By Ana Yong
Definition and Importance of Food Security
The World Bank has defined Food Security as “when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” which encompasses 4 aspects:
a. Physical Availability of Food,
b. Economic and Physical Access to Food,
c. Food Utilization, and
d. Stability of the first 3 factors over time.
The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) article called “Food security and why it matters” (18 January 2016) stressed that by 2050, the world must be able to feed 9 billion people and the importance of encouraging Sustainable Agriculture as the second United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for 2030.
According to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (under the United States Department of Agriculture, USDA), “growth in the agriculture sector has been found, on average, to be at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors”. Therefore, the importance of the farming industry cannot be underestimated in bringing affluence and economic stability to the country.
The United Nations (UN) announced that “food is at the core of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” and declared that the world is off base in trying to attain SDG 2 which is Zero Hunger by 2030.
The aim of SDG 2 is to establish a world that is free from hunger with the following targets to be achieved by 2030:
- End hunger and guarantee access to food for everyone.
- End all forms of malnutrition.
- Double the pastoral output and earnings of small-scale farmers.
- Ensure supportable food production mechanisms.
- Maintain and upkeep the genetic variety of seeds, crops, plants and animals by 2020.
- Increase investment to enhance rural infrastructure, farming research, technological development, gene banks of plants and livestock.
- Promote the flow of free trade in the global agricultural markets.
- Endorse the smooth operations of food commodity markets.
According to a report called “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022” by UNICEF Data, an estimated 828 million people went hungry in 2021 and 11.7% of the world population were at the level of severe food insecurity. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has further intensified global food insecurity, especially in low-income countries, with disruptions in food supply chains, loss of income and employment, and reduced access to essential services. Click here for a digital copy and here for a brief.
“Low- and lower-middle-income economies bear the greatest burden of stunting, wasting low birthweight, and anaemia cases while upper-middle- and high-income economies have the greatest burden of obesity cases”.
This refers to the physical attainability of food and denotes the sources of food which is related to food production, stock levels, trade policies, amongst others.
This embodies the financial and tangible access to food. It is usually related to individual household incomes and the power to purchase nutritious foods.
This means “the way the body makes the most of various nutrients in the food” and is related to taking good care of oneself and positive feeding habits.
This represents the durability of the first 3 dimensions over time. It is measured by one’s access to nutritional sustenance over a period of time and is impacted by weather situations, political uncertainty, and economic issues like joblessness and food price hikes.
At the point of writing (27 March 2023), the World Bank has announced that high inflation of food prices was found in most low- and middle-income economies and inflation above 5% in 88.2% of low-income countries. Refer here for the various economies as defined by the World Bank.
If you wish to find out more, refer to the following collaterals prepared by the World Bank:
(i) Food Security Update (9 March 2023),
(ii) Global Food and Nutrition Security Dashboard (interactive map), and
(iii) Country Profiles (interactive map with details on food and nutrition, security, financing and research)
An article from the IMF Blog website entitled “Global Food Crisis Demands Support for People, Open Trade, Bigger Local Harvests” (30 September 2022) reminded everyone that as the real food price index increased, the number of undernourished people was also amplified.
Note: The IMF maintains a library of macroeconomic and financial data. The change in food prices is measured in terms of Consumer Price Indexes (CPIs). To find out more, click here.
And because of the Russian-Ukraine conflict, 48 countries are experiencing major food crises. It was also predicted that significantly frail economies would need $7 billion to support the neediest households.
An academic paper entitled “Attributing changes in food insecurity to a changing climate” published on 18 March 2022 in Scientific Reports 12, article number: 4709 (2022) examined the magnitude in which existing fluctuations in food safety can be reasonably attributed to climate change. The report highlighted that for each 1-degree Celsius of temperature difference, severe worldwide food insecurity increased by 1.4% in 2014 and by 1.64% in 2019.
However, the impact is greater for cases defined as moderate to severe food insecurity, with a 1-degree Celsius increase in temperature causing a 1.58% increase in 2014 and a 2.14% increase in 2019. Their findings show that not only does temperature variations escalate the likelihood of food insecurity but the scale of the impact has amplified over time. To obtain the full pdf report, click here.
BBC News reported on 8 April 2022 in an article called “Ukraine war causes giant leap in global food prices, says UN” that the Ukraine Conflict has raised global prices for sunflower oil as it is the largest exporter and correspondingly, prices for alternatives have also risen.
An academic paper by Nature Food entitled “Food insecurity has economic root causes” dated 8 August 2022 stated that “food insecurity has been linked to low wages, adverse social and economic conditions, limited access to healthy foods, residential segregation, lack of affordable housing and multiple indices of neighborhood disadvantage”.
Using the definition specified by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), low food security is recognized as diminished quality, diversity or desirability of the diet.
Here, environmental shocks include droughts, storms, and floods.
An article by the National Science Foundation called “New study details impacts on food security caused by flooding” dated 5 January 2023 declared that flooding affects food production which in turn leads to price hikes due to crop loss, devastation of infrastructure, forfeiture of jobs, and water-borne illnesses and hygiene issues.
“Inequality, not unavailability, is the main driver of food insecurity” as declared by Professor Johan Swinnen implies that poverty is the primary cause of food insecurity which impacts people in the European Union (EU) and in developing nations.
The UN has reported that Africa is projected to have a population of 2 billion by 2050 and with growing urbanization, a further 2.5 billion urbanites are expected in Asia and Africa.
As people become more prosperous, their diets include more processed foods, meat and dairy. To meet the corresponding demand, farmers have to grow more food by using more resources. For example, to provide more beef, farmers raise more cows which pass more Methane gas into the atmosphere when they burp or fart. This has a huge impact on climate change as Methane is 28 times more effective than Carbon Dioxide in warming the Earth.
Proof, a multidisciplinary research program which studies efficient policy techniques to reduce food insecurity in Canada, released an article called “What are the implications of food insecurity for health and health care?” (undated) mentioned the following effects of food uncertainty.
When people do not even have enough money for food, they would delay, reduce, or skip medication. For severely food-insecure households, the incidence goes up to 47.1%.
Of the six types of mental conditions shown in this graph, the rate of affected individuals having depressive thoughts in the past month goes up to 40% for those between 18-64 years old who are from moderately to severely food-insecure households.
It was found that those from severely food-insecure households had an adult lifespan which was 9 years shorter (on average) than those who were food assured.
Food-at-risk adults are more predictably admitted to acute care where they tend to remain for a longer period of time and are also likely to be re-admitted.
Note: Acute care is “a level of health care in which a patient is treated for a brief but severe episode of illness, for conditions that are the result of disease or trauma, and during recovery from surgery”.
Research (below) focusing on adults in Ontario showed that food volatile households made up for more than 1 in 3 hospital admissions due to mental health issues.
A research article entitled “Food Insecurity And Health Outcomes” published in Health Affairs Volume 34, No. 11 in November 2015 stated that nearly 50 million are food vulnerable in the United States. To obtain the digital article, click here. The research also declared that maternal food uncertainty was related to certain birth defects.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade announced that the Australian government had spent AUD 215.6 million from 2021 to 2022 to enhance agricultural development and food security.
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry released their Critical Infrastructure Resilience Strategy to improve the tenacity of Australia’s critical infrastructure to all threats. Since a large percentage of the country’s vital network is privatised or operates on a profit-making basis, the business owners and operators are in the best position to oversee all operational risks and to mitigate any adverse effects. Therefore, the Trusted Information Sharing Network (TISN) is a platform for the government and businesses to share and exchange essential information to safeguard essential services.
One such network is the Food and Grocery Sector Group which “develops strategies and options to mitigate risks and maintain continuity of food supply during a national emergency” and is managed by the Australian Food and Grocery Council. A pantry list has been created to help Australians deal with food insecurity during an emergency.
Proof’s article “What can be done to reduce food insecurity in Canada?” (undated) professed that “household food insecurity can be reduced by policy interventions that improve the financial circumstances of households at the bottom of the income spectrum”.
Here are some policies targeted at alleviating food instability:
a. Public Old Age Pensions
Research shows that the threat of food vulnerability for low income, single senior citizens who are 65 years and above is reduced by half when they qualify for this scheme.
b. Canada Child Benefit
A vial component of Canada’s federal poverty abatement tactic, this scheme supplements the incomes of households with children under 18. Data collected showed that the frequency of severe food uncertainty in low-income households dropped by a third.
WEF’s article titled “Food security: This is how China plans to feed its 1.4 billion people” (11 March 2022) stated that China, with a population of 1.4 billion (at the time of writing), was experimenting with salt-tolerant ‘seawater rice’ which had produced very promising results. Various varieties of the hybrid rice were also tested in a synthetic oasis in the Dubai desert which yielded a harvest after only 5 months. After the results were collated, it was found that one variety generated over 82.5 kg of rice per acre while another two variations created more than 66 kg per acre.
The World Food Programme (WFP) announced that 21.25% of Indians survive on less than USD 1.90 a day, a quarter of the world’s malnourished people are in India, and the current population is 1.3 billion. For more information on how WFP operates in India, click here.
WFP helps to alleviate India’s food insecurity by helping the Indian government to develop effectiveness and culpability of its own subsidized food supply system to ensure that 800 million Indians are fed.
In addition, the government buys “from farmers whatever crops they produce (within quality standards), at a Minimum Support Price (MSP) recommended by its Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP)”.
An article by Asia News Network (ANN) called “Indonesia proposes Asean food bank to deal with food insecurity” (31 August 2022) announced that Indonesia suggested that an “integrated food security framework” be established which member countries of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) can tap from. Indonesia also proposed the same idea at the G20 (Group of 20) Summit in 2022. Domestically, the government founded a ‘food estate program’ where farmers grow a specific list of crops required in the framework.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture spent USD 182.5 billion in the fiscal year of 2021 on food and nutrition assistance programs which was 49% more than in the previous fiscal year. Refer to the graph below for the various schemes.
As worldwide food security still affects many countries, the work currently being done by international institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund demonstrates a never-ending struggle to ensure that no one is deprived of good and nutritious food.