Food Security is different from self-sufficiency


It is widely accepted that food security is one of the major challenges that countries across the world are facing. Yet, the debate on what indicators should define the state of food security continues.

As reported by the World Bulletin on 28 May 2014, The Ethiopian government recently announced that Ethiopia which has long been experiencing drought and famine had managed to achieve food security at a national level.

Furthermore, the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn explained:

“At a household level, we will continue efforts to attain self-sufficiency,”

The statement has emphasised Ethiopia’s increased confidence in becoming part of global movements to promote food security. In mid-May 2014, Ethiopia hosted a global conference “Building Resilience for Food and Nutrition Security,” which brought together at least 140 speakers and 800 participants from developing countries to address the impacts of climate change, natural disasters and humanitarian crises, such as civil war, on food security (Source: Jakarta Globe).

Whilst further investigation should be done to understand what this means for Ethiopia, this statement brings back one issue that does not seem to be getting enough attention from policy makers, whether food security is different from self-sufficiency.

The definition of Food Security as defined by the FAO:

“Food security is a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”

Whilst being self-sufficient in food may mean adequate supply of food, there is no guarantee that all people have access to affordable and nutritious food. Quite often, the self-sufficiency target or programs to promote self-sufficiency are achieved at the expense of rising food prices.

Global Food Studies Research Fellow Dr Risti Permani wrote an article on this topic, “Food security and common goals“. She argued:

“The problem is countries around the world have not yet reached an agreement on other goals of food security.”

There have been some recent efforts to conceptualise comprehensive measures of food security.

The Global Food Security Index, designed and constructed by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by DuPont, considers the core issues of affordability, availability, and quality across a set of 109 countries. The index is a dynamic quantitative and qualitative benchmarking model, constructed from 28 unique indicators.

The 2014 Overview suggests that overall the global food security index improved. This is aligned with the FAO’s report saying that the number of people suffering from chronic hunger dropped from 868m to 842m over the past year.

Whilst the process of constructing the index seems to be rigorous, the challenge is to get support from policy makers. It may be important to learn how Millenium Development Goals have received such an acknowledgement.

Setting global goals may not ensure that the world achieves food security. But at least each country evaluates its own country and compares with other countries to get an improved understanding of what worked and did not work.


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