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File:Food production per capita 1961-2005.png

Growth in food production has been greater than population growth. Food per person increased during the 1961–2005 period. The y-axis is percent of 1999–2001 average food production per capita. Data source: World Resources Institute.

File:Human Biomass Consumption.ogv

Humans are using an increasing amount of Earth’s annual production of plants.


Barley is a major animal feed crop.

Food security is an issue with regard to food deprivation and nutrition and refers to a household's physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that fulfills the dietary needs and food preferences of that household for living an active and healthy life.[1]

The World Health Organization defines food security as having three facets: food availability, food access, and food use. Food availability is having available sufficient quantities of food on a consistent basis. Food access is having sufficient resources, both economic and physical, to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet. Food use is the appropriate use based on knowledge of basic nutrition and care, as well as adequate water and sanitation. The FAO adds a fourth facet: the stability of the first three dimensions of food security over time[1].

According to the World Resources Institute, global per capita food production has been increasing substantially for the past several decades.[2] In 2006, MSNBC reported that globally, the number of people who are overweight has surpassed the number who are undernourished – the world had more than one billion people who were overweight, and an estimated 800 million who were undernourished.[3] According to a 2004 article from the BBC, China, the world's most populous country, is suffering from an obesity epidemic.[4] In India, the second-most populous country in the world, 30 million people have been added to the ranks of the hungry since the mid-1990s and 46% of children are underweight.[5]

Worldwide around 925 million people are chronically hungry due to extreme poverty, while up to 2 billion people lack food security intermittently due to varying degrees of poverty (source: FAO, 2010). Six million children die of hunger every year – 17,000 every day.[6] As of late 2007, export restrictions and panic buying, US Dollar Depreciation,[7] increased farming for use in biofuels,[8] world oil prices at more than $100 a barrel,[9] global population growth,[10] climate change,[11] loss of agricultural land to residential and industrial development,[12][13] and growing consumer demand in China and India[14] are claimed to have pushed up the price of grain.[15][16] However, the role of some of these factors is under debate. Some argue the role of biofuel has been overplayed[17] as grain prices have come down to the levels of 2006. Nonetheless, food riots have recently taken place in many countries across the world.[18][19][20]

The ongoing global credit crisis has affected farm credits, despite a boom in commodity prices.[21] Food security is a complex topic, standing at the intersection of many disciplines.

A new peer-reviewed journal of Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food began publishing in 2009.[22] In developing countries, often 70% or more of the population lives in rural areas. In that context, agricultural development among smallholder farmers and landless people provides a livelihood for people allowing them the opportunity to stay in their communities. In many areas of the world, land ownership is not available, thus, people who want or need to farm to make a living have little incentive to improve the land.

In the US, there are approximately 2,000,000 farmers, less than 1% of the population. A direct relationship exists between food consumption levels and poverty. Families with the financial resources to escape extreme poverty rarely suffer from chronic hunger, while poor families not only suffer the most from chronic hunger, but are also the segment of the population most at risk during food shortages and famines.

Two commonly used definitions of food security come from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

  • Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social[23] and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.[24]
  • Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes at a minimum (1) the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and (2) an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies). (USDA)[25]

The stages of food insecurity range from food secure situations to full-scale famine. "Famine and hunger are both rooted in food insecurity. Food insecurity can be categorized as either chronic or transitory. Chronic food insecurity translates into a high degree of vulnerability to famine and hunger; ensuring food security presupposes elimination of that vulnerability. [Chronic] hunger is not famine. It is similar to undernourishment and is related to poverty, existing mainly in poor countries."[26]

Stunting and chronic nutritional deficiencies

File:Kwashiorkor 6903.jpg

Children with symptoms of low calorie and protein intake and a nurse attendant at a Nigerian orphanage in the late 1960s.

Many countries experience perpetual food shortages and distribution problems. These result in chronic and often widespread hunger amongst significant numbers of people. Human populations respond to chronic hunger and malnutrition by decreasing body size, known in medical terms as stunting or stunted growth. This process starts in utero if the mother is malnourished and continues through approximately the third year of life. It leads to higher infant and child mortality, but at rates far lower than during famines. Once stunting has occurred, improved nutritional intake later in life cannot reverse the damage. Stunting itself is viewed as a coping mechanism, designed to bring body size into alignment with the calories available during adulthood in the location where the child is born. Limiting body size as a way of adapting to low levels of energy (calories) adversely affects health in three ways:

  • Premature failure of vital organs occurs during adulthood. For example, a 50-year-old individual might die of heart failure because his/her heart suffered structural defects during early development;
  • Stunted individuals suffer a far higher rate of disease and illness than those who have not undergone stunting;
  • Severe malnutrition in early childhood often leads to defects in cognitive development.

"The analysis ... points to the misleading nature of the concept of subsistence as Malthus originally used it and as it is still widely used today. Subsistence in not located at the edge of a nutritional cliff, beyond which lies demographic disaster. Rather than one level of subsistence, there are numerous levels at which a population and a food supply can be in equilibrium in the sense that they can be indefinitely sustained. However, some levels will have smaller people and higher normal mortality than others."[27]

Challenges to achieving food security

"The number of people without enough food to eat on a regular basis remains stubbornly high, at over 800 million, and is not falling significantly. Over 60% of the world's undernourished people live in Asia, and a quarter in Africa. The proportion of people who are hungry, however, is greater in Africa (33%) than Asia (16%). The latest FAO figures indicate that there are 22 countries, 16 of which are in Africa, in which the undernourishment prevalence rate is over 35%."[28]

File:Carrobotte g1.jpg

A liquid manure spreader, equipment that is used to increase agricultural productivity.

The agriculture-hunger-poverty nexus

Eradicating hunger and poverty requires an understanding of the ways in which these two injustices interconnect. Hunger, and the malnourishment that accompanies it, prevents poor people from escaping poverty because it diminishes their ability to learn, work, and care for themselves and their family members. Food insecurity exists when people are undernourished as a result of the physical unavailability of food, their lack of social or economic access to adequate food, and/or inadequate food use.[29] Food-insecure people are those whose food intake falls below their minimum calorie (energy) requirements, as well as those who exhibit physical symptoms caused by energy and nutrient deficiencies resulting from an inadequate or unbalanced diet or from the body's inability to use food effectively because of infection or disease. An alternative view would define the concept of food insecurity as referring only to the consequence of inadequate consumption of nutritious food, considering the physiological use of food by the body as being within the domain of nutrition and health. Malnourishment also leads to poor health hence individuals fail to provide for their families. If left unaddressed, hunger sets in motion an array of outcomes that perpetuate malnutrition, reduce the ability of adults to work and to give birth to healthy children, and erode children's ability to learn and lead productive, healthy, and happy lives. This truncation of human development undermines a country's potential for economic development for generations to come.

Improving agricultural productivity to benefit the rural poor

There are strong, direct relationships between agricultural productivity, hunger, and poverty. Three-quarters of the world's poor live in rural areas and make their living from agriculture. Hunger and child malnutrition are greater in these areas than in urban areas. Moreover, the higher the proportion of the rural population that obtains its income solely from subsistence farming (without the benefit of pro-poor technologies and access to markets), the higher the incidence of malnutrition. Therefore, improvements in agricultural productivity aimed at small-scale farmers will benefit the rural poor first. Food and feed crop demand is likely to double in the next 50 years, as the global population approaches nine billion. Growing sufficient food will require people to make changes such as increasing productivity in areas dependent on rainfed agriculture; improving soil fertility management; expanding cropped areas; investing in irrigation; conducting agricultural trade between countries; and reducing gross food demand by influencing diets and reducing post-harvest losses.

According to the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture, a major study led by the International Water Management Institute, managing rainwater and soil moisture more effectively, and using supplemental and small-scale irrigation, hold the key to helping the greatest number of poor people. It has called for a new era of water investments and policies for upgrading rainfed agriculture that would go beyond controlling field-level soil and water to bring new freshwater sources through better local management of rainfall and runoff.[30] Increased agricultural productivity enables farmers to grow more food, which translates into better diets and, under market conditions that offer a level playing field, into higher farm incomes. With more money, farmers are more likely to diversify production and grow higher-value crops, benefiting not only themselves but the economy as a whole."[31]

Researchers suggest forming an alliance between the emergency food program and community-supported agriculture, as some countries' food stamps cannot be used at farmer's markets and places where food is less processed and grown locally.[32]

Global water crisis

File:Grain storage silos.jpg

Grain storage facilities in Australia

Water deficits, which are already spurring heavy grain imports in numerous smaller countries,[33] may soon do the same in larger countries, such as China or India.[34] The water tables are falling in scores of countries (including northern China, the US, and India) due to widespread overpumping using powerful diesel and electric pumps. Other countries affected include Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. This will eventually lead to water scarcity and cutbacks in grain harvest. Even with the overpumping of its aquifers, China is developing a grain deficit.[35] When this happens, it will almost certainly drive grain prices upward. Most of the 3 billion people projected to be born worldwide by mid-century will be born in countries already experiencing water shortages. After China and India, there is a second tier of smaller countries with large water deficits — Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Mexico, and Pakistan. Four of these already import a large share of their grain. Only Pakistan remains self-sufficient. But with a population expanding by 4 million a year, it will likely soon turn to the world market for grain.[36][37]

Multimillion dollar investments beginning in the 1990s by the World Bank have reclaimed desert and turned the Ica Valley in Peru, one of the driest places on earth, into the largest supplier of asparagus in the world. However, the constant irrigation has caused a rapid drop in the water table, in some places as much as eight meters per year, one of the fastest rates of aquifer depletion in the world. The wells of small farmers and local people are beginning to run dry and the water supply for the main city in the valley is under threat. As a cash crop, asparagus has provided jobs for local people, but most of the money goes to the buyers, mainly the British. A 2010 report concluded that the industry is not sustainable and accuses investors, including the World Bank, of failing to take proper responsibility for the impact of their decisions on the water resources of poorer countries.[38] Diverting water from the headwaters of the Ica River to asparagus fields has also led to a water shortage in the mountain region of Huancavelica, where indigenous communities make a marginal living herding.[39]

Land degradation

See also: Land degradation and Desertification

Intensive farming often leads to a vicious cycle of exhaustion of soil fertility and decline of agricultural yields.[40] Approximately 40% of the world's agricultural land is seriously degraded.[41] In Africa, if current trends of soil degradation continue, the continent might be able to feed just 25% of its population by 2025, according to UNU's Ghana-based Institute for Natural Resources in Africa.[42]

Land deals

See also: Land grabbing

Rich governments and corporations are buying up the rights to millions of hectares of agricultural land in developing countries in an effort to secure their own long-term food supplies. The head of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Jacques Diouf, has warned that the controversial rise in land deals could create a form of "neocolonialism", with poor states producing food for the rich at the expense of their own hungry people. The South Korean firm Daewoo Logistics has secured a large piece of farmland in Madagascar to grow maize and crops for biofuels. Libya has secured 250,000 hectares of Ukrainian farmland, and China has begun to explore land deals in Southeast Asia.[43] Oil-rich Arab investors, including the sovereign wealth funds, are looking into Sudan, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Cambodia and Thailand.[44]

Some countries are using the acquisition of land for agriculture in return for other gains. Egypt is seeking land acquisition in Ukraine in exchange for access to its natural gas. Qatar has plans to lease 40,000 hectares of agricultural land along Kenya's coast to grow fruit and vegetables, in return for building a £2.4 billion port close to the Indian Ocean tourist island of Lamu.[45]

Climate change


See also: Climate change and agriculture

Approximately 2.4 billion people live in the drainage basin of the Himalayan rivers.[46] India, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar could experience floods followed by severe droughts in coming decades.[47] In India alone, the Ganges provides water for drinking and farming for more than 500 million people.[48] The west coast of North America, which gets much of its water from glaciers in mountain ranges such as the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada, also would be affected.[49] Glaciers aren't the only worry that the developing nations have; sea level is reported to rise as climate change progresses, reducing the amount of land available for agriculture.[50]

In other parts of the world, a big effect will be low yields of grain according to the World Food Trade Model, specifically in the low latitude regions where much of the developing world is located. From this the price of grain will rise, along with the developing nations trying to grow the grain. Due to this, every 2–2.5% price hike will increase the number of hungry people by 1%.[51] Low crop yields are just one of the problem facing farmers in the low latitudes and tropical regions. The timing and length of the growing seasons, when farmers plant their crops, are going to be changing dramatically, per the USDA, due to unknown changes in soil temperature and moisture conditions.[52]

Wheat stem rust


File:Stripe rust.jpg

Stripe rust on a wheat stem

An epidemic of stem rust on wheat caused by race Ug99 which was spreading across Africa and into Asia in 2007 caused major concern. A virulent wheat disease could destroy most of the world’s main wheat crops, leaving millions to starve. The fungus had spread from Africa to Iran and may already be in Pakistan.[53][54][55]

The genetic diversity of the crop wild relatives of wheat can be used to improve modern varieties to be more resistant to rust. In their centers of origin wild wheat plants are screened for resistance to rust, then their genetic information is analysed and finally wild plants and modern varieties are crossed through means of modern plant breeding in order to transfer the resistance genes from the wild plants to the modern varieties.[56]

Biotechnology for smallholders in the (sub)tropics

The area sown to genetically engineered crops in developing countries is rapidly catching up with the area sown in industrial nations. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), genetically engineered (biotech, GM) crops were grown by approximately 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries in 2005; up from 8.25 million farmers in 17 countries in 2004. The largest increase in biotech crop area in any country in 2005 was in Brazil, provisionally estimated at 44,000 km² (94,000 km² in 2005 compared with 50,000 km² in 2004). India had by far the largest year-on-year proportional increase, with almost a threefold increase from 5,000 km² in 2004 to 13,000 km² in 2005.[57] However, it should be noted that the ISAAA is funded by organisations including prominent agricultural biotechnology corporations, such as Monsanto and Bayer,[58] and there have been several challenges made to the accuracy of ISAAA's global figures.[59]

Current high regulatory costs imposed on varieties created by the more modern methods are a significant hurdle for development of genetically engineered crops well suited to developing country farmers by modern genetic methods. Once a new variety is developed, however, seed provides a good vehicle for distribution of improvements in a package that is familiar to the farmer.

Currently there are some institutes and research groups that have projects in which biotechnology is shared with contact people in less-developed countries on a non-profit basis. These institutes make use of biotechnological methods that do not involve high research and registration costs, such as conservation and multiplication of germplasm and phytosanitation.

Apart from genetic engineering, other forms of biotechnology also hold promise for enhancing food security. For instance, perennial rice is being developed in China, which could dramatically reduce the risk of soil erosion on upland smallholder farms.

Dictatorship and kleptocracy

See also: Political corruption

Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has observed that "there is no such thing as an apolitical food problem." While drought and other naturally occurring events may trigger famine conditions, it is government action or inaction that determines its severity, and often even whether or not a famine will occur. The 20th century is full of examples of governments undermining the food security of their own nations–sometimes intentionally.

When governments come to power by force or rigged elections, and not by way of fair and open elections, their base of support is often narrow and built upon cronyism and patronage. Under such conditions "The distribution of food within a country is a political issue. Governments in most countries give priority to urban areas, since that is where the most influential and powerful families and enterprises are usually located. The government often neglects subsistence farmers and rural areas in general. The more remote and underdeveloped the area the less likely the government will be to effectively meet its needs. Many agrarian policies, especially the pricing of agricultural commodities, discriminate against rural areas. Governments often keep prices of basic grains at such artificially low levels that subsistence producers cannot accumulate enough capital to make investments to improve their production. Thus, they are effectively prevented from getting out of their precarious situation."[60]

Further dictators and warlords have used food as a political weapon, rewarding their supporters while denying food supplies to areas that oppose their rule. Under such conditions food becomes a currency with which to buy support and famine becomes an effective weapon to be used against the opposition.

Governments with strong tendencies towards kleptocracy can undermine food security even when harvests are good. When government monopolizes trade, farmers may find that they are free to grow cash crops for export, but under penalty of law only able to sell their crops to government buyers at prices far below the world market price. The government then is free to sell their crop on the world market at full price, pocketing the difference. This creates an artificial "poverty trap" from which even the most hard working and motivated farmers may not escape.

When the rule of law is absent, or private property is non-existent, farmers have little incentive to improve their productivity. If a farm becomes noticeably more productive than neighboring farms, it may become the target of individuals well connected to the government. Rather than risk being noticed and possibly losing their land, farmers may be content with the perceived safety of mediocrity.

As pointed out by William Bernstein in his book The Birth of Plenty: "Individuals without property are susceptible to starvation, and it is much easier to bend the fearful and hungry to the will of the state. If a [farmer's] property can be arbitrarily threatened by the state, that power will inevitably be employed to intimidate those with divergent political and religious opinions."

Children and food security

On April 29, 2008, a UNICEF UK report found that the world’s poorest and most vulnerable children are being hit the hardest by the impact of climate change. The report, "Our Climate, Our Children, Our Responsibility: The Implications of Climate Change for the World’s Children," says access to clean water and food supplies will become more difficult, particularly in Africa and Asia.[61]

By way of comparison, in one of the largest food producing countries in the world, the United States, approximately one out of six people are "food insecure", including 17 million children, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.[62] A 2012 study in the Journal of Applied Research on Children found that rates of food security varied significantly by race, class and education. In both kindergarten and third grade, 8% of the children were classified as food insecure, but only 5% of white children were food insecure, while 12% and 15% of black and Hispanic children were food insecure, respectively. In third grade, 13% of black and 11% of Hispanic children are food insecure compared to 5% of white children.[63][64]

Food insecurity is measured in the United States by questions in the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey. The questions asked are about anxiety that the household budget is inadequate to buy enough food, inadequacy in the quantity or quality of food eaten by adults and children in the household, and instances of reduced food intake or consequences of reduced food intake for adults and for children.[65] A National Academy of Sciences study commissioned by the USDA criticized this measurement and the relationship of "food security" to hunger, adding "it is not clear whether hunger is appropriately identified as the extreme end of the food security scale."[66] Since 1960s, the US have been implementing a Food Stamp Program (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to directly target consumers who lack the income to purchase food. According to Tim Josling, a Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University, food stamps or other methods of distribution of purchasing power directly to consumers might fit into the range of international programs under consideration to tackle food insecurity.[67]

In its "The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2003", FAO states that:[68]

'In general the countries that succeeded in reducing hunger were characterised by more rapid economic growth and specifically more rapid growth in their agricultural sectors. They also exhibited slower population growth, lower levels of HIV and higher ranking in the Human Development Index'.

As such, according to FAO, addressing agriculture and population growth is vital to achieving food security. Other organisations and people (e.g., Peter Singer) have come to this same conclusion and advocate improvements in agriculture and population control.[69]

USAID[70] proposes several key steps to increasing agricultural productivity which is in turn key to increasing rural income and reducing food insecurity. They include:

  • Boosting agricultural science and technology. Current agricultural yields are insufficient to feed the growing populations. Eventually, the rising agricultural productivity drives economic growth.
  • Securing property rights and access to finance.
  • Enhancing human capital through education and improved health.
  • Conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms and democracy and governance based on principles of accountability and transparency in public institutions and the rule of law are basic to reducing vulnerable members of society.

The UN Millennium Development Goals are one of the initiatives aimed at achieving food security in the world. In its list of goals, the first Millennium Development Goal states that the UN "is to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty", and that "agricultural productivity is likely to play a key role in this if it is to be reached on time".

"Of the eight Millennium Development Goals, eradicating extreme hunger and poverty depends on agriculture the most. (MDG 1 calls for halving hunger and poverty by 2015 in relation to 1990.)

Notably, the gathering of wild food plants appears to be an efficient alternative method of subsistence in tropical countries, which may play a role in poverty alleviation.[71]

Gender and food security

Gender inequality is a major cause and effect of hunger and poverty. Food security can be a major concern for people who are incapable of or denied access to participating in labor, either formal, informal, or agricultural. In 2009, the U.N. estimated that 60 percent of the world’s chronically hungry people are women and girls, 98% of which live in developing nations.[72][73] When women have an income, substantial evidence indicates that the income is more likely to be spent on food and children’s needs. Women are generally responsible for food selection and preparation and for the care and feeding of children.[74] Women play many roles in land use, production, processing, distribution, market access, trade, and food availability. They often work as unpaid, contributing family workers, or self-employed producers, on and off-farm employees, entrepreneurs, traders, providers of services, and caretakers of children and the elderly.[75] Women farmers represent more than a quarter of the world’s population, comprising on average, 43 percent of the agricultural workforce in developing countries, ranging from 20 percent in Latin America to 50 percent in Eastern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. However, women have less access than men to agricultural assets, inputs and services. Analysts suggest that if women have the same access to productive resources as men, women could boost yield by 20-30 percent; raising the overall agricultural output in developing countries by two and a half to four percent. This gain in production could lessen the number of hungry people in the world by 12-17 percent.[75]

The United States Agency for International Development program, Feed the Future, quotes on their website that "Women’s contributions to agricultural production often go unrecognized. Despite their significant role as agricultural producers, women’s access to land and other key productive resources can be limited, and they rarely have legal control over the land they farm. Reducing gender inequality and recognizing the contribution of women to agriculture is critical to achieving global food security—there is consistent and compelling evidence that when the status of women is improved, agricultural productivity increases, poverty is reduced, and nutrition improves."[75]

Barriers to gendered food security

While varying by region, women face social and economic barriers to achieving personal and household food security. A comprehension of the gendered dimensions of food insecurity, which includes family size, household obligations, access to wage-labor, and the social constrictions on land use, productivity and intake, render individuals more capable of making educated decisions regarding their own health and that of their household. Improvement in food security strategies by individuals and households allows more time and resources to be directed towards improving economic situations, through investments in better means of production, further education, other quality of life measures, which can improve the status of communities. Macroeconomic factors should also be taken into account, such as the emergence of neo-liberal capitalist policies imposed through the Washington Consensus which include Structural Adjustment Programs, austerity measures, and an emphasis on expanding export-oriented trade at the expense of small-scale producers and rural development. The Center for Women's Global Leadership reported in 2011 that the expectation that this economic shift would increase the global food supply resulted in the strengthening of powerful transnational companies through heavy subsidization, while overall food security faltered as "developing countries withdrew investment in agriculture and rural development, leading to a decline in their long-term productive capacity and transforming them into net food importers."[76]

Land rights and inheritance

See also: Land law

Women may have temporary or illegal use of land, but their ability to own or inherit land is restricted in much of the developing world. Even in countries where women are legally permitted to own land, such as Uganda, research from Women’s Land Link Africa shows that cultural customs have excluded them from obtaining land ownership.[77] Globally, women own less than 20% of agricultural land.[78] Typically, land is obtained through social inheritance, through the market, or from the state. In most developing countries, a woman’s use of land is restricted to temporary cultivation rights, allocated to her by her husband, and in exchange, she provides food and other goods for the household. She is not able to pass the land on to her heirs nor will she be entrusted with the land if her husband dies; the land is automatically granted to her husband’s family or any children the couple may have produced. Bina Agarwal, a development economist known for her work on women's property rights, states "the single most important factor affecting women’s situation is the gender gap in command over property."[79]

Increasingly, as land privatization leads to the end of communal lands, women find themselves unable to use any land not bestowed upon them by their families, rendering unmarried women and widows vulnerable. Many women still face legal hurdles when attempting to acquire land through inheritance or the marketplace. In order to reorganize post-colonial societies, SADC states have engaged in land redistribution and resettlement programs, ranging from temporary lease-holding to permanent property rights. Even in cases where no gender bias is present in land redistribution policy, oftentimes social custom permits officials to favor male-headed households and individual men over female-headed households and individual women.

Division of unpaid labor and time constraints

See also: Unpaid work

Particularly in rural areas, the use of women’s time in agriculture is often constrained by obligations such as fetching water and wood, preparing meals for their families, cleaning, and tending to children and livestock. For example, in Ghana, Tanzania, and Zambia women expend most of their energy on load-carrying activities involving transport of fuel-wood, water, and grain for grinding.[74]

Climate change can present additional challenges to women’s time availability, due to deforestation, pollution, changes in irrigation and rain patters, and the depletion of natural resources. A gender-based assessment of roles and practices in maintaining crop production and household resources such as fuel and water is recommended in order to understand the social and environmental factors surrounding mens' and womens' work.[80]

The gendered division of labor in agriculture has been known to create unequal household power dynamics, responsibilities, and benefits from agriculture.

Crop types

See also: Feminization of agriculture

As producers, women are sometimes relegated to the production of subsistence crops on marginal land. In comparison, men tend to produce cash crops on land nearer to the home or marketplace for ease of access. The distance between a woman’s home, crops, and the nearest marketplace can pose logistical problems in transportation, and create another type of time constraint.

The use of cash cropping by men and subsistence agriculture by women tends to increase men’s bargaining power relative to women’s. According to L. Muthoni Wanyeki, the author of Women and Land in Africa: Culture, Religion, and Realizing Women’s Rights, "Control over food crops and poultry or goats (and benefits derived from surpluses of food crops and small farm animals) tend to rest with women. However, control over the type of cash crop and livestock (and benefits derived therefrom) tended to rest with men, even where women had made an exceptional and direct contribution to the labour involved."[81]

Access to credit, technology, education, markets, and government services

Women have limited access to rural extension services and technology.[82] Womens’ success in food security in most countries revolves around their access to equal resources as men, including the rights to land ownership,[83] unequal wages,[83] unequal access to credit, technology, education, markets, and government services. The right to food can be hindered by problems such as increased demand, price volatility, climate change characterized by land degradation and water scarcity, competition for land, urbanization, and increased poverty and vulnerability.[83] Individual decisions regarding livelihoods, family planning, migration, agricultural production and political participation can have varying outcomes regarding food security which have repercussions beyond the individual's control.

On a macroeconomic level, cuts in government spending and investment in rural development and agricultural policies, production incentives, price stabilization measures, and subsidies for small-scale producers have directly decreased the viability of women's agricultural projects. The privatization of services like health, water, and sanitation have indirectly hindered rural women and children from escaping poverty traps which constrain their ability to sustainably produce food for themselves and for market. The Center for Women's Global Leadership writes that "trade liberalization policies have increased their work burden and undermined their right to food."[76]

Gender and global food security policy

Proposed policies

Speaking on September 19, 2011 at a U.N. General Assembly event highlighting women and agriculture, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said "When we liberate the economic potential of women, we elevate the economic performance of communities, nations, and the world."[84]

A collaborative report by the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development in 2009 concluded that several major policy decisions could be implemented to improve food security from a feminist perspective. These policy suggestions include:

  • tariffs
  • subsidies
  • special safeguard mechanisms, such as reserve grain storage, price regulations, and crop diversification
  • food stocks
  • commodity exchange regulations
  • regulating trade with transnational corporations
  • restricting monopolies
  • social welfare
  • research, concerning climate change, nutritional requirements, and policy deliberation
  • innovation in food production and food security strategies

Governments are implementing programs, such as cash transfers, employment guarantees and land titling, that target women.[75]

Many small-scale, women-centered, agricultural cooperatives have emerged in developing countries to fulfill these needs by pooling resources, establishing economies of scale, and creating greater collective bargaining power for resources, land rights, and market access. One such urban agriculture project is Abalimi Bezekhaya, in Cape Town, South Africa, which provides training, manure, set-up and maintenance of an irrigation system, and R150 ($15 USD) to each participant. Most of the participants are women. According to Liziwe Stofile, who trains new farmers, "The reason that women take over most of the community gardens is because they want to take vegetables home to feed their children. The men only want to make money."[75]

Women's empowerment in agriculture index

To improve the status of women in agriculture, improve nutrition, and decrease poverty, USAID created an index to study women’s empowerment in agriculture in 2012.[85]

The "Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index" (WEAI) is the first measure to directly capture women's empowerment and inclusion levels in the agricultural sector. The index considers five factors to be indicative of women’s overall empowerment in the agricultural sector:

  • Decisions over agricultural production
  • Power over productive resources such as land and livestock
  • Decisions over income
  • Leadership in the community
  • Time use

Women are considered empowered if they score adequately in at least four of the components. The index functions at the country or regional level, working with individually-based data of men and women in the same households.[86] Gender-sensitive indexes such as WEAI are intended to aid governments, scholars, and organizations to make informed and educated decisions regarding food and gender policy in regionally specific agendas. Gender consciousness in policy-making may lead to decisions to support women’s individual or cooperative agricultural endeavors, reform land laws, reduce market restrictions, allow for greater access to the international market, or provide targeted training and inputs.

Economic approaches

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Please see the discussion on the talk page.

There are many economic approaches advocated to improve food security in developing countries. Three typical approaches are listed below. The first is typical of what is advocated by most governments and international agencies. The other two are more common to non-governmental organizations (NGO’s).

Westernized view

Conventional thinking in westernized countries is that maximizing farmers' profits is the surest way of maximizing agricultural production; the higher a farmer’s profit, the greater the effort that will be forthcoming, and the greater the risk the farmer is willing to take. [citation needed]

Place into the hands of farmers the largest number and highest quality tools possible (tools is used here to refer to improved production techniques, improved seeds, secure land tenure, accurate weather forecasts, etc.) However, it is left to the individual farmer to pick and choose which tools to use, and how to use them, as farmers have intimate knowledge of their own land and local conditions.

As with other businesses, a percentage of the profits are normally reinvested into the business in the hopes of increasing production, and hence increase future profits. Normally higher profits translate into higher spending on technologies designed to boost production, such as drip irrigation systems, agriculture education, and greenhouses. An increased profit also increases the farmer’s incentive to engage in double-cropping, soil improvement programs, and expanding usable area.

Food justice


Fight Hunger: Walk the World campaign is a United Nations World Food Programme initiative.

An alternative view takes a collective approach to achieve food security. It notes that globally enough food is produced to feed the entire world population at a level adequate to ensure that everyone can be free of hunger and fear of starvation. That no one should live without enough food because of economic constraints or social inequalities is the basic goal.

This approach is often referred to as food justice and views food security as a basic human right. It advocates fairer distribution of food, particularly grain crops, as a means of ending chronic hunger and malnutrition. The core of the Food Justice movement is the belief that what is lacking is not food, but the political will to fairly distribute food regardless of the recipient’s ability to pay.

Food sovereignty

A third approach is known as food sovereignty; though it overlaps with food justice on several points, the two are not identical. It views the business practices of multinational corporations as a form of neocolonialism. It contends that multinational corporations have the financial resources available to buy up the agricultural resources of impoverished nations, particularly in the tropics. They also have the political clout to convert these resources to the exclusive production of cash crops for sale to industrialized nations outside of the tropics, and in the process to squeeze the poor off of the more productive lands.[39] Under this view subsistence farmers are left to cultivate only lands that are so marginal in terms of productivity as to be of no interest to the multinational corporations. Likewise, food sovereignty holds it to be true that communities should be able to define their own means of production and that food is a basic human right. With several multinational corporations now pushing agricultural technologies on developing countries, technologies that include improved seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides, crop production has become an increasingly analyzed and debated issue. Many communities calling for food sovereignty are protesting the imposition of Western technologies on to their indigenous systems and agency.

Those who hold a "food sovereignty" position advocate banning the production of most cash crops in developing nations, thereby leaving the local farmers to concentrate on subsistence agriculture. In addition, they oppose allowing low-cost subsidized food from industrialized nations into developing countries, what is referred to as "import dumping". Import dumping also happens by way of food aid distribution through programs like the USA's "Food for Peace" initiative.

World Summit on Food Security

The World Food Summit on Food Security held in Rome in 1996, aimed to renew a global commitment to the fight against hunger. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) called the summit in response to widespread under-nutrition and growing concern about the capacity of agriculture to meet future food needs. The conference produced two key documents, the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action.[87][88]

File:Vallee fertile du Nil a Louxor.jpg

Irrigation canals have opened dry desert areas of Egypt to agriculture.

The Rome Declaration calls for the members of the United Nations to work to halve the number of chronically undernourished people on the Earth by the year 2015. The Plan of Action sets a number of targets for government and non-governmental organizations for achieving food security, at the individual, household, national, regional and global levels.

Another World Summit on Food Security took place in Rome between November 16 and 18, 2009. The decision to convene the summit was taken by the Council of FAO in June 2009, at the proposal of FAO Director-General Dr Jacques Diouf. Heads of State and Government attended the summit, which took place at the FAO’s headquarters.

Role of the World Bank

  1. Global Food Security Program: Launched in April 2010, six countries alongside the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have pledged $925 mn for food security. Till date the program has helped 8 countries, promoting agriculture, research, trade in agriculture, etc.
  2. Launched Global Food Crisis Response Program: Given grants to approximately 40 nations for seeds, etc. for improving productivity.
  3. In process of increasing its yearly spending for agriculture to $6 billion–$8 billion from earlier $4 billion.
  4. Runs several nutrition program across the world, e.g., vitamin A doses for children, school meals, etc.

Risks to food security


Population growth


Fossil fuel dependence


While agricultural output increased as a result of the Green Revolution, the energy input into the process (that is, the energy that must be expended to produce a crop) has also increased at a greater rate, so that the ratio of crops produced to energy input has decreased over time. Green Revolution techniques also heavily rely on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, some of which must be developed from fossil fuels, making agriculture increasingly reliant on petroleum products.

Between 1950 and 1984, as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture around the globe, world grain production increased by 250%. The energy for the Green Revolution was provided by fossil fuels in the form of fertilizers (natural gas), pesticides (oil), and hydrocarbon fueled irrigation.[89]

David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell University, and Mario Giampietro, senior researcher at the National Research Institute on Food and Nutrition (INRAN), place in their study Food, Land, Population and the U.S. Economy the maximum U.S. population for a sustainable economy at 200 million. To achieve a sustainable economy and avert disaster, the United States must reduce its population by at least one-third, and world population will have to be reduced by two-thirds, says the study.[90]

The authors of this study believe that the mentioned agricultural crisis will only begin to impact us after 2020, and will not become critical until 2050. The oncoming peaking of global oil production (and subsequent decline of production), along with the peak of North American natural gas production will very likely precipitate this agricultural crisis much sooner than expected.[14] Geologist Dale Allen Pfeiffer claims that coming decades could see spiraling food prices without relief and massive starvation on a global level such as never experienced before.[91]

Hybridization, genetic engineering and loss of biodiversity

In agriculture and animal husbandry, the Green Revolution popularized the use of conventional hybridization to increase yield by creating "high-yielding varieties". Often the handful of hybridized breeds originated in developed countries and were further hybridized with local varieties in the rest of the developing world to create high yield strains resistant to local climate and diseases. Local governments and industry have been pushing hybridization which has resulted in several of the indigenous breeds becoming extinct or threatened. Disuse because of unprofitability and uncontrolled intentional and unintentional cross-pollination and crossbreeding (genetic pollution), formerly huge gene pools of various wild and indigenous breeds have collapsed causing widespread genetic erosion and genetic pollution. This has resulted in loss of genetic diversity and biodiversity as a whole.[92]

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using the genetic engineering techniques generally known as recombinant DNA technology. Genetically Modified (GM) crops today have become a common source for genetic pollution, not only of wild varieties but also of other domesticated varieties derived from relatively natural hybridization.[93][94][95][96][97]

Genetic erosion coupled with genetic pollution may be destroying unique genotypes, thereby creating a hidden crisis which could result in a severe threat to our food security. Diverse genetic material could cease to exist which would impact our ability to further hybridize food crops and livestock against more resistant diseases and climatic changes.[92]

Genetic erosion in agricultural and livestock biodiversity

See also: Genetic erosion and Agricultural biodiversity

Genetic erosion in agricultural and livestock biodiversity is the loss of genetic diversity, including the loss of individual genes, and the loss of particular combinants of genes (or gene complexes) such as those manifested in locally adapted landraces of domesticated animals or plants adapted to the natural environment in which they originated. The term genetic erosion is sometimes used in a narrow sense, such as for the loss of alleles or genes, as well as more broadly, referring to the loss of varieties or even species. The major driving forces behind genetic erosion in crops are: variety replacement, land clearing, overexploitation of species, population pressure, environmental degradation, overgrazing, policy and changing agricultural systems.

The main factor, however, is the replacement of local varieties of domestic plants and animals by high yielding or exotic varieties or species. A large number of varieties can also often be dramatically reduced when commercial varieties (including GMOs) are introduced into traditional farming systems. Many researchers believe that the main problem related to agro-ecosystem management is the general tendency towards genetic and ecological uniformity imposed by the development of modern agriculture.

Intellectual Property Rights

There is much debate on whether IPRs hurt or harm independent development in terms or agriculture and food production. Hartmut Meyer and Annette von Lossau describe both sides of the issue, while saying "Among scholars, the thesis that the impetus to self-determined development and the protection of intellectual property go hand in hand is disputed – to put it mildly. Many studies have concluded that there is virtually no positive correlation between establishing self-sustained economic growth and ensuring protection of intellectual property rights.[98]

Price setting

On April 30, 2008 Thailand, one of the world's biggest rice exporter, announces the project of the creation of the Organisation of Rice Exporting Countries with the potential to develop into a price-fixing cartel for rice.It is a project to organize 21 rice exporting countries to create a homonymous organisation to control the price of rice. The group is mainly made up of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. The organization attempts so serve the purpose of making a "contribution to ensuring food stability, not just in an individual country but also to address food shortages in the region and the world". However, it is still questionable whether this organization will serve its role as an effective rice price fixing cartel, that is similar to OPEC's mechanism for managing petroleum. Economic analysts and traders said the proposal would go nowhere because of the inability of governments to cooperate with each other and control farmers' output. Moreover, countries that are involved expressed their concern, that this could only worsen the food security. [99][100][101][102]

Treating food the same as other internationally traded commodities

On October 23, 2008, Associated Press reported the following:

"Former President Clinton told a U.N. gathering Thursday [Oct 16, 2008] that the global food crisis shows "we all blew it, including me," by treating food crops "like color TVs" instead of as a vital commodity for the world's poor....Clinton criticized decades of policymaking by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and others, encouraged by the U.S., that pressured Africans in particular into dropping government subsidies for fertilizer, improved seed and other farm inputs as a requirement to get aid. Africa's food self-sufficiency declined and food imports rose. Now skyrocketing prices in the international grain trade—on average more than doubling between 2006 and early 2008—have pushed many in poor countries deeper into poverty."[103]

Food is not a commodity like others. We should go back to a policy of maximum food self-sufficiency. It is crazy for us to think we can develop countries around the world without increasing their ability to feed themselves.[103]

— Former US President Bill Clinton, Speech at United Nations World Food Day, October 16, 2008

See also


  • Agricultural economics
  • Agroecology
  • Allotment gardens
  • Animal husbandry
  • Biodiversity
  • Climate change and agriculture
  • Countries by fertility rate
  • Community gardening
  • Deficit irrigation
  • Diseases of poverty
  • Ecological sanitation
  • Food choice
  • Food price crisis
  • Food vs fuel
  • Food rescue
  • Food safety
  • Food sovereignty
  • Food systems
  • Garden sharing
  • Geography of food
  • Green Revolution
  • Indian Famine Codes
  • Integrated Food Security Phase Classification

  • International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development
  • International development
  • Land grabbing
  • Land reform
  • List of famines
  • Local food
  • Malawian food crisis
  • Natural disaster
  • Norman Borlaug
  • Nutritional economics
  • Overpopulation
  • Population control
  • Right to food
  • Subsistence crisis
  • Survivalism
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • UN High-Level Conference on World Food Security (2008)
  • Urban agriculture
  • World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (monthly report)
  • World Food Day
  • World population
  • 2007–2008 world food price crisis


  • 2020 Vision Initiative
  • Afrique verte
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
  • Community Food Security Coalition
  • Famine Early Warning Systems Network
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  • Food First
  • Global Crop Diversity Trust
  • Local Food Plus
  • International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development
  • International Fund for Agricultural Development
  • Rockefeller Foundation


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Further reading

  • Biotechnology, Agriculture, and Food Security in Southern Africa edited by Steven Were Omamo and Klaus von Grebmer (2005) (Brief and Book available)
  • Brown ME, Funk CC (February 2008). Climate. Food security under climate change. Science 319 (5863): 580–1..
  • Lobell DB, Burke MB, Tebaldi C, Mastrandrea MD, Falcon WP, Naylor RL (February 2008). Prioritizing climate change adaptation needs for food security in 2030. Science 319 (5863): 607–10.
  • Introduction to the Basic Concepts of Food Security EC-FAO Food Security Programme (2008) Practical Guide Series
  • The environmental food crisis A study done by the UN on feeding the world population (2009)
  • Climate change: Impact on agriculture and costs of adaptation A report by the International Food Policy Research Institute that presents research results that quantify the impacts of climate change, assesses the consequences for food security, and estimates the investments that would offset the negative consequences for human well-being.
  • Moseley, W.G. and B.I. Logan. 2005. "Food Security." In: Wisner, B., C. Toulmin and R. Chitiga (eds). Toward a New Map of Africa. London: Earthscan Publications. Pp. 133–152.

External links

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