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What is food security?     

Food security exists 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 lifestyle. (World Food Summit 1996).

TO BE FOOD SECURE MEANS THAT FOOD IS AVAILABLE: The amount and quality of food available globally, nationally and locally can be affected temporarily or long-term by many factors including: climate, disasters, war, civil unrest, population size and growth, agricultural practices, environment, social status and trade.

Affordable Age, status, gender, income, geographic location and ethnicity all affect a person's ability to access and afford sufficient food. When there is a shortage of food the rich are unlikely to go hungry but their demand for food increases the price and makes it harder for poor people to obtain food unless there are humanitarian considerations.

UTILISED: At the household level, sufficient and varied food needs to be prepared safely for people to grow and develop, meet their energy needs and to prevent disease.

WHY IS THERE FOOD INSECURITY?

POVERTY: Poor people lack access to sufficient resources to produce or buy quality food. Poor farmers may have very small farms, use less effective farming techniques, and/or be unable to afford fertilisers and labour-saving equipment, all of which limit food production.

Often they cannot grow enough food for themselves and are even less able to generate income by selling excess to others. Without economic resources and a political voice, poor farmers become marginalised.

They may be forced onto less productive land which is prone to further environmental deterioration. Addressing poverty is important to ensure all people can afford sufficient food.

HEALTH: Without sufficient calories and nutrients, the body slows down making it difficult to undertake the work needed to produce food. Without good health, the body is less able to make use of the food that is available. A hungry mother gives birth to an underweight baby, who then faces a future of stunted growth, frequent illness, learning disabilities, and reduced resistance to disease. Contaminated water and food can causes illness, nutrient loss and often death in children.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic has reduced food production in many affected countries as productive adults become ill or die. Lacking the labour, resources and know-how to grow staples and commercial crops, many households have shifted to cultivating survival foods or even leaving their fields, further reducing the food available. Addressing health issues will improve utilisation and availability of food.

WATER AND THE ENVIRONMENT: Food production requires massive amounts of water. It takes one cubic metre (1000 litres) of water to produce one kilogram of wheat and 5,000 litres of water for one kilogram of rice. Producing sufficient food is directly related to having sufficient water.

Irrigation can ensure an adequate and reliable supply of water which increases yields of most crops by 100% to 400%. Although only 17% of global cropland is irrigated, that 17% produces 40% of the world's food.

Increasing irrigation efficiency and limiting environment damage through salinisation or reduced soil fertility is important for ongoing food availability.

Where water is scarce and the environment fragile, achieving food security may depend on what has been called "virtual water", foods imported from countries with an abundance of water. This may be a more efficient use of scarce resources.

GENDER EQUITY: Women play a vital role in providing food and nutrition for their families through their roles as food producers, processors, traders and income earners. Yet their lower social and economic status limits their access to education, training, land ownership, decision making and credit and consequently their ability to improve their access to and use of food. Food utilisation can be enhanced by improving women's knowledge of nutrition and food safety and the prevention of illnesses.

Through improved women's involvement in decision making, access to land and credit, will increase food security as women invest in fertiliser and better seeds, energy saving tools, irrigation and land care.

DISASTERS AND CONFLICTS: Droughts, floods, cyclones and pests can quickly wipe out large quantities of food as it grows or is stored for later use or planting.

Conflict can also reduce or destroy food in production or storage. Farmers flee their fields for safety or become involved in the fighting. Previously productive land may be contaminated with explosive debris and need to be cleared before it can be used for food production again.

Stored food, seeds and breeding LIVESTOCK may be eaten or destroyed by soldiers or opposing groups leading to long-term food shortages. Government spending needs to prioritise food security in the recovery phase.

POPULATION AND URBANISATION: Population growth increases the demand for food. With most productive land already in use there is pressure for this land to become increasingly productive.

Poor harvests and increased costs lead many poor farmers migrate to the city looking for work. Expanding cities spread out across productive land, pushing food production further and further away from consumers.

This increases the cost of all activities associated with producing and transporting food, and decreases the food security of the poor in cities.

TRADE: Many poor countries can produce staples more cheaply than rich nations but barriers to trade, such as distance from markets, quarantine regulations and tariffs make it difficult for them to compete in export markets against highly subsidised farmers in rich countries.

This deprives poor farmers of income and entire countries of the agricultural base they need to develop other sectors of the economy. In addition, trade imbalances prevent poor countries from importing agricultural products that could enhance their food security.

WHAT IS BEING DONE?

IMPROVING FOOD PRODUCTION: Increasing the amount of food available is necessary to feed the increasing population. The Green Revolution of the 1970s and 1980s, produced huge improvements in output largely due to the cultivation of high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat, the expansion of land under production and irrigation, increased use of fertilisers and pesticides and greater availability of credit.

In many countries these gains have reached their limit and there are social and environmental issues to be addressed.

Further increases in food production depends on: better integration of traditional knowledge with research; improving farming practices, through training and use of appropriate technology to increase outputs from current land without further loss of productive land; land reform to provide secure access to land for more people; and provision of low-cost finance to assist farmers invest in improved seeds, fertilisers and small irrigation pumps.

Genetically modified seeds are being hailed as a means of improving crop outputs but there are also concerns about the ownership of seeds, adequate compensation for traditional knowledge and possible side effects.

ECONOMIC GROWTH AND TRADE LIBERALISATION: Increasing food production leads to greater availability of food and economic growth in the domestic and /or overseas markets.

Generating income can provide access to more and varied foods, as well as providing cash for use in other areas of the economy, such as small enterprise and manufacturing, which in turn can lead to poverty reduction.

Trade liberalisation is opening up markets slowly but there are costly barriers to overcome.

Work is underway through the Doha Round of multilateral trading negotiations in the World Trade Organisation to make trade rules fair, encourage trade liberalisation and assist developing countries to participate in the global trade environment.

DISTRIBUTION: While there are sufficient resources in the world to provide food security for all, policy and behavioural changes are necessary to guarantee a fair share for all people, especially the poor.

Building on a series of global conferences, especially the 1992 International Conference on Nutrition, the 1996 World Food Summit and the 2002 World Food Summit: five years later, countries have developed national nutrition plans and policies in nine major strategic action areas that:

-- mainstream nutrition goals into development policies and programmes;

-- improve household food and nutrition security;

-- protect consumers through improved food quality and safety;

-- prevent and manage infectious diseases;

-- promote breast-feeding;

-- care for the socio-economically deprived and nutritionally vulnerable;

-- prevent and control specific micronutrient deficiencies;

-- promote appropriate diets and healthy lifestyles, and

-- assess, analyse and monitor nutrition situations.

However, progress so far, has been a long way short of what was intended.

RECOGNISING THE ROLE OF WOMEN: Gender equality is a prerequisite for the eradication of poverty and hunger. Many programs recognise the need for change in access to food, land, credit, education, health and nutrition training and decision making in order to make effective use of women's roles in agricultural production and food preparation.

FOOD AID: The immediate needs for food during drought, disaster, population displacement and conflict are addressed by the distribution of basic food supplies and fuel.

Early warning systems can predict problem areas and action can be taken to keep people in their homes and assist them back to food self sufficiency as quickly as possible.

Food sourced locally rather than internationally minimises cost and disruption to local markets. In severe situations feeding may be necessary but often food aid is linked with work, health or education to avoid dependency and address the long-term causes of food insecurity.


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