What do you know about The Irish Potato Famine ?


This is a presentation which was given examining the infamous Irish Potato Famine and the production of famine in the world today – that is, the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty first centuries.  In particular it brings into the focus the fact that at various times it is not that there has not been enough food produced which has caused famine and death of large numbers of people, but more pertinently it has been more financially profitable for the people who have food to let people starve to death.


Picture of the Irish Potato Famine


Can we have a little discussion exploring what we know together



The Irish Potato Famine took place between 1845 and 1849 and is associated with mass starvation, disease, and emigration. The most severely affected were in the west and south of Ireland. The worst year of the time was known as “Black 47”. During the famine, about one million people died and one million people emigrated from Ireland resulting in a drop in the population by one fifth to one quarter; that is, one in five or one in four people…


The cause of the famine is commonly reported as a natural event. Potato blight had infected potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s, bringing about some 100,000 deaths.


The following is published by the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education on September 10th, 1996, for inclusion in the Holocaust and Genocide Curriculum at the secondary level.


Between 1845 and 1850, more than a million Irish people starved to death while massive quantities of food were being exported from their country. A half million were evicted from their homes during the potato blight, and a million and a half emigrated to America, Britain and Australia, often on-board rotting, overcrowded “coffin ships”.


Dr. Christine Kinealy, a fellow at the University of Liverpool and the author of two scholarly texts on the Irish Famine: This Great Calamity and A Death-Dealing Famine, says that 9,992 calves were exported from Ireland to England during “Black’47”, an increase of thirty-three percent from the previous year.


In the twelve months following the second failure of the potato crop, 4,000 horses and ponies were exported. The export of livestock to Britain (with the exception of pigs) increased during the “famine”. The export of bacon and ham increased. In total, over three million live animals were exported from Ireland between 1846-50, more than the number of people who emigrated during the famine years.



Professor of international law Francis Anthony Boyle wrote United Ireland, human rights and international law which concludes that the British government deliberately pursued a race- and ethnicity-based policy aimed at destroying the group commonly known as the Irish people and that the policy of mass starvation amounted to genocide per the Hague Convention of 1948.


Boyle, F. A. (2012). United Ireland, human rights and international law. Atlanta, GA: Clarity Press.


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So what are your thoughts now on the Irish Potato Famine (5 mins)



I am keen to get your help in how to rationalise the information I have found out, with a particular focus on the work of the UN special rapporteur on the Right to Food Jean Ziegler. This talk is largely structured around his and his colleagues published research. Chiefly his book, Betting on Famine; Why the World Still Goes Hungry…



What we are looking at here is the financial district of London – the stockmarket and other financial institutions. This is where decisions are made on the lives of millions of people across the world.



Effects of the stockmarket include:

  • Expropriation of land by biofuel corporations
  • Speculation in staple foods on commodities exchanges
  • Global power of the multinational corporations that dominate the agri-food industry
  • Hedge funds that speculate on the prices of agricultural commodities is superior to the power of national governments and all intergovernmental organisations.
  • The leaders of agri-food and finance companies decide every day who on this planet will die and who will live.



Among all human rights, the right to food is certainly the one most constantly violated on our planet. In 2016 the number of chronically undernourished people in the world is estimated to have increased to 815 million, up from 777 million in 2015 although still down from about 900 million in 2000. Nearly a billion human beings out of the 7 billion on the planet thus suffer from permanent hunger.



Ziegler reports that global agricultural system is capable of feeding 12 billion people. As you can see from this quote:


“The destruction, every year, of tens of millions of men, women and children from hunger is the greatest scandal of our era. Every five seconds, a child under the age of ten dies of hunger – on a planet abounding in wealth and rich in natural resources. In its current state, the global agricultural system would in fact, without any difficulty, be capable of feeding 12 billion people, or twice the world’s current population. Hunger is thus in no way inevitable. Every child who starves to death is murdered.”



Prof Jean Ziegler worked for the United Nations reporting on food poverty and famine across the world and was the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. The United Nations can be a good source of information on famine and the causes of it.


In 2009 there were 9923 international conferences, meetings of experts, and multinational negotiation sessions among member states at the Palais des Nations, the European headquarters of many UN agencies in Geneva.



A brief history of the formation of the United Nations. At the end of WW2 two thirds of the planet’s people still lived under the yolk of colonialism. Fifty nations participated in the United nations Conference on International Organization. The United Nations Charter was drawn up and signed June 26, 1945 In order to be admitted to the founding conference a country’s government had to have declared war against the Axis prior to May 8, 1945



George Monbiot reported on Mike Davis documenting the murder by British state policy of between 12 and 29 million Indians through instituting famine. 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”



Starvation had many times been used in war.  For the inmates of the concentration camps Hitler conceived, before the implementation of the Final Solution, the Hungerplan (hunger plan or hunger strategy), a program of planned starvation that aimed to liquidate as many detainees as possible through deliberate and prolonged deprivation of food.



The architect of the Hunger Plan was Herbert Backe.[2] Together with others, such as Heinrich Himmler, Backe led a coalition of Nazi politicians, dedicated to securing Germany’s food supply.



Many years ago I was studying with the idea of taking a job buying and selling in the stock market. It had appealed to me as something which I could do and which could make me money.


Commonly you might put your money into a hedge fund, often advertised as agricultural and including various commodities in a portfolio. Hedge Fund managers are profiteers who take large risks with the money of a number of people who invest their money in the ability of the manager to return profit. They invest. Another way of putting this is that they gamble – as it is gambling – aggressively on falling or rising food prices hoping to create big money.


Frederick Kaufman wrote ‘The Food Bubble: How Wall Street Starved Millions And Got Away With It’ exploring the issue of how a stockmarket bubble formed around staple foods and drove prices up significantly thus causing famine for millions of people:


Click to download Frederick Kaufman’s article


“The wheat harvest of 2008 turned out to be the most bountiful the world had ever seen, so plentiful that even as hundreds of millions slowly starved, 200 million bushels were sold for animal feed. Livestock owners could afford the wheat; poor people could not.


U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics revealed that 657 million bushels of 2008 wheat remained in U.S. silos after the buying season, a record-breaking “carry over.” Soon after that bounteous oversupply had been discovered, grain prices plummeted and the wheat markets returned to business as usual. The worldwide price of food had risen by 80 percent between 2005 and 2008.


The United States was not insulated from this as 49 million Americans found themselves unable to put a full meal on the table. Across the country demand for food stamps reached an all-time high, and one in five kids came to depend on food kitchens. In Los Angeles nearly a million people went hungry. In Detroit armed guards stood watch over grocery stores. Rising prices, mused the New York Times, “might have played a role.”


The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008 (SOFI) estimated the number of hungry people at 923 million in 2007. With an expected increase of 40 million in 2008, the world was officially estimated to have 963 million malnourished people at the start of 2009.


I had realised that whilst I could make money on the stock market it would not be easy to do so without being involved in the exploitation and damage of people, communities and countries.



The idea that famines are created by human populations shocked me. When I discovered how ingrained pension funds and banks in general are in the unaccountable practices of the stock market I started asking different questions. What do you think is important to include in an online course on this subject ??