind that the Syrian people are out of work and cannot afford food.
Nigeria and Boko Haram
Boko Haram’s terrorism in Nigeria (beginning in 2002) has resulted in a significant loss of food production in the country, resulting in a major food crisis.
According to Food for War and Peace, “Now, targeted attacks on farmers and farming communities by Boko Haram insurgents and armed bandits may have increased the tempo of threats on Nigeria’s food insecurity. While the food crisis in the terror-troubled Northeast is increasing humanitarian emergencies in the region, attacks on farmers leave less to be desired. In the Northeast, farmers risk their throats being slit by terrorists; in the Northwest, they pay levies before they can access their farmlands.”
The Horrible Lengths People Will Go to in Order to Survive
The stories of survival from history’s famines are haunting.
During Stalin’s reign, people grew desperate to escape and eat.
According to The History Channel, “As the famine worsened, many tried to flee in search of places with more food. […] Ukrainian peasants resorted to desperate methods in an effort to stay alive. […] They killed and ate pets and consumed flowers, leaves, tree bark and roots.”
The Great Famine in China has similar horror stories, but also multiple accounts of cannibalism.
Yang Jisheng documented the stories of China’s Great Famine. As he shared with The Guardian, “I didn't think it would be so serious and so brutal and so bloody. I didn't know that there were thousands of cases of cannibalism. I didn't know about farmers who were beaten to death. People died in the family and they didn't bury the person because they could still collect their food rations; they kept the bodies in bed and covered them up and the corpses were eaten by mice. People ate corpses and fought for the bodies. In Gansu they killed outsiders; people told me strangers passed through and they killed and ate them. And they ate their own children. Terrible.”
What These Famines Teach Us
When it comes down to it, the only one we can depend on is ourselves. We can’t depend on the government to take care of us. We must practice self-sufficiency and food independence.
Preparing for a potential famine, whether caused by nature, terrorism, or the government, is wise.
- Buy long-term emergency food supplies.
- Invest in land you can use to grow food.
- Grow your own food. Even if you live in an urban area, there are numerous plants you can grow indoors and out.
- Start a hobby farm.
- Go to farmers’ markets and get to know your local farmers.
- Stay aware and remain vigilant.
Don’t let anyone control your food or personal security, friends.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply