Whether we see it every day or not, food security remains an important and sometimes overwhelming issue both here in Canada and around the world. In Canada, over 4 million Canadians, including 1.15 million children, experience some level of food insecurity. Globally, 815 million people go hungry.
Yet, there is more than enough food produced in the world to feed everyone. So what is happening?
Now, food security has been defined and redefined all around the world over the last 43 years. Responsive and dynamic, it’s different definitions reflect the complexity of the issue, adjusting to different challenges and barriers that have existed and continue to exist. Determined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 1974, food security focused on the volume and stability of food supplies, “availability at all times […] to sustain a steady expansion of food consumption and to offset fluctuations in production and prices”. In 1983, the FAO expanded the definition to include ‘vulnerable people’: “ensuring that all people at all times have both physical and economic access to the basic food that they need”.
In 1986, a report from the World Bank titled “Poverty and Hunger” focused on the dynamics within food security, drawing a distinction between chronic food insecurity (continuing or structural poverty and low incomes) and transitory food insecurity (periods of increased pressure caused by natural disasters, economic collapse, or conflict): “access of all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life”. This is where I’d like to begin.
These shifts, even within a short 12 years, reflect the complexity of the issue. In the mid-1990’s there was another shift to focus on human security, in which food security was only one of many factors. “Food security, at the individual, household, regional and global levels [is achieved] when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (1996).
Then, in 2001, the definition was redefined again in ‘The State of Food Insecurity in the World’ to focus more on consumption, highlighting the demand and the issues of access by vulnerable people to food. And finally, the most up-to-date and comfortably used definition is: “food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.
Did that clarify things? Do you now have an action plan? No? Well, then we’re in the same boat.
Part of the problem in having fast-acting, long-term, sustainable solutions to issues such as world hunger is that the issue itself exists at the centre of its own matrix, or “an environment or material in which something develops; a surrounding medium or structure or a series of lines”. In this sense, food security is affected by many other issues, each being the center of their own matrix. In other words, everything is interconnected and one problem cannot be conquered without the acknowledgment and consideration of other issues that are connected to it. Food security cannot just be solved by giving everyone food, we also need to be addressing the effects of poverty, geographical access to food, ongoing conflicts, and political or economic unrest.
To follow this introduction, we are going to explore how food security is effected by various factors. Just like it’s definition, it’s a complex and ever-changing issue and not one solution will be the answer. However, in order to take part in new and existing solutions, we need to gain a deeper understanding first. Look for our follow up article on food security and conflict.
Until then, check out this video of then 16 year old Sophie Healy-Thow. Sophie is a regular speaker and panelist at conferences and events including We Day UK, Thought For Food Challenge, UN Year of the Soil, the Web Summit and EXCITED.ie.