What is Food Security? Explained

This blog's goals are to increase your awareness of the broad notion of food security, familiarize you with the major analytical tools used to examine it, and help you recognize how crucial it is for rural development to comprehend the phenomena of food security.


  1. Introduction
  2. Definition of Food Security
  3. Dimensions of Food Security
  4. Nature and types of food insecurity
  5. Measuring of Food Security
  6. The Global Hunger Index
  7. The Global Food Security Index
  8. Concepts related to Food security
  9. Summary


Understanding the idea and notion of food security is the focus of this blog. It also provides the analytical foundations for the food security issue. One of the crucial elements that we must comprehend before taking any action to promote rural development is food security. The overarching theme is about putting information about food security into practice for rural development. We shall first define and further explain the idea of food security. After that, we'll look at the definitions of food security and the framework for using it to inform policy decisions and advance rural development goals.

Definition of Food Security

Understanding what food security is and how it works is crucial. For some of you, this might be a brand-new idea or a well-known phenomenon. Your understanding of food security will likely vary based on your background and the environment you operate in, though, as it is a multifaceted topic. The greater issue of food security has numerous facets. Agriculture production, trade, income, food quality, access to clean water and sanitary conditions, governance, and political stability are all elements that affect food security. We make an effort to define and communicate this idea right away so that we are clear on the phenomenon that we are discussing in this blog.

In general, the availability and accessibility of food for every person is referred to as food security. When no one in a home experiences hunger or the threat of starving, food security is deemed to be achieved. Food security for a household, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is the ability of all members to always have access to adequate food for an active, healthy life.

Food security encompasses, at a minimum,
(1) the quick availability of wholesome, safe foods and
(2) the assurance of being able to obtain palatable foods in manners that are accepted in society (that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies).

Food insecurity is a similar idea that is the exact opposite of food security. It is a state in which all households have safe, easy access to enough food on an economic and physical level. At the level of the person, the household, and the community, food insecurity has been defined and conceptualized. Strategies for enhancing personal food security are frequently quantified in terms of pounds and calories (Kozikowki & Williamson, 2009). Hunger, malnutrition, or poverty are all signs of food insecurity.

While approaching the problem of food insecurity form the ecological perspective, social disorganization theory and social capital theory the definition by Hamm and Bellows (2003) finds best fitting, 
“Community food security is a condition in which all community residents obtain safe, culturally appropriate, nutritionally sound diet through an economically and environmentally sustainable food system that promotes community self-reliance and social justice” (Hamm & Bellows, 2003, p.37). 

According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 
“food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

Dimensions of Food Security

The aforementioned definition has been accepted at the global level and it highlights four major dimensions of food security: 
  •  AVAILABILITY of food; 
  • ACCESS to food; 
  • STABILITY of the other three dimensions over time.
We will briefly go through the definition of each of these dimensions in order to better comprehend the idea of food security. This will also give us an idea of how the concept of food security and how people's perceptions of it have changed through time

Food Availability

The concept of "food security" has recently been more well-known in the development sector. The global food crisis of 1972–1974 was mostly what came after it. Due to unfavorable weather conditions in numerous regions of the world, there was a shortage of food, which led to the crisis. In order to debate the issue of global production, trade, and stocks, the first World Food Conference was set up in 1974. As a result, the earliest discussion on food security was on a sufficient quantity of food. Initiatives for food security were subsequently centered on methods for food production and storage to stabilize the world's supply and improve the capacity to import food as needed.

As a result, food availability addresses the "supply side" of food security and is influenced by net trade, stock levels, and the level of food production. It was believed that ensuring adequate supply would increase food availability and provide food security at the household level. The Green Revolution in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s, with its package of improved seeds, farm technology, better irrigation, and chemical fertilizers, was extremely successful at boosting food supplies, but this did not necessarily translate into improvements in food security for all people, proving that this assumption was incorrect.

Access of Food

The access to food is the second aspect of food security. Beginning in the early 1980s, it was understood that, in addition to food availability, one of the major factors affecting food security was access to food.

Since the early 1980s, it has been increasingly clear that access to food is a crucial factor in determining food security. Food production is one of the many ways that individuals choose to acquire the necessary food while expanding accessibility. The exchange of goods and services, the barter system, gathering wild foods, and social support systems are additional ways to access food. It is vital to remember that market variables, food prices, and an individual's purchasing power—which is connected to employment and livelihood opportunities—all affect access to food. For the purpose of accomplishing food security goals, policy makers have paid more attention to food access issues. This has gotten the goal of reducing poverty closer to the goal of food security.

Utilization of Food:

Utilization of food is a third aspect of food security. Since the 1990s, it has taken center stage in talks about food security. Utilization is frequently defined as the process through which the body extracts the most nutrients from food. The health of the population is what essentially determines this aspect of food security. Therefore, general hygiene and sanitation, water quality, health care practices, and food safety and quality are the factors of effective food use. The nutritional status of individuals is determined by their ability to consume enough energy and nutrients. The old definition of food security involved getting enough protein and energy (food quantity). However, micronutrients (food quality) are now becoming crucial for a balanced and nutritious diet.

STABILITY of the three dimensions over time: 

Let's think about the term "All people, at all times" that appears in the definition of food security in order to comprehend the fourth aspect of food security. It is essential to accomplishing goals for national food security. It's critical to recognize that different people experience the effects of food security in differing degrees. Different groups of individuals have varying levels of food security, and this needs to be evaluated. Development organizations typically make distinctions between groups based on their primary means of subsistence (food or income), in addition to other elements like wealth and geography. Furthermore, it's critical to understand that people's circumstances regarding food security may alter. People are still seen as food insecure even if they consume an acceptable amount of food today if they occasionally have poor access to food, causing a decline in their nutritional state. Their level of food security may be affected by unfavorable weather (drought, flooding), political disturbance (social unrest), or economic considerations (unemployment, increased food prices). In the statement "at all times," the stability component of food security is meant. It highlights how critical it is to minimize the possibility of negative consequences on the other three dimensions of food availability, access to food, or food use. The understanding of the significance of each dimension has improved our prior knowledge. All four dimensions must be met at once for the goals of food security to be achieved. We cannot ignore the worries about appropriate food availability even though we are aware of how important the aspect of food accessibility is. We must realize that although people may be able to afford food, they may only access it if it is offered for sale. People are at danger of food insecurity if it is unavailable. Similarly, the issue of food consumption is crucial. Food security includes both the quantity of food that is accessible and available for consumption as well as the quality of that food, which must be hygienic to maintain bodily health. Therefore, it is necessary that these three dimensions remain constant over time and are not adversely impacted by social, economic, political, or ecological variables.

Nature and types of food insecurity

Understanding the facets of the nature of food insecurity is necessary in order to attain the goal of food security. The effects of food insecurity on different people's lives vary according to its form and severity. The elements that contribute to food insecurity indicate the action to be used to achieve food security. A specialized vocabulary has been created in the development circle to explain the many types and manifestations of food insecurity. A short-term experience or a long-term ailment can both result from insufficient food consumption. People who are currently food insecure may no longer always be thus. Food insecurity may only endure a short while for some groups or households, whereas it may persist for a longer period of time for others. Food security experts have identified two main categories of food insecurity based on the length of the situation:

Chronic food insecurity

Transitory food insecurity

Both chronic and temporary food insecurity can be separated from one another by their distinct qualities in addition to their apparent disparities in time. Understanding these traits is important since the two types of food insecurity call for various kinds of intervention strategies.
Characteristics of Chronic and Transitory food insecurity 
  • Chronic food insecurity: It is of a long-term or persistent nature. In this type of food insecurity people are unable to meet their minimum food requirements over a longer period of time
    • Causes: It is often the result of poverty, lack of assets, sustainable livelihood options and lack of access to productive or financial resources. 
    • Intervention strategy:  It requires long-term development measures to address poverty, such as education or access to productive resources, creating livelihood options. Chronically food insecure people may need more direct access to food to enable them to raise their productive capacity
  • Transitory food insecurity:  It is short-term and temporary. In this type of food insecurity there is a sudden drop in the production or access enough food to maintain a required nutritional status.
    • Causes: The primary cause is temporary instabilities in availability and access of food. It includes variations in domestic food production, food prices and household incomes.
    • Intervention strategy: It is relatively unpredictable and can emerge suddenly. This unpredictability makes planning and programming more difficult and requires different capacities and types of intervention, including early warning capacity and safety net programmes.
Another type of food insecurity is seasonal food insecurity

When there is a cyclical pattern of food scarcity and inaccessibility, seasonal food insecurity results. This is related to the climate's seasonality and character, crop-growing patterns, employment prospects (labour demand), and/or the occurrence of diseases.

Between temporary and chronic food insecurity, the idea of seasonal food security sits. As it is typically foreseeable and follows a pattern of well-known events, it is comparable to chronic food insecurity. Seasonal food insecurity can also be viewed as recurring, transitory food insecurity because of its short duration.

By comprehending the nature and types of food insecurity based on duration, appropriate policies and programs may be developed to address the issues. Additionally, where seasonality plays a significant impact in the assessment of food security, it may be required to compare food security indicators to a baseline for the same season (or month) in prior years.

Understanding the intensity or severity of the impact of the food insecurity and nutrition status is also crucial for analysing the problem of food insecurity, in addition to the length of time that people have been experiencing it. This knowledge is useful in determining the type, scope, and urgency of the support that affected demographic groups require.

Measuring of Food Security

Acute food insecurity is a term used by analysts and professionals in the field of food security to denote a dire and potentially fatal scenario. When classifying the countries with food insecurity, the global hunger index utilizes phrases like "very frightening," "alarming," "severe," "moderate," and "low." The global food security index divides the globe's nations into four categories: best performers, good performers, moderate performers, and nations needing improvement.

Food security experts have created many "scales" or "phases" to "grade" or "classify" food security using various indicators, "cut-off points," and "benchmarks." Brief descriptions of the global hunger index (GHI) and global food security index are provided here so that you can learn more about how food security is measured (GFSI).

The Global Hunger Index 

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) was created to accurately assess and monitor hunger on a global, national, and regional scale. The GHI, which is calculated annually by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), identifies achievements and failures in the fight against hunger and offers insights into its causes. The GHI seeks to inspire activities to end hunger by increasing knowledge of regional and national variations in hunger.

The Global Food Security Index

The Economist Intelligence Unit created the Global Food Security Index, and DuPont is the index's sponsor.

Using the definition adapted from the 1996 World Food Summit, “food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”,  In a set of 113 countries, the Global Food Security Index takes into account the fundamental concerns of cost, availability, and quality. The index measures various factors influencing food security in both emerging and wealthy nations. It is a dynamic quantitative and qualitative scoring model built from 28 distinctive indicators. Through the categories of affordability, availability, quality, and safety, the study's ultimate objective is to determine which nations are most and least vulnerable to food insecurity.

While many organizations around the world are interested in food security research, this initiative stands out for a number of reasons. This index is the first to completely analyze food security across the three internationally recognized aspects. In addition, the study explores the underlying causes of food insecurity in addition to hunger. Last but not least, the EIU has developed a number of distinctive qualitative indicators, many of which are tied to government policy, to capture food security determinants that are not currently included in any global dataset.

Concepts related to Food security

Food insecurity is intimately tied to the notions of hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. Understanding these ideas is crucial since establishing food security can help reduce hunger, poverty, and malnutrition. Understanding these connections can also help to clarify how programs to reduce poverty and fight hunger can help to increase food security.


Most people think of hunger as an unpleasant or painful food brought on by not eating enough to meet their energy needs. Hunger is referred to as food deprivation in scientific terms. Hunger and food insecurity are two distinct but linked concepts. Simply said, all people who are food insecure are also hungry. However, there are other causes of food insecurity, such as those resulting from inadequate intake of micronutrients, therefore not all persons who are food insecure are also hungry.


Malnutrition and food insecurity are separate but connected concepts. Deficits, excesses, or imbalances in the consumption of macro- and/or micronutrients cause malnutrition. In contrast to overnutrition, the vast majority of malnourished people in the poor world experience undernutrition (a lack of proteins, carbs, and fats as well as vitamins and minerals) (an excess of certain food components such as saturated fats and added sugars in combination with low levels of physical activity, normally resulting in obesity). The quantity and quality of food consumed, as well as the body's capacity to use them, determine nutritional status. Therefore, malnutrition may be a result of food insecurity or it may have nothing to do with food, such as poor child care practices, a lack of health facilities, or an unpleasant environment.


Poverty and food insecurity are two issues that are closely intertwined. Any attempt to categorize, quantify, or combat them must expressly take into consideration how they are related. The way that poverty is typically regarded has evolved, just as the idea of food security.

A current and widely used definition of poverty is that: “Poverty encompasses different dimensions of deprivation that relate to human capabilities including consumption and food security, health, education, rights, voice, security, dignity and decent work.” (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – OECD) 

We can see from this description that poverty is thought to have a variety of characteristics. It is not solely defined in economic terms, but also contains a number of non-income elements that work in concert with and support one another. The connection between food and poverty is intricate and resembles a vicious circle: Hunger clearly has a connection to poverty, but inadequate nutrition is also a root cause of poverty. Hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition make it difficult for people to work, learn, and take care of their families, which keeps them in poverty. People who are constantly hungry might not be able to accumulate the resources they need to escape poverty.

It is argued that a strategy for attacking poverty in conjunction with policies to ensure food security offers the best hope of swiftly reducing mass poverty and hunger. This provides the justification for maintaining the focus on hunger reduction and food security in strategies and policies. Specific action to fight hunger and malnutrition are needed, in conjunction with other anti-poverty measures, to most effectively tackle both.


Food security is a multifaceted idea. The greater issue of food security has numerous facets. When everyone, at all times, has physical and financial access to enough safe and nourishing food that satisfies their dietary needs and food choices for an active and healthy life, then there is food security.
There are four main dimensions of food security:
  1. Physical availability of food 
  2. Economic and physical access to food 
  3. Adequate food utilization 
  4. Stability of the other three dimensions over time
There are numerous sorts of food insecurity, depending on their nature. Food security experts have distinguished two main categories of food insecurity based on duration:
  1. Chronic food insecurity
  2.  Transitory food insecurity
Additionally, there are significant variations in how long and how severely people experience food insecurity. When formulating objectives for food security policies and programs, choosing long-term investments, and assessing available choices for reacting to food emergencies, it's critical to understand the various aspects of food security.

There are two important initiatives to measure the food insecurity –
  1. The global hunger index (GHI) and 
  2. The global food security index (GFSI). 
Hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition make it difficult for people to work, learn, and take care of their families, which keeps them in poverty. People who are constantly hungry might not be able to accumulate the resources they need to lift themselves out of poverty.


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