Thursday, 14 May 2015

Guest Post: What Does the Word Food Security Mean to You?

Today's guest post comes from Sam, One of the Directors of TRJFPB. She wonders, what does the word food security mean to you? 

What does the word Food Security mean to you? When asked what I do for a living – replying “Oh I’m a researcher – I’m interested in all things Food Security” often gives people the impression that I spend my days, clipboard in hand checking that there are no flies swarming around the kitchens of your local take out. Luckily, that’s not true.

According to the FAO food security is a state in which “all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.  Early approaches to the conceptualization of food security focused on food availability (think Band Aid circa 1985). However, a growing realization of the need to recognize the complex, multidimensional nature of food security, led to the identification of the ‘four pillars of food security’.

Now, scientists love a good framework. The four pillars, namely food availability, access, utilization and stability are considered by many to underpin Food Security.  Availability refers to the amount of calories that are produced through agriculture and are readily available in the system. Access is the ability of individuals to get hold of those calories, while utilization considers the capacity for individuals to digest said calories and the nutritional quality of the food. Finally, stability dictates that in order for individuals to be truly food secure, availability, access and utilisation have to be stable over time; i.e. resilient to environmental, political and social shocks.

Source: Sam Dobbie
To us, achieving food security might seem like quite a simple thing. However, on a global level, between 2011-13 a total of 842 million, or 1 in 8 people were considered to be food insecure.  The situation is particularly bad in Sub-Saharan Africa. My research focuses upon rural households within Malawi: a small, landlocked country within Sub-Saharan Africa, home to roughly 15 million people. At the moment, complex social, ecological and political factors act to undermine the realization of food security. The majority of people rely upon small-scale agriculture for their livelihoods. Population growth is driving increasingly small plot sizes. This, combined with large amounts of soil degradation and a continued reliance upon rain-fed agriculture is leaving households vulnerable to climatic shocks. On top of which there are a myriad of social and political issues that only act to propel food insecurity further. Recently, the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee Report, suggested the number of food insecure people has increased from 0.2 million in 2011 to 1.6 million in 2012.

But … it would be wrong to think that food security is just an issue in rural parts of the developing world. Here in the UK, the number of households accessing Trussell Trust food banks rose from 25,899 in 2008-09 to 913,138 in 2013-14. 

So the issue is complex and worrying, but what are the solutions? Making the food system more efficient would be a good start. A recent report by the New Economics Foundations (NEF) suggests it takes 8 calories of energy to make just 1 calorie of food in the UK.  Other solutions include: tackling food waste, eating less meat and dairy, supporting smallholder farmers, improving infrastructure, and better education, to name but a few.

Source: Thom Novi
Where do you come into it? As scientists, sometimes we are lucky enough to have the data and the knowledge to understand complex problems such as food security. But too often this knowledge is confined to scientific journal articles, which few people actually read. In order to tackle food security, everyone needs to be on board – not just scientists, but farmers, chefs, policy makers, government officials, NGO’s, consumers and most of all - you! 

To check out more of our guest blog posts click here.  To help us bring a 7-day waste food cafe to Brighton, head over to our Crowdfunder page here. 

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