Sunday, October 14, 2012

Famine of 1877

When an El Nino drought destituted the farmers of the Deccan plateau in 1876 there was a net surplus of rice and wheat in India. But the viceroy, Lord Lytton, insisted that nothing should prevent its export to England. In 1877 and 1878, at height of the famine, grain merchants exported a record 6.4 million hundredweight of wheat. As the peasants began to starve, government officials were ordered “to discourage relief works in every possible way”...the resulting famines killed between 12 and 29 million Indians.

This paragraph from George Monbiot's article brought my own ignorance into sharp focus. I had known about the role of the British government in the Great Bengal Famine of 1945, an event that was to form the foundations of Amartya Sen's work. In this famine 1.5 to 4 million people are estimated to have died of starvation, malnutrition and disease.

However, a minimum of 12 million famine deaths in 1877 is a shocker. Given that a hundredweight is around 50kgs, the total wheat exported during that year comes to about 3.2 million tonnes.

How much was the total production of food grains in 1877? What was the total population of India in 1877? Since the staple diet in the Deccan region is rice it would be useful to know some more details to put this disaster in perspective...



Monbiot, George (2012): THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, The Guardian, 9 Oct., 2012, article url -

Monbiot, George (2005): HOW BRITAIN DENIES IT HOLOCAUSTS, The Guardian

Davis, Mike (2001): LATE VICTORIAN HOLOCAUSTS - El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World

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