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'Green famine' in Ethiopia: understanding the causes of increasing vulnerability to food insecurity and policy responses in the Southern Ethiopian highlands

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posted on 2023-06-08, 17:21 authored by Mulugeta Lolamo Handino
This thesis examines the underlying causes of food insecurity, famine in general and green famine in particular in the enset-dominant livelihood zones of Kambata land in southern Ethiopia, which are historically considered more resilient and less vulnerable to food insecurity and famine than other parts of Ethiopia. Given Ethiopia’s long-standing history of food insecurity and famines, the discourse of food insecurity and famine is dominated by natural and demographic factors as the main causes. In order to unpack the multi-layered underlying causes of food insecurity in general and green famine in particular, the thesis adopts Sen’s analytical framework of ‘entitlement to food’. Using multi-site qualitative research techniques, this thesis captures the perceptions of different actors at different levels about the causes of green famine, identifies the sources of livelihood vulnerability and the types of livelihood strategies undertaken by households in the study area. By systematically capturing and analysing these different aspects, the study concludes that the causes of green famine extend beyond the dominant narratives of drought and population growth, and that these factors alone cannot fully explain famine occurrence. Green famine is caused by a web of complex and intertwined policy-related, political, natural, socio-­-economic and demographic factors that have long been present in the study area. The thesis further investigates how the contemporary understanding and classification of famine is dominated by anthropometric and mortality outcomes (‘objective indicators’) and thresholds set by outsiders and how ‘subjective indicators’ such as the perceptions, knowledge, experience and coping strategies of famine victims are undervalued and given less weight by ‘famine scales’. By incorporating ‘subjective indicators’ of famine, this thesis challenges conventional famine conceptualisation and measurement and recommends that these indicators be given equal treatment and weight to ‘objective indicators’ in famine classification.


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  • Institute of Development Studies Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • eng


University of Sussex

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