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Nepal, 2018. Photo credit: Eleanor Trinchera/Richard Wainwright.

Food security

What is food security and why does it matter? 

Food is a fundamental human right - yet an estimated 690 million people go hungry every day. Not having enough to eat has ripple effects on health, the ability to get an education and earn a living, and the ability of a community and a country to flourish. 

Food security, as defined by the United Nations means 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. 

Although there have been huge improvements in fighting world hunger, it is currently on the rise, as many vulnerable communities in countries without food security are still struggling with malnutrition. 

In parts of Africa, like Malawi and Zimbabwe, poor rainfall and harvests in recent years mean that some individuals and families do not have enough food to last a whole year. Some are forced to cut back on their meals, sometimes going without food for days. 

Changing climate, population growth, rising food prices and natural disasters all have an impact on food security. Implementing strategies and addressing the issues which contribute to food security are essential. 

More than 135 million people across 55 countries and territories are in a food crisis where they lack access to essential nutrition. 

690 million

people go hungry every day.

135 million

people across 55 countries and territories are in a food crisis where they lack access to essential nutrition.

Photo credit: Kerryn Benbow/Caritas Australia.
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Photo credit: Kerryn Benbow/Caritas Australia.

What is the difference between food insecurity and famine?  

Famine is extreme scarcity of food among communities or entire nations and is one of the foremost causes of world hunger. Food insecurity, on the other hand, is the inability of a community to quickly recover from or even be unaffected by the effects of famine. 

War or economic crises severely disrupt the production and availability of food leading to acute food shortages and causing famines. Moreover, farming communities without sustainable agricultural methods or food security are among those that are affected the most, not only by malnutrition but also by the damaging effect on their livelihoods.  

World hunger statistics indicate that in 2019 almost 690 million people had insufficient food to consume. Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and socio-economic decline, this number has been steadily on the rise, leaving the future dangerously uncertain and stretching the limits of global food security. 

The difference between food security and food insecurity 

Food insecurity is the inability of a community to produce enough food for consumption or commercial purposes in the event of food shortages caused by drought, climate change, conflicts or global pandemics. It is likely to severely disrupt the lives of people by increasing their vulnerability to disease, malnutrition and falling into poverty.  

Communities with food security can access enough food to sustain themselves despite external factors that can cause a decline in food production and availability. Food security contributes to the health and well-being of people in a community, enabling them to be more productive and concentrate their efforts on improving the quality of their lives.  

Dinia Verzo from the Philippines with one of her pigs called Bing Bing at home. Dinia received Bing, the mother pig (behind), as part of a hog dispersal program to provide an alternative income source for her family. Dinia bred 8 piglets for dispersal to her neighbours in the program and now owns her own pigs for sale and consumption. Photo credit: Richard Wainwright/Caritas Australia.
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Dinia Verzo from the Philippines with one of her pigs called Bing Bing at home. Dinia received Bing, the mother pig (behind), as part of a hog dispersal program to provide an alternative income source for her family. Dinia bred 8 piglets for dispersal to her neighbours in the program and now owns her own pigs for sale and consumption. Photo credit: Richard Wainwright/Caritas Australia.
Nepal Livelihood and Resilience Program (NLRP). Photo credit: Eleanor Trinchera/Caritas Australia.
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Nepal Livelihood and Resilience Program (NLRP). Photo credit: Eleanor Trinchera/Caritas Australia.

Why communities need food security to fight poverty

Food security is a powerful ally in the fight against poverty. It helps reduce a community’s vulnerability to disease and enables people to invest more time in building their livelihoods, strengthening their economy and caring for vulnerable community members. The relationship between food security and poverty and how they influence the other has always been under scrutiny because they can occur simultaneously in marginalised communities around the world.

Poverty and food insecurity form part of a vicious cycle that is crippling the progress of countless communities around the world. When a community that is already struggling with poverty has no food security, it affects the livelihoods, health and education of its people. This can influence areas such as crime, inequality, gender-based violence and child abuse.

Better availability and access to affordable and reliable food sources helps combat and reduce the effects of food crises. It ensures that the impact of food shortages on people in marginalised communities are minimised and helps keep local economies afloat during times of crisis.

What does global food security mean? 

Global food security is an assurance that any country has access to food through the efficient flow of food resources, especially during events such as natural disasters or emergencies that can cause a food shortage. 

Countries around the world are recognising the impact that trade has on global food security and nutrition and are working together to facilitate better trade and investment policies that can help bring about global food security. 

For example, countries with a tropical climate are more likely to be affected by drought. However, the hot weather conditions may also favour the production of certain nutritious foods that could be exported. The streamlining of food production and storage can enable a country to remedy food shortages through affective trading.

Oliva works in fields growing beans near her home in Karatu District in Tanzania, August 2020. Photo credit: Richard Wainwright/Caritas Australia.
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Oliva works in fields growing beans near her home in Karatu District in Tanzania, August 2020. Photo credit: Richard Wainwright/Caritas Australia.

How to tackle food security – what can we do?

Despite the challenges posed by food insecurity, countries and organisations around the world are rallying to help each other to overcome the looming threat of world hunger. For instance, the World Food Programme is working with organisations to address this issue by implementing 5 key solutions to food insecurity: 

Prioritise

the food security of the world’s poorest communities through social protection schemes and by investing in inclusive development.

Improve

infrastructure such as roads and farming technology to help ensure agricultural trade and livelihood is well-supported.

Reduce

food waste at all levels by introducing improved storage facilities and building a sense of sustainability among communities.

Encourage

communities to diversify their food production and consumption to increase the availability of food at all times and decrease the ill-effects of malnutrition.

Promote

the importance of proper nutrition during the first 1000 days of a child’s life to boost their health and help ensure good development.

How we are helping vulnerable communities build their food security

As global events are unpredictable and unavoidable, food shortages are inevitable. We are working with vulnerable communities to build their resilience and give them the ability to address their food security needs.

In Cambodia, we are helping farmers like Phany to face the challenge of food insecurity in her community. After enrolling in one of our livelihood programs, she was able to learn the importance of sustainable farming. Phany now plays an important role in maintaining the food security of her neighbourhood while also being able to spend more time at home with her family.

Phany's story

In the DRC, we are working to help communities build sustainable livelihoods towards preventing food insecurity. Our program co-ordinator for Africa recounts her life before she fled dictatorship and how she is working during the COVID era to help ensure that women and girls in her home country are treated fairly and given equal opportunities to thrive. 

In Malawi, we are giving people with disabilities and their families the tools they need to overcome poverty. 10-year-old Tawonga and her family used to struggle due to the lack of food security until their community learned to work together for the benefit of everyone.

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