Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Defining Food Security

I have been tasked to formulate a working definition of food security in order to orient a study on the role that climate change and political conflict could have on peoples ability to meet nutritional requirements. The focus is aimed at achieving long-term food security among developing nations, but it could be extended to address potential threats posed to the so-called developed countries as well.

The definition that seems most useful for this analysis is the one developed at the World Food Summit of 1996 and accessed in a policy brief by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN. In this definition four central dimensions have been identified as being critical to understanding food security.

These dimensions follow from here:
Food availability: The availability of sufficient quantities of food of appropriate quality, supplied through domestic production or imports (including food aid).

Food access: Access by individuals to adequate resources (entitlements) for acquiring appropriate foods for a nutritious diet. Entitlements are defined as the set of all commodity bundles over which a person can establish command given the legal, political, economic and social arrangements of the community in which they live (including traditional rights such as access to common resources).

Utilization: Utilization of food through adequate diet, clean water, sanitation and health care to reach a state of nutritional well-being where all physiological needs are met. This brings out the importance of non-food inputs in food security.

Stability: To be food secure, a population, household or individual must have access to adequate food at all times. They should not risk losing access to food as a consequence of sudden shocks (e.g. an economic or climatic crisis) or cyclical events (e.g. seasonal food insecurity). The concept of stability can therefore refer to both the availability and access dimensions of food security.
(Source: FAO, 2006 Policy Brief - Food Security)

Beyond the set list offered by the FAO on the topic of food security, there are number of elements that must be considered within each of these dimensions.

Elements to emphasize:
Labor - this is critical since labor is the means by which agricultural production takes place and in turn the fruits of one's labor feedback to enable future labor for continued agricultural production. This would suggest that health also plays a central factor as a person's health influences the productive capacity of one's labor.

Health - this enables efficient and optimal levels of labor output. Problems with health due to diseases and malnutrition severely constrain productive capacity. In turn, food insecurity negatively effects health.

Environment - Climate change, poor soil fertility, water scarcity, landscape, pests and temperature all mitigate (or potentially mitigate) food production.

Political Economy - this includes elements of trade, power relationships related to food production, distribution, processing and access. Problems of conflict might also fall under this heading as conflict poses serious threats to food supply stability.

Culture - Determines appropriate food types to be produced and how that food is handled and in some cases where that food originates.

Education - It is important that food producers have access to information related to alternative processes of cultivation, marketing skills as well as food preservation skills. Consumers also must have a level of education that can support healthy eating lifestyles, as well as environmentally friendly ways of interacting with food.

Technology - the use of pesticides, fertilizers, GMOs, transport systems, computer forecasting systems, GIS, etc. can have both positive and negative consequences, which must be weighed regarding not just food availability, but also food quality and long-term sustainability.
Now, this is not complete and each element will be further refined but it presents a good start for developing a holistic view of food security and will support further development of appropriate models in order to map the potential impacts of climate change and political conflict on food security in specific communities.

Overseas Development Institute, 2006. Policy Brief - Future of Food Production and Climate Change.
Food and Agricultural Organization, 2006. Policy Brief - Food Security
Mtika, Mike. 1998. Social and Cultural Relations in Economic Action: Peasant Food Secuirty in the Context of AIDS. Washington State University.

Food crisis looms in East Africa (Article from the BBC)

More than 14 million people in the Horn of Africa need food aid because of drought and rocketing food and fuel prices, the United Nations has warned.

The UN World Food Programme says it urgently needs $400m (£200m) to prevent starvation in the east African region.

Continue on to source...

Saturday, July 19, 2008


The past month has been a flurry of activity, revaluation of my research interests in light of stumbling across some new insights, and well honestly I have been undergoing a dramatic cognitive shift for the past year.

While most of my preliminary ideas have focused on issues such as biofuels adoption or water resource allocation linked with participatory practices using patterns and pattern langauges, things have shifted. In some ways DIAC-08 was the final straw pushing me over the edge. This shift in thinking resulted in a rapid redrafting of my PhD topic, a meeting with my committee chair, further refinement and now a newly approved research program.

The new (current) title of the research is:

Reconfiguring the World’s Agri-Food Systems – Food Security and Poverty Reduction in an Era of Climate Change?

The overarching research question(s) driving this work is:

Can a reconfiguration away from the mainstream agri-food system, towards alternative localized food-system(s) increase food security while also promoting poverty reduction and environmental restoration in the face of global climate change? Similarly, by promoting such a shift can an alternative food-system provide insulation from price volatility associated with shifts in production due to climate and conversion of food crops to biofuels?

To answer this question I'm tentatively planning on three case-studies that include a system dynamics approach to material flows modeling and policy analysis. Linked with the analysis phase is the construction of systems based policies to increase the resilience of local alternative food-systems. These policies will be fashioned in structure after patterns (see previous post: Patterns as Policies, and Pattern Languages as Policy Frameworks? ).

Together with quantitative dimensions provided by the system dynamics models and the elements within specific "patterns as policies" it is suggested that a deeper understanding and thereby opportunity for successful interventions for reconfiguring our food systems will be more likely to achieve the benefits cited with local small-scale agriculture with regards to community economic development, reduction of environmental impact from agricultural production, poverty reduction and thereby support food security.

For those interested here is a link to the evolving research overview. However as you might notice this title is different than the one provided in this blog entry. This just means that I'm revising and clarifying the specifics of the research. Once this is complete I will restart the process of identifying case study locations.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Vertical Farming?

What is Vertical Farming (check it out)?

A recent article that was sent by a friend: "Country, the City Version: Farms in the Sky Gain New Interest"

Ok, so I have been reading about Dr. Despommier for a while. I guess my primary concern with this type of project is that only those with the greatest resources will control the means of production since they are going to be the ones principally equipped to fund and market such large scale projects. Currently, the industrial ag system has had an adverse effect here in the US and such a system could potentially serve as the final blow for massive consolidation and the dissolution of small-scale family owned farms.

However, it is a pretty cool idea and if there was a way to create some equity within this type of production model then it could be a very viable alternative on a number of fronts. It just seems so often that lofty idealistic professors and inventors come up with simple solutions only for those solutions to be appropriated and corrupted by not so idealistically oriented peoples.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Thoughts on DIAC-08

Well, it has been a week since DIAC convened in Berkeley, CA and I have had some time to process a bit of the incredible things I saw. The presentations I attended and almost every paper within the proceedings contained some gem of knowledge and inspiration for me.

Yet, what was perhaps the biggest inspiration was the opportunity to talk with a few of the presenters outside of the conference. Of note Peter Day and Andy Dearden were extremely supportive, gave great feedback, showcased the cool things they are up to, and well, just plain fun to hang out with.

It was also a great opportunity for me to showcase some of my completed research and present what I'm working on presently. While I got a pretty warm reception for my research paper presentation, I think it was my exploratory paper and new research interests related to food systems, system dynamics and patterns (as policies) that got the most questions and excited responses.

Though I have been working heavily with patterns and pattern languages for the past few years now, it was interesting to hear people suggest that I leave patterns to pursue this system dynamics/food-system analysis stuff. Granted I have been thinking about this for a while, but to have several different people mention essentially the same thing causes one to pause and think for a minute.

Now, I'm not going to abandon what I have been working on or the projects I already have in the works, but the feedback I got basically reaffirmed the new direction I have been taking.

The issue I have is the committee that I have put together are perhaps better geared towards enabling me to pursue a research program focused on patterns, and now to change in mid-stream when I have already submitted a proposal of study could rock a boat I don't want to rock.

And yet, I have broached the topic with my chair and he seems pretty interested. So we'll see.

The point is I feel like shifting gears.