Definition, Measurement and Analysis of Food Security

Sound policy analysis of any issue requires a clear definition and measurement capacity for the concept at hand. Food security has been an elusive concept. It means different things to different people and changes over time. Its measurement has also been difficult and controversial. It is, therefore, necessary to start with some definitions and measurements in the context of a methodological framework for addressing policy questions related to food security at global, national or even household level (Pinstrup-Andersen 2009).

Some Definitions

The concept of food security has evolved over the last 40 years reflecting changes in official policy thinking. Food security was defined in the World Food Summit of 1974, reflecting the global concerns of the 1970s, with respect to the volume and stability of food supplies. Thus, the term “food security” was initially used as a synonym of “food selfsufficiency” at national or even global level, implying that the country or the world had access to enough food to meet the nutrition requirements of the population. This definition puts emphasis on the supply side of the food equation, either by domestic means, through local agricultural production, or from food imports, through the international market. The former considers the local resource production capacity, resource constraints, productivity and the operation of the agro-food supply chain, while the latter assumes that the country has sufficient foreign exchange to finance its food imports. On the other hand, “food sovereignty” has been, and still is, used to measure the capacity of any country to provide its population with the food needed or demanded irrespective of whether the food is domestically produced or imported from the international market (see e.g. Harrigan 2014).

However, availability of food at the national level does not imply access to food for the entire population, as Sen has shown (Sen 1981) and recent research indicates (Burchi and De Muro 2016). Hence, a proper definition of food security should take into account not only availability, but also access to food at the household and individual level. This has been widely recognised early and food security has been defined as access to enough food by all people to live a healthy and productive life. Thus, the food security definition was extended in 1983 to include the nutritional value of foods and food preferences of the consumer. In 1983, the FAO expanded its concept to include securing access by vulnerable people to available supplies, implying that attention should be balanced between the demand and supply side of the food security equation. According to this definition, a household is considered food-secure if it has the ability to obtain, either from its own production or from the market, the food required for its members to be food-secure (Maxwell and Frankenberger 1992). This definition is qualified to include transitory or permanent food insecurity at the household level, due to obvious reasons, food and non-food preferences of households as well as intra-household allocation of food to household members.

Finally, the current definition, adopted by the World Food Summit in 1996 (FAO 1996), is that food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary requirements and food preferences for a healthy and active life.

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