Box 1 Definitions of Food Security

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Ideas for Surviving Food Shortages

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Food security is defined in its most basic form as access by all people at all times to the food needed for a healthy life. Achieving food security has three dimensions; first, it is necessary to ensure a safe and nutritionally adequate food supply both at the national level and at the household level. Second, it is necessary to have a reasonable degree of stability in the supply of food both from one year to the other and during the year. Third, and most critical, is the need to ensure that each household has physical, social, and economic access to enough food to meet its needs. This means that each household must have the knowledge and ability to produce or procure the food that it needs on a sustainable basis. In this context, properly balanced diets that supply all necessary nutrients and energy without leading to overconsumption or waste should be encouraged. It is also important to encourage the proper distribution of food within the household, among its members.

The right to an adequate standard of living, including food, is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Food security should be a fundamental objective of development policy as well as a measure of its success. Household food insecurity affects a wide cross section of the population in both rural and urban areas. The food-insecure socioeconomic groups may include: fanners, many of them women, with limited access to natural resources and inputs; landless laborers; rural artisans; temporary workers; homeless people; the elderly; refugees and displaced persons; immigrants; indigenous people; small-scale fishermen and forest dwellers; pastoralists; female-headed households; unemployed or underemployed people; isolated rural communities; and the urban poor. Increasing the productivity and incomes of these diverse groups requires adopting multiple policy instruments and striking a balance between short-term and long-term benefits. The choice of policies must be attuned to the characteristics of a country's food security problem, the nature of the food-insecure population, resource availability and infrastructural and institutional capabilities at all levels of government and communities. Breast-feeding is the most secure means of assuring the food security of infants and should be promoted and protected through appropriate policies and programs.

Source: International Conference on Nutrition, Plan of Action, Rome, Italy, 11 December 1992, hungerweb/intro/food__security.html, compiled by: Nancy B. Leidenfrost, National Program Leader, Extension Service, USDA.

Four epochs can be distinguished in the history of food security of developing countries. Precolonial societies were dominated by rural, self-provisioning economies with various forms of organization generally based on ethnic affiliation. Trade linked remote areas with overseas territories, but production was primarily agricultural—cultivation, livestock rearing, hunting, and gathering. Resilience in the face of drought depended on the ability to store food, either within the household or among kin.

Colonialism sundered traditional land tenure and governance. New forms of vulnerability were created in the transition from self-provisioning to a mixture of local and national governance. The political economy of colonialism determined access to land and to famine relief in the case of a drought.

With independence, the state continued to dominate economic systems. However, weak national economies and political systems were often unable to respond to famines or indeed to ameliorate widespread impoverishment. The catastrophic famines of the 1970s illustrate the enhanced vulnerability resulting from international and national political conflicts, terms of trade that failed to promote development, and hindrances in information.

Current vulnerability might be labeled interdependence. National states no longer dominate in famine early warning systems and food interventions. Market forces predominate in determining access to resources. There is some sense of progress in the ability of international aid organizations to monitor and prevent famines. However, many conditions of food insecurity persist in endemic poverty and in countries and regions isolated for political reasons (see Box 2).

Box 2. World Food Security

The World Food Summit of 1996 reviewed the state of world food security. Gains in agricultural productivity and economic growth over the last 30 years has led to an 18% growth in world per capita food supply. Average per capita dietary energy supply (DES) has grown from 2440 to 2720 calories/capita/day from 1969-1971 to 1990-1992. Aggregate figures, however, do not show the full picture, and hunger persists. In the period 1990 to 1992 an estimated 840 million people remained chronically undernourished, having access to less than 2700 calories per day. In addition, large numbers suffer from micronutrient deficiencies caused by dietary inadequacies, an example being the estimated 1.6 billion suffering from iodine deficiency. In absolute terms food aid has declined, while the increasing number and complexity of emergencies has resulted in a growing proportion (from 30 to 50% in two decades) of total food aid being targeted relief and development food aid.

Source: FAO, Technical Background Documents, World Food Summit, Rome 13-17 November, 1996; http:]

In this section three case studies set the scene for further discussions of vulnerability and food security from a household perspective. These case studies indicate the range of situations regarding household food security and coping with climatic variability. In addition, recent research on climate prediction and its role in alleviating food security is summarized.

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