Food Security: An Ever-Demanding Challenge

Basant Vijay Sagar

Hardly would one argue if I say that wherever our sight falls, we see a state of pandemonium persisting. From the coronavirus pandemic to climate change’s growing impact, the Trump administration’s scorched-earth policies after Joe Biden’s election, the Azerbaijani-Armenian war over Nagorno-Karabakh, and a deadly conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, all have been the contributor to this state of tension. Who suffers the most in this state of dystopia, where every new day some new conflicts take place, where every new day poses an unsurmountable threat of pandemic, or where there is an ever-expanding threat of scarcity of the most essential substance one needs to keep oneself alive- food? My heart feels sorrowful when I realize that it is no one but the threadbare, roofless and foodless society of poor masses. The agony and sufferings of these people remains unheard to the elite society.

Over the last 40 years (since adequate records have been kept), the numbers of hungry and malnourished people around the world have hovered between 800 million and 1.2 billion.[1] Indeed, these numbers are staggering and one does not need to be a humanitarian to appreciate that that such figures are unacceptably high. Reports also shows that more than 25,000 people, including 10000 children, die each day from hunger and related causes. This begs an early undertaking of earnest responsibilities by the leaders of our societies. But have you ever wondered as to what does the attenuation of such a serious threat demand for?

Strengthening food security is one of the most effective ways to drastically plunge the monstrous number of deaths from hunger. Food security, briefly and for introductory purposes, can be thought of as understanding how and why this phenomenon exists and continues to exist to the extent that it does. From this it follows that the notion of food security is a global phenomenon impinging on every human being’s daily life. According to United Nation’s Committee on World Food Security, Food security has been defined to mean that all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.[2] Accordingly, the widely accepted definition of food security points to four dimensions of food security:[3]

  1. Food Availability: This is achieved when sufficient quantity of food is available to all individuals within a country.  
  2. Food Access: It entails ensuring people have adequate access, both physical and economic to food through growing it; purchasing it; being gifted it; bartering or trading for it etc.[4]
  3. Utilization: Put simply, this concept refers to the ability to optimally absorb the food one eats. Thus, it follows that one’s health status is a clear indicator of this dimension. However, one’s health is also dependant on some non-food inputs, such as clean water, proper sanitation, adequate knowledge of physiological and nutritional needs.
  4. Stability: When talking of stability, although not a new idea, the realisation that food security can be lost as well as gained is of increasing concern within the food security debate. As a result, the notion of risk management is gaining much credibility as a tool in the fight against hunger. Such consideration involves issues of stability and vulnerability.[5]

Now, improving access to nutritious and safe food–and maintaining food security in times of crisis–is fundamental to ensuring the prospects of future generations. Children who are properly nourished during the first 1,000 days of their lives are 33% more likely to escape poverty as adults. Still chronic malnutrition has been experienced by approx. 144 million children under 5 years of age.[6] This represents an immense loss of individual and economic potential.

It is also pertinent to note that almost a third of food produced globally is either wasted or lost.[7] Looking at the number of people suffering from hunger every year, addressing this issue becomes critical to improving the nutrition and food security.

Conclusion:

Understanding food security requires a nation to get hold of the very nemesis of this concept: food insecurity. In reverse engineering module, one tries to break a big unit into many smaller variables and then solve the issue at hand. However, food insecurity is something too complex to be broken down to smaller variables. The issue exists on several typological planes which can and does originate from a plethora of possible causes.

For some, food security represents the ability to trade, supply or simply purchase food in an international marketplace, unhindered by barriers. For others food security is seen as the right of a country to own its food sovereignty—its capability to indirectly or directly exercise control over its own food necessities. Yet others still see nutrition and hunger issues as vital to an individual’s basic human rights. Whatever be the mindset regarding it, its collective progress continues to be wrapped up in the difficulties of conceptual and practical interpretation. Security of food continues to suffer from misconception and misunderstanding, resulting in ongoing dilution of effort and hence, the results. Indeed, until such time as the food security concept continues to not being all things to all people; or until such time as the international society can adequately and properly re-focus the concept into a single like-minded goal, food security is likely to continue to be plagiarized with unacceptably high figures of malnutrition.


[1] Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011”, Food and Agriculture Organisation: Rome, Italy, 2011, p. 51

[2] Food and Agriculture Organization of UN, “Report of the World Food Summit” WFS 96/REP, 13 Nov. 1996, available at <http://www.fao.org/3/w3548e/w3548e00.htm#adopt05>.

[3] Policy Brief (Food Security), Issue 2, available at <http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/faoitaly/documents/pdf/pdf_Food_Security_Cocept_Note.pdf>

[4] Riely, F., Mock, N., Cogill, B., Bailey, L., Kenefick, E., “Food Security Indicators and Framework for Use in the Monitoring and Evaluation of Food Aid Programs”, United States Agency for International Development: Washington, DC, USA, 1999

[5] United States Agency for International Development, “Food for Peace: FY 2008 P.L. 480 Title II Program Policies and Proposal Guidelines” United States Agency for International Development: Washington, DC, USA, 2007, p. 51.

[6] “UNICEF/WHO/The World Bank Group joint child malnutrition estimates: levels and trends in child malnutrition: key findings of the 2020 edition”, 31st March 2020, available at <https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/themes/topics/joint-child-malnutrition-estimates-unicef-who-wb>

[7] World Bank. 2020” Addressing Food Loss and Waste: A Global Problem with Local Solutions” World Bank, Washington, DC, available at <https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/34521>

This article has been authored by Basant Vijay Sagar, first-year law student at National Law University, Delhi. Presently working as a contributing author at The Blue Letters.

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