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FOOD SECURITY

The next pillar of food security is access to food— economic and physical. This pillar is critical at the na- tional and household levels. At the national level, if a country does not produce all the food it consumes then it must import food. A number of countries are too poor to purchase food on the international market and thus have a structural food deficit. International food aid must make up the shortfall. At local and household levels the market distribution system needs to be adequate to en- sure that food is available at all marketplaces.

At the household level, sufficient levels of food must be grown, or purchased at the marketplace, or some com- bination of the two. Thus poverty plays the major role in food insecurity. Generally, if there is too little food it is the result of inadequate food demand driven by poverty rather than of market failure.

The third pillar of food security is food utilization, important at the household level and critical at the in- dividual level, which brings together both the quality of the food and other complementary factors such as safe water that underpin good nutritional outcomes. This is the pillar that ensures the nutritional outcomes of every individual in the household are adequate. This is a very complex pillar. First, the household must be able to ob- tain, through production or purchase, the right types of food for all household members. Inadequate dietary di- versity, which results in mineral and micronutrient de- ficiencies, increases the incidence of sickness, which sets up a vicious cycle of malnutrition. Second, unsafe water and poor sanitation increase the likelihood of frequent illness, which affects nutritional outcomes. Third, moth- ers need to have sufficient time to care for small chil- dren who require frequent feeding. In the developing world many poor mothers face excessive time burdens given the absence of electricity, or running water, or labor-saving food preparation devices. Many hours can be spent fetching firewood and water, growing food, pro- cessing it, and finally cooking it. Fourth, food must be available to all household members according to their needs. In some areas of the world, notably south Asia, girls and women in poor households often receive less food than they need even though the household has suf- ficient amounts. They are also less likely to receive health care when they become sick. In 1995 more than 6 mil- lion children died of causes associated with being un- derweight. Today the growth of one in three children five years old and younger is stunted, that is, they are too short for their age, a stark testimony to a life of too little food and too much sickness.

International concerns with regard to food security have shifted in the last three decades. In the 1960s and early 1970s, with rising world grain prices, fears arose that the world would run out of food in the future as its population grew ever larger. Major improvements in agricultural productivity, particularly the impact of the “Green Revolution” on wheat and rice, have removed that fear despite a population that increased from 1.6 bil-

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FOOD AND CULTURE

FAMINES

Famines, the worst manifestations of food insecurity, occur in specific areas when widespread and extreme hunger result in drastic weight loss and a rising death rate. They generally occur in rural areas and are the result of a complex interaction of factors such as drought, civil unrest, floods, and economic disrup- tions. Today, famines are rare and should be confined to the past. There is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone. Global information systems enable policymakers to predict when famine is likely, either as a result of crop failure due to drought or pest or because of civil unrest and war. Famine in today’s world is testimony to policy failure, not the absence of food. Food insecurity, on the other hand, is a fact of life today for many people. Today, 815 million peo- ple go to bed at night not knowing whether they will have enough to eat tomorrow. Each year, more than 6 million children do not live to see their fifth birth- day. They die silently of causes associated with hunger and malnutrition, absent the widespread media atten- tion that famine attracts.

lion in 1900 to 6.1 billion by 2000. Today the expecta- tion is that new advances in agriculture, particularly in biotechnology, will increase agricultural productivity suf- ficiently to feed a world population expected to stabilize at about 9.3 billion. This expectation, together with abundant global grain supplies at record low prices, has removed the specter of food insecurity from the agenda of most policymakers.

Today, the focus of the international development community and many policymakers is on the AIDS cri- sis in Africa, which is finally attracting enormous atten- tion and with it the promise of more economic assistance. AIDS kills about 6 million people a minute, a tragedy by any definition. Yet this tragedy pales in significance when compared to the 12 million people a day who die of causes related to malnutrition, the ultimate outcome of food insecurity. The 1996 World Food Summit called for the number of undernourished people in the world to be cut in half by 2015—a not insurmountable goal given current world food supplies and their predicted trend. Reducing hunger and food insecurity today is a matter of political will. However, past performance in- dicates the goal is unlikely to be met. Despite falling food prices during the 1990s, the number of undernourished fell by only 40 million, with the average rate of decline slowing to just 6 million per year by the end of the

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