Why Can’t People Feed Themselves: Review

The article “Why Can’t People Feed Themselves?” written by Frances Moore Lappe and Joseph Collins (1977) presents the historical reason for the advent of the food crisis in underdeveloped countries and puts forth the real reason behind the under-developedness of countries in the African continent or Asia. The articles clearly point out that the main reason behind such poor agricultural performance of these countries is the main reason for their poverty and the reason for poor agricultural performance is the colonial rule. The authors clearly point out those countries like India or Africa were well equipped in knowledge and means to meet their food needs. They cultivated the crops, which were the staple of the land, and there were fewer famines during the time. However, with the advent of the colonial era, the colonizers driven by profiteering motifs forced the farmers to grow cash crops or food crops for export, which made it difficult for the small farmers to meet their subsistence food requirements. This essay first puts forth the basic arguments forwarded by Lappe and Collins and then presents a critique of the article.

According to Lappe and Collins, colonial rule in the countries in Asia, Africa, and West Indies was responsible for the present backwardness of the countries. They believe that the countries in these parts of the world were well equipped to maintain their need for food, however, the colonial rule enforced rules of taxation or force to prevent them from producing their regular food crop and produce cash crops for export to Europe countries. Further, the profit out of these crops went solely to the European countries or big business houses that bought the crop at a “reasonable” price from the farmers and sold them at very high prices in European markets. The farmers never received the benefit of the rising prices of these crops in the world market. Thus, lack of profit out of cash crop production, and scarcity of food made these formers poorer. Thus, lack of food and starvation forced the farmers to sell their land and become plantation workers. This too did not help them as plantations usually never planted for the whole amount of land they had, rather they kept the majority of the land fallow, therefore, not utilizing the land unused for food crop production. The food crop imported was of low quality and high price, thus making them dear to the farmers.

One point put forth by the authors is that the colonizers always thought the colonized people to be inferior to them in technology and knowledge. This helped them make them appear superior to the colonized people and assisted in their becoming the governing body of the country. In a way the authors are correct as colonial rule transformed the agrarian society in the colonized countries completely, however, the blame of the present under-developedness of these countries to the present date cannot solely be the outcome of colonial rule. Many historians believe that the colonizers brought western modernization and science, which helped to transform the agrarian production of the colonized countries (Bhalla, 1995). According to Indian historians like Bhalla British rule brought to India “western science and rational humanistic values thereby initiating a process of modernization.” (1995, p. 19).

Therefore, in other countries too, the colonizers brought forward technology hitherto unknown by the colonized countries. Though it is undeniable that colonizers were the reason behind the drain of wealth in these colonized countries, they, however, cannot be called the sole reason for the sustaining under-developedness of less developed countries. Thus, even though the article presents a lot of relevant points regarding the exploitative nature of the colonizers, all the assertions of the articles, therefore, cannot be considered true.


Bhalla, G. (1995). Agrarian Transformation in India – the interaction between tradition and modernity. In G. R. Madan, & R. Mukerjee, Economic problems of modern India: problems of development (pp. 19-42). Bombay, India: Allied Publishers.

Lappe, F. M., & Collins, J. (1977). Why Can’t People Feed Themselves? In F. M. Lappé, J. Collins, & C. Fowle, Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity (pp. 61-70). Random House.

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