Food Security


Food security means that all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life (United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security). Food security is therefore defined on physical, economic, social and cultural levels and can be jeopardised by the factor of particular kind or by all of them. Food security can be impacted by food availability (referring to quantity of food), food access (acquirance of appropriate and nutritious food, which becomes accessible to all groups and individuals, utilization of food (which refers to non-food elements of food environment, e.g. food system infrastructure), and stability (which refers to risk of losing the access to food) (FAO 2006). Those four (availability, access, utilization and stability) are considered the pillars of food security.  

Food security is a wider concept than e.g. hunger defined as physical sensation, poverty, which may compromise food security but not always determines it, or malnutrition, being the bodily deprivation of nutrients needed for healthy bodily functioning.  

The concept of food security changed its scope over the last fifty years. In seventies (World Food Conference in 1974) it was understood mainly as a general food supply, food consumption and stability of food prices. In eighties the food access of all people at all times have been brought to the fore, underlining the importance of individual and family perspective. In the research and food policies food insecurity has been nuanced along the lines of both temporal lack of food and social inequalities and personal entitlements on food access. Hence, the food security concept gained its prevailing social-political aspect, for example questioning the global order, the dominance of global North’ economic interest and policy perspective, and the socio-political limitations in vulnerable groups’ access to food in both rural and urban context (Carolan 2012, Kotze 2003), as well as the key role of women and their access to food-related resources (Quisumbing et al. 1996). In recent years also the ethical-political aspects of food security have been widely discussed, e.g. in the Right to Food perspective, food sovereignty, food citizenship.  

Food (in)security can be classified according to a level (individual – household – regional/national - global), to a temporal dimension (chronic – transitory – seasonal food insecurity) or to its scale (mild – moderate - severe). Mild food insecurity means worrying about ability to obtain food, moderate food insecurity means reducing quality, variety and quantity of food, severe food insecurity reflects in all the above and hunger.  

Food security is affected and challenged by changing climate, growing global population, rising food prices, and environmental stressors. The consequences of economic and political crises have particularly significant impact on food safety.  

Food Safety conditions are part of most Sustainability Goals, especially and directly addressed by Ending Poverty (SG1), End Hunger (SG2) and Ensure Healthy Lives (SG3).  

The global prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity (measured using the Food Insecurity Experience Scale) has been on the rise since 2014. It rapidly increased in 2020, the year of COVID-19 pandemic, making 2030 goal of ending hunger difficult to meet. Nearly one in three people in the world (2.37 billion) did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of almost 320 million people in just one year. In 2020 almost 12 percent of the global population (928 million people) was severely food insecure (UNICEF 2021). 

World Food Programme Hunger Map is another tool to estimate the scope of insecurity within particular regions ( The countries with the highest levels of hunger are in Africa (Chad, Liberia, Madagascar, Congo, Mozambique, Tanzania), South America (Venezuela) and Asia (Afghanistan), with many of them being the arena of prolonged political instability: miliary conflicts, humanitarian and refugee crisis. Also, in middle- and high-income countries food insecurity impacts the well-being of vulnerable groups and individuals, facing food insufficiency for economic reasons and with limited access to healthy food (see: food deserts).  

Carolan, M. . (2012) “The Food and Human Security Index: Rethinking Food Security and ‘Growth’ ”, The International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food. Paris, France, 19(2), pp. 176–200. doi: 10.48416/ijsaf.v19i2.223. 

Food Policy Brief (2006). Food security. FAO Agriculture and Development Economics Division, 2. 

Kotzé, D. A. (2003). Role of women in the household economy, food production and food security: Policy guidelines. Outlook on Agriculture, 32(2), 111-121. 

Maxwell, S. (1996). Food security: a post-modern perspective. Food policy, 21(2), 155-170. 

Quisumbing, A. R., Brown, L. R., Feldstein, H. S., Haddad, L., & Peña, C. (1996). Women: The key to food security. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 17(1), 1-2. 

UNICEF. (2021). The state of food security and nutrition in the world 2021.