Global Food Security: Challenges and Response Part 1


Food security when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life is not only a fundamental human right but also the most crucial element of performance legitimacy of any regime in any country. This article traces its evolution, explains its different components, lists the challenges being faced all over the world to ensure food security and makes recommendations to effectively respond to these challenges on sustainable basis



Food is the first basic human need and fundamental right of every human being, having constitutional guarantees in almost all countries. The United Nations (UN) recognized the Right to food in its Declaration of Human Rights issued in 1948, considering it to be vital for the enjoyment of all other rights. That’s why food security has always been a crucial issue in every country. However there is increasing global concern in it after 2007/8 food crises which not only wiped out a significant proportion of progress made in the previous two decades but also created legitimacy crises for many regimes and posed existential threats to several weak states. There were many reasons for these food crises including:

  1. Global population growth combined with increasing prosperity in the middle income countries particularly China, India, Brazil and Indonesia resulted in more than proportional increase in the demand for food grains.
  2. Loss of valuable arable agricultural land as a result of climate change, urban sprawls, infrastructural development and industrial growth in developing countries. The increase in area under agricultural use was utilized for the production of those crops which were used for making of bio-
  3. Failure of technology to develop high yielding varieties because of consistently reduced investment in agricultural R&D over a long period.
  4. Sudden increase in world oil prices at more than $100 a barrel making not only the agricultural inputs expensive but also increasing the transportation costs.
  5. Imposition of restrictions on the export of food commodities by the food exporting countries and panic buying by the developing countries were the last straw on camel’s back. These were exacerbated by the speculative trading in the food commodities.
  6. Governance issues in developing countries accentuated the food crises as the access to food was restricted due to mismanagement more than the lack of resources. Similarly the anti agricultural bias of public policies and non availability of social safety nets also worsened the food security situation in most of the developing countries.

Food Security –Evolution of the Concept

Food Security is an evolving concept, getting refined after new developments and greater awareness about its necessity. During 1970s, food crises created awareness for food security and led to formal institutional response globally. However food availability through buffer stocks was considered enough for ensuring food security. During 1980s, concern with increased poverty added access to food as essential as food availability for food security. During 1990s, interest in human development led to absorption of food also as an essential component of food security. During 2000s, recurring food crises necessitated to include stability as one of the main components of food security. During 2010s, evidence of increasing malnutrition among the children/females led to inclusion of nutrition also as an essential element of food security.

While Food and Agriculture Organisation of UN defines food security

“when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”,

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a more comprehensive definition of food insecurity. It says that

“Food insecurity is a situation of limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways“.

Irrespective of which definition we choose, food security invariably means five things;

  1. Availability: Sufficient quantity of staple food is available in the country, whether produced locally or supplemented with imports to meet the deficit
  2. Access: It is accessible to people who have enough resources to purchase it or state can provide them under its social safety network. And it is physically accessible also to a common man without any let or hindrance.
  • Absorption: People are healthy to absorb it
  1. Stability: Food supplies /prices are stable over period
  2. Nutrition: It is nutritious enough to sustain a human body

Global Food Security Profile

No doubt substantial progress has been made by all the countries in improving their respective food security profiles since the MDGs  were launched in 2000, the number of people chronically undernourished are more than 870 million, bulk of whom are in Africa and Asia. Despite the inadequate methodology used by Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO)to assess the magnitude of mal/undernourishment, it is estimated that almost 15 percent of the population living in Africa, Asia and South America is undernourished. In its recent report, FAO estimates

  • Between now and 2050, the global population is projected to rise from about 7 billion to 9.2 billion, demanding a 60 percent increase in global food production.
  • A total of 842 million are estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger, regularly not getting enough food to conduct an active life.
  • The vast majority of hungry people—827 million—live in developing regions, where the prevalence of undernourishment is estimated at 14.3%.
  • In developing countries, almost five million children under the age of five die of malnutrition-related causes every year.
  • Malnutrition is the single largest contributor to disease in the world.
  • Severe acute malnutrition affects nearly 20 million preschool-age children, mostly from Africa and South-East Asia.
  • 1/3 of the developing world’s population suffers micronutrient deficiencies leading to blindness, mental retardation and early death.
  • 162 million children are stunted; 99 million are underweight9 and 51 million are wasted due to acute malnutrition.
  • The cost to the economy caused by malnutrition could be up to 5 percent of GDP—US$3.5 trillion per year or US$500 per person.
  • The costs of under nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are estimated at 2–3 percent of global GDP, or US$1.4–2.1 trillion per year

Global Food Security Challenges

Global food security situation cannot be improved unless we identify the challenges it is facing and find appropriate responses to these challenges. Some of the challenges can be identified as follows;

Production Challenges

  • Slow rate of growth of food production is adversely affecting the supply of food grains which in turn is due to the following reasons:
  • Decrease in cultivated area as a result of rapid urbanization, industrialization and infrastructural projects on lands used for agriculture
  • Degradation of arable lands due to bad agricultural and irrigation practices resulting in stagnant yields. Situation is exacerbated due to less than adequate resource allocation for agricultural R&D
  • Climate change and environmental threats adversely affecting the crop cycles and loss of soil fertility
  • Increased cultivation of Biofuels crops on areas previously used for food crops cultivation
  • Land grabbing by corporate firms in food insecure countries for cultivation of food grains and their export to rich countries

Consumption Challenges

  • Increasing consumption and wastages are putting pressures on food grains stocks as a result of:
  • Increasing population- sheer number of people demanding food is increasing
  • Growing prosperity-more meat items in the domestic menu which needs more food grains
  • Changing food habits-urbanization needs more processed food which consumes more food
  • Wastages-over eating, throwing away of food cooked more than the needs and food getting expired in the domestic fridges/chain stores

Distribution Challenges

There are bottlenecks in the distribution chain which accentuate the food security situation in developing countries even in normal times i.e.

  • Access to food-financial constraints due to persistent poverty, inequality and lack of sufficient job opportunities
  • Access to food-physical constraints, due to bad governance, infrastructural inadequacies or wrong policy framework i.e. imposing restrictions on movement of food grains from surplus areas to deficit ones for facilitating official procurement
  • Food Denial to people and communities due to militancy, civil war or proxy wars

Governance Challenges

Finally there are governance issues, particularly in poor countries which adversely affect the availability of food to the people at affordable prices due to:

  • Poor commitment of the ruling elite in the form of appropriate  policy formulation, resource allocation and institutional mechanism to ensure access of the common man to food through agricultural development ,creation of social safety networks etc
  • Not providing good governance whereby people have freedom to get food grains without any hassle
  • Not improving overall law and order and security situation in the country for peaceful movement of the food grains and its convenient availability
  • Not making special arrangements for the provision of food grains in conflict/disaster prone areas

(To be Continued)


Food, Agriculture, FAO, Food grains, food availability, food access, food supply, supply chain, climate change,

From the e-book 20 Global Issues: A Handbook by Shahid Hussain Raja, published by Amazon

Previous Post
Next Post