Hunger kills more people per year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Nearly 842 million people in the world do not have enough to eat and 98.2 percent of them live in developing countries. Yet hunger is essentially man-made; it is a product of poverty. In a world that can produce more than enough food to sustain everyone, hunger is due to human inefficiencies and inaction.
In the world of global poverty, “food insecurity” is a term often mentioned. But what exactly is food insecurity, what are its effects and how can it be prevented?
What is Food Insecurity?
In order to understand food insecurity, it is important to first define food security. According to the World Food Summit of 1996, food security exists “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.”
This condition is based on three components: availability, access and use. First, a sustainable and sufficient food supply must exist to prevent malnutrition. Second, people must have both the physical and economic resources to obtain that food. And third, people must be able to use food in conjunction with clean water and sanitary practices to keep healthy, especially in countries where food-borne diarrhea has the potential to cause serious harm. Food insecurity means being without any of these critical components.
At its core, food security provides recipients with the elements necessary for optimal health and nutrition. But it depends on a sustainable, dependable and sufficient food supply system. Such a system solves not only issues of hunger, but also benefits environmental health, the economy and social equality.
What are the Effects of Food Insecurity?
Without sustainable and dependable food sources, malnutrition can wreak havoc on a population. Lack of access to sanitation and clean water can also spread diarrhea and other food-borne illnesses, which are especially deadly to young children. In addition, lack of proper access to food hinders development and trade. Victims of malnutrition are unable to work productively or put energy into new endeavors. When the majority of a country suffers from food insecurity, it is unlikely that substantial development will occur. This leads to a vicious cycle of poverty, hunger and stagnation.
How Can Food Insecurity be Prevented?
Food insecurity can be ameliorated by increasing local food production, increasing food imports, providing more jobs and higher pay for poverty-stricken communities and improving food distribution infrastructure. But food insecurity is a multifaceted issue, one which complicates any potential solutions. An example of a promising idea gone wrong is that of self-sufficiency.
Food self-sufficiency—in other words, meeting all food needs through domestic production—used to be a promising potential solution for developing nations. Not only would countries be able to buffer themselves from the fluctuations of international prices and trade, they would also be able to allocate more funds to the purchasing of foreign commodities instead of foodstuffs. Self-sufficiency was touted as a method to ensure that sufficient food was always available for a country’s population.
Yet in reality, many issues arose. Climatic factors and natural events such as storms, flooding and droughts could rapidly deplete or destroy resources and force nations to depend on foreign aid or imports. In arid regions, a disproportionate amount of available water and land resources were devoted to irrigation, depriving other sectors of water. Some countries even accumulated massive water deficits trying to produce their own grains.
Today, the most reliable solution seems to be a combination of self-sufficiency and food imports. Because of recent water scarcities, it is no longer feasible for many countries to irrigate their lands or grow certain crops. In addition, labor in industries other than agriculture can lead to higher returns and profits. This makes it easier to exchange national commodities for food imports.
However, poor developing countries in areas such as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia struggle to both grow their own food and purchase necessary food imports. Food aid is the quickest solution in such dire cases of food insecurity. But this also stresses the need for more long-term, extensive agriculture infrastructure programs. Such programs have great potential to increase food security by stimulating national productivity and reducing poverty.