SDC-51806 Food Crises: the Big Picture


Credits 6.00

Teaching methodContact hours
Group work17
Independent study0
Course coordinator(s)dr. BJ Jansen
Lecturer(s)dr. ir. LA de Vries
dr. BJ Jansen
dr. S Hobbis
Examiner(s)dr. ir. LA de Vries
dr. BJ Jansen

Language of instruction:



Since time immemorial, people have been plagued by food crises. However, the nature and impact of food crises have changed over time. Preindustrial European famines were mostly caused by natural disasters, exhaustion of existing production capacities, and war. But fossil fuels and technical science have relaxed these constraints, and food crises as a result of natural disasters have largely disappeared from the developed world. In other parts of the world, however, food crises have persisted. Contemporary food crises tend to be caused by a combination of natural conditions, failing policies to accommodate these, and armed conflicts. The combination of these factors mostly occur in in developing countries. The thinking about what governments and other national and international institutions can do to prevent or alleviate food crises has also evolved. During the last decades, this thinking has been dominated by Amartya Sen’s Entitlements Theory. This theory shifted attention from food production and supply to conditions of poverty. Sen insists on the importance of democratic institutions for preventing famines. Sen’s theory played a major role in the criticism of the Green Revolution of the 1960s.
In recent years, however, the belief that the global supply of food was no longer a problem has been shaken by sharp increases in food prices and the recurrence of famine. Moreover, the gradual depletion of natural resources for farm production and the rise in energy prices —generating unprecedented demands for biofuels and bioplastics— caused fears that global food scarcity might return. In this course we will explore what different factors shaped past and contemporary food crises, and how we can expect food crises to develop in the future and what is —and can be— done better to prevent and solve them.

Learning outcomes:

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to identify, analyze and critically reflect on the following aspects of food crises:
- discourses and scholarly diagnoses and recipes for food crises through time;
- the relevance of concepts and debates addressed to current cases of food crises;
- the different roles and responsibilities of key actors in food crises;
- human behavior in times of food crises;
- the relation between armed conflict and food crises;
- concerns and debates about the quality and effectiveness of humanitarian aid during food crises.


- classroom lectures with active participation of students;
- weekly practicals.


- written exam with open and multiple choice questions (75%);
- group reports on practical assignment (25%).
To pass the course both components require a minimum mark of 5.5.


Will be made available in Learning Environment@WUR at start of course.

Compulsory for: WUFFHBSc Minor Freedom from Hunger1MO