What Are the Causes of Food Shortages?

Cheryl DeWolfe/CC-BY 2.0

Poverty, a lack of investment in agriculture, natural disasters, conflict, displacement and rising global food prices are some of the causes of food shortages. Hunger crises develop when people face food shortages for prolonged periods without intervention by governments and aid agencies.

Poor people cannot afford to buy or grow food, and impoverished farmers cannot produce large harvests because they cannot afford fertilizers and irrigation systems. In developing countries, lack of investment in agriculture and infrastructure leads to high transport costs, an unreliable supply of water and a shortage of storage facilities. Natural disasters, such as droughts, floods and earthquakes, affect food production. Subsistence farmers typically have greater difficulty recovering than commercial farmers.

War interrupts farming activities, and consequent displacement separates people from their usual sources of food. In some conflict areas, warring factions steal food aid and block commercial food deliveries. The steady rise in global food prices also hampers people’s ability to feed their families. Some governments provide food subsidies or limit exports to keep food affordable.

Food crises typically occur when some of these causes of hunger combine to produce serious emergencies. The Ethiopian famine of the 1980s, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, was triggered by a catastrophic drought coupled with conflict.