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Food security

Although the agribusiness manages to produce large quantities of food, its availability in some countries is often hampered by a problem of access rather than by a lack of supplies. Until the 1970s, food security was seen as being dependent on the market and on the balance between supply and demand. It has since been redefined following the observation that those who are hungry are unable to produce or buy their food, even in regions of surplus production.
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© Shutterstock / Charles Brutlag - Grain storage

How the concept of food security has evolved

Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights laid out the principle of the right to food in 1948, the term ‘food security’ only emerged in the 1970s. Against a backdrop of crises (famines in India, Bangladesh and the Sahel region) and a sharp rise in prices on international markets, in 1974, the FAO defined food security as the capacity on a national level to have “availability at all times of adequate world food supplies of basic foodstuffs to sustain a steady expansion of food consumption and to offset fluctuations in production and prices.”

Thereafter, the concept of food security evolved and expanded considerably and was redefined at the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome. To lead an active, healthy life, everyone must have access not just to adequate food, but to food which is safe and nutritious, and which meets their food preferences.

The concept of security in terms of quantity was thus joined by security in terms of quality. Although these two notions complement one another, analysts sometimes draw a distinction between them, talking of quantitative food security on the one hand and food safety, or qualitative security on the other.

Different approaches

Several disparate theories gradually formed and influenced the concept of food security. The age-old fear of being unable to feed a growing population recurs to this day. Until the late 1970s, food insecurity was explained by an imbalance between supply and demand. In the 1960s, in order to feed a population in full growth, emphasis was placed on the intensification of agricultural production. At the same time, industrial production intensified.

However, by the late 1970s, this concept proved its limitations and began to be questioned. Although there were sufficient food resources, poverty still prevented some people from accessing them. This finding remains valid today, as, in theory, current global production would appear sufficient to feed the world.

Food security became part of a complex socio-economic context, and linked to the fight against poverty. Economic growth proved essential. The focus turned to disparity and to the family and the individual. Everyone should have access to the food they need, by either using the land or disposing of sufficient spending power. Measures must be taken to upgrade family farms, and improve infrastructure, training and social welfare systems.

For some economists, food security is linked to the liberalisation of markets and to international trade. Some countries, which cannot ensure competitive food production but which have other resources at their disposal, would benefit from trading these resources for food on the international market. However, such dependency may prove burdensome if there are price fluctuations or political tension, for example.

Finally, nutritionists see a worldwide problem of malnutrition, which can only be solved if food is in adequate supply and also nutritious and safe. Food preferences also have their part to play, reflecting the hedonic, social and cultural aspects of the act of eating.