Food Security (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
FOOD SECURITY. Most people are familiar with the terms "national security" or "home security," but relatively few are familiar with the term "food security." These terms convey a sense of an absence of or lowered risk; a home is less likely to be burglarized, a nation's state secrets are less likely to fall into the hands of unfriendly nations. Food security has similar connotations in relation to food. According to the 1996 World Food Summit, food security exists "when every person has physical and economic access at all times to healthy and nutritious food in sufficient quantity to cover the needs of their daily ration and food preferences, in order to live a healthy and active life."
In its simplest form, food security means that all people have enough to eat at all times to be healthy and active, and do not have to fear that the situation will change in the future. As a concept it can be applied at many levelslobal, national, household, and individual.
There are three fundamental pillars in achieving food security. The first is food availability. At the global level this is the key factorufficient food must be grown to ensure that everyone can be adequately fed. In the early 1970s several political missteps, combined with droughts, raised concerns about whether this could be attained. Indeed the crises of the early 1970s which resulted in high world grain prices led to an international conference in 1974 and the founding of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Council, and the FAO Committee on World Food Security. Today the world is food secure from the perspective of food availability, and global grain prices are less costly in real terms than at any time in recent decades.
The next pillar of food security is access to foodconomic and physical. This pillar is critical at the national and household levels. At the national level, if a country does not produce all the food it consumes then it must import food. A number of countries are too poor to purchase food on the international market and thus have a structural food deficit. International food aid must make up the shortfall. At local and household levels the market distribution system needs to be adequate to ensure that food is available at all marketplaces.
At the household level, sufficient levels of food must be grown, or purchased at the marketplace, or some combination of the two. Thus poverty plays the major role in food insecurity. Generally, if there is too little food it is the result of inadequate food demand driven by poverty rather than of market failure.
The third pillar of food security is food utilization, important at the household level and critical at the individual level, which brings together both the quality of the food and other complementary factors such as safe water that underpin good nutritional outcomes. This is the pillar that ensures the nutritional outcomes of every individual in the household are adequate. This is a very complex pillar. First, the household must be able to obtain, through production or purchase, the right types of food for all household members. Inadequate dietary diversity, which results in mineral and micronutrient deficiencies, increases the incidence of sickness, which sets up a vicious cycle of malnutrition. Second, unsafe water and poor sanitation increase the likelihood of frequent illness, which affects nutritional outcomes. Third, mothers need to have sufficient time to care for small children who require frequent feeding. In the developing world many poor mothers face excessive time burdens given the absence of electricity, or running water, or labor-saving food preparation devices. Many hours can be spent fetching firewood and water, growing food, processing it, and finally cooking it. Fourth, food must be available to all household members according to their needs. In some areas of the world, notably south Asia, girls and women in poor households often receive less food than they need even though the household has sufficient amounts. They are also less likely to receive health care when they become sick. In 1995 more than 6 million children died of causes associated with being underweight. Today the growth of one in three children five years old and younger is stunted, that is, they are too short for their age, a stark testimony to a life of too little food and too much sickness.
International concerns with regard to food security have shifted in the last three decades. In the 1960s and early 1970s, with rising world grain prices, fears arose that the world would run out of food in the future as its population grew ever larger. Major improvements in agricultural productivity, particularly the impact of the "Green Revolution" on wheat and rice, have removed that fear despite a population that increased from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 6.1 billion by 2000. Today the expectation is that new advances in agriculture, particularly in biotechnology, will increase agricultural productivity sufficiently to feed a world population expected to stabilize at about 9.3 billion. This expectation, together with abundant global grain supplies at record low prices, has removed the specter of food insecurity from the agenda of most policymakers.
Today, the focus of the international development community and many policymakers is on the AIDS crisis in Africa, which is finally attracting enormous attention and with it the promise of more economic assistance. AIDS kills about 6 million people a minute, a tragedy by any definition. Yet this tragedy pales in significance when compared to the 12 million people a day who die of causes related to malnutrition, the ultimate outcome of food insecurity. The 1996 World Food Summit called for the number of undernourished people in the world to be cut in half by 2015 not insurmountable goal given current world food supplies and their predicted trend. Reducing hunger and food insecurity today is a matter of political will. However, past performance indicates the goal is unlikely to be met. Despite falling food prices during the 1990s, the number of undernourished fell by only 40 million, with the average rate of decline slowing to just 6 million per year by the end of the decade. Achievement of the WFS target requires that at least 22 million people a year are removed from the ranks of the food insecure.
Recognition that food supplies are adequate but political will lacking has led to a new emphasis on food as a human right. The plan of action emanating from the 1996 WFS highlighted the need to implement Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and called on countries, United Nations agencies, and intergovernmental agencies to better implement and realize the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger. In 2001 the international food security community has a double focus with a delicate balanceow to engage sufficient political will to secure food as a human right today, while maintaining a commitment to increasing agricultural productivity that will be required if we are to feed a more than 50 percent larger population by midcentury without further damaging the environment in the future.
See also Food Supply and the Global Food Market; Food Supply, Food Shortages.
Bread for the World Institute. Hunger 1999: The Changing Politics of World Hunger. Silver Spring, Md.: Bread for the World Institute, 1998.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The State of Food Insecurity in the World: When People Live with Hunger and Fear Starvation. 3rd ed. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. World Food Summit: Five Years Later. 2002. Available at www.fao.org
Narayan Deepa, Raj Patel, et al. Can Anyone Hear Us? Voices of the Poor. New York: Oxford University Press for the World Bank, 2000.
Pinstrup-Andersen, Per, and Rajul Pandya-Lorch, eds. The Unfinished Agenda. Perspectives on Overcoming Hunger, Poverty, and Environmental Degradation. Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute, 2001
Wiebe, Keith, Nicole Ballenger, and Per Pinstrup-Andersen, eds. Who Will Be Fed in the 21st Century: Challenges for Science and Policy. Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute, 2001.
World Bank. World Development Report 2000/2001: Attacking Poverty. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Available at http://www.worldbank.org/poverty/wdrpoverty/