Understanding what food security is and why it matters to you

By Drum Digital
20 November 2013

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: no, food security is not about putting a padlock on your fridge or locking the door to the pantry. Food security is a collective term for a process that every single one of us on Planet Earth has a hand in – albeit some more than others. But we all have to eat, and that’s why food security matters.

Consider this: You pop into your local supermarket and you notice a bag of potatoes on special.

You buy it because you assume you’re saving money by buying in bulk, but your household doesn’t really consume that much starch – and before you know it, half that bag has gone bad.

So you shrug, throw it out and never give it another thought. You should. What you have just inadvertently done is contribute to pushing up the price of potatoes because by buying more than we need and wasting it, we’re increasing demand for the product faster than the growth in supply – and that means a higher price for everyone.

Consider something else: In South Africa, we have a great many people living close to – if not already in – absolute poverty. By contributing to spiralling prices, we’re making it more difficult for people to buy anything to eat at all and hunger is one of the single biggest obstacles in the way of development, progress, prosperity and peace in the world. While the concept of food security has evolved significantly since it first entered the world’s economic and political vocabulary, by definition, it exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs (and food preferences) for an active and healthy life. It rests on four pillars: availability, access, utilisation, and stability.

  • Availability refers to the availability of sufficient quantities of food as needed.
  • Access refers to the existence of sufficient resources to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet.
  • Utilisation refers to the consumption of food bases on basic nutrition and care, as well as adequate water and sanitation.
  • Stability refers to the consistent ability to obtain food over time.

So much for the theory. In practice, of course, food security is a very complex sustainable development issue in many parts of the world.

Those in the know claim the global population is heading for serious trouble over the next few decades unless the problems facing food security are attended to and suitably addressed – especially in developing and newly industrialised countries. While there are numerous developing and   industrialising countries spread across the four corners of the globe, more often than not, the international community is turning to Africa.

This is because research has shown that 60% of the Earth’s uncultivated arable land is on our continent.

If recent trends continue, for example, Africa will get to play an increasingly important role in the global economy. By 2040, we will be home to one in five of the planet’s young people, and the size of its labour force will rival China’s.

Yet, right now, we generate only 10% of the world’s agricultural produce. This will have to change, and it will have to change soon.

While scientists and policy---makers all over the world have come up with solid, workable strategies to solve many of the problems facing food security, there are numerous challenges that lie ahead – one of which is the wastage mentioned at the beginning of this article.

In the next article we’ll take a look at how you can stop being part of the problem and become part of the solution. It’s a lot easier than you think.

Incidentally, many of the scientists and policy---makers dealing with food security will soon be in this country to attend the 3rd Global Conference on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Security and Climate Change that is being held from the 3rd to the 5th of December at Emperor’s Palace in Kempton Park.

The conference aims to map the way forward to ensure that our future is safely and securely food-filled.

If you’d like more information, please visit http://afcconference.agric.za or contact Wilfred Alcock on 012 427 9706.

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Think Twice Contributions to Food Security you can make as a consumer

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