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.

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