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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Across the world, we have a very wide range of nutrition status. Food security is an important concept we’ll come to in a moment. But I’d just like to start by pointing out that today we have something like a billion people who don’t have sufficient calorie. We have a further two billion or so who don’t have sufficient nutrients, while they may not be abjectly hungry. We also have, paradoxically, two and a half billion of us who are overconsuming. Overweight and obesity is a major problem now, which means that something under half the global population is actually enjoying the correct diet for optimum health.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 seconds The widely accepted definition of “food security” stems from the World Food Summit in 1996, which made an important point. And that is that food security is essentially a matter of access to food– social, political, and economic access to food– to satisfy societal need, rather than food production per se. And this was a very interesting evolution of the food security concept, particularly coming from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which hitherto had been putting the emphasis on food production. So there was a paradigm shift from growing or harvesting sufficient food to one of entitlement. Food security is about having access. It’s an important definition, because it’s universally acceptable and applicable.

Skip to 1 minute and 38 seconds It’s widely used, and it ranges from the household up to nation up to globe. It’s also important that it accentuates the notion of access and equity– fairness– and it is, in effect, an aspiration. The concept of food security has evolved over time. So, back in the 1980s, it was a fairly blunt definition of food security. It was simply about the production of sufficient food to provide sufficient calories for a given population. But our understanding of what food security really means has become more multifaceted and more sophisticated. So, sure, the production of sufficient quantities of food is absolutely critical. But people starve to death, or people are food-insecure, even in situations where there is physically enough food.

Skip to 2 minutes and 43 seconds And that’s where the availability and access comes into play. So availability might be, is that food produced and available in a way that you can actually access it? Is it in a local market? Are there roads that can get you to local market? Do you have transport to get to local market? But it’s also, once you get there, can you actually afford that food? In situations where people are spending perhaps 70% of their household incomes on food, the price of food, the affordability of food, is absolutely critical. There can be all the food you like, but if people can’t afford it it’s no good.

Skip to 3 minutes and 29 seconds Another element of food security is utilisation So you may have foods, but do you have the ability to store that food so that it doesn’t go off? And, again, in developing countries this is a major concern. Or do you have the cooking facilities? Do you have the fuel available so that you can actually cook that food? But also we have to think more widely about your pre-existing nutrient status. So you may consume food, but if you suffer from worms or from illness such as cholera, that food is not being retained in your body. You can still be malnourished. So those conditions need also to be in place. And finally, the thread that runs through all those is stability.

Skip to 4 minutes and 21 seconds The stability of supply, availability, affordability, and utilisation. Because it’s no good being food-secure all year round except for the month of February. We need to have those conditions in place all the time. So, within that context, we also have to think about the quality of food. So it’s not just about calories, but it’s also about the other macro- and micronutrients that make up a nutritious diet. And, again, access to not just sufficient calories but also sufficient macro and micronutrients varies widely across the world.

Defining food security

Food systems deliver food security outcomes. Watch Dr. John Ingram and Dr. Tara Garnett, both of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, talk about food security and how its different - access, availability, utilization and stability - fit together and determine food security and nutrition outcomes across the globe.


Have you encountered food security issues in your own life or work? You may not have even thought about it in those terms; maybe you just noticed there wasn’t much food around, or you subsisted on simple, cheap foods (rice, noodles, street food). Or maybe you work with people who you know (or suspect) are going hungry or are malnourished, or you see them in your community. Tell us about it. Which element of food security was missing? What were the biggest challenges?

Image Sources: “Singapore Market” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by n8agrin and “More fruit” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Jason Rosenberg

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This video is from the free online course:

Food and Our Future: Sustainable Food Systems in Southeast Asia

Stockholm Environment Institute