FamineWeb - Comparative History of Famines The University of Melbourne

Home > Food crises and famines

Food crises and famines

Both famines which took place in the Soviet Union (1931-33) and the People's Republic of China (1959-61) developed out of earlier food crises, which dated from 1927 in the USSR and 1953 in China, i.e. in each case widespread famine broke out after 5 or 6 years of continuing food crises.

The food crises resulted in urban food rationing and the introduction of severe procurement policies.

In both countries collectivisation was introduced in the years of food crisis as a way of assisting procurements in the pre-existing food crisis. Collectivisation had severe political consequences, but did assist the task of extracting grain from a deteriorating agricultural situation.

In both societies the deterioration in agriculture was not officially recognised at the time. The extent and dynamics of this decline remain the subject of historical contention, although a critical examination of the available data should restrict the limits of uncertainty. In both cases it is likely that famine (significantly elevated mortality resulting from food shortages) broke out in separate towns, before it did in rural areas. But at some point the balance between critically low food transfers to the towns was overtaken by a much more serious deterioration in food availability (after transfers) in the countryside. Famines then broke out in both towns and the countryside, and in both cases rural mortality was significantly larger than urban mortality.