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Food Security: The Concept

The concept of food security originated in the early 1970s as the outcome of the global food crisis (extreme instability of agricultural commodity prices), as a result of the unfavorable global economic situation (Berry et al. 2015; Clay 2002). Food security historically referred to the overall regional, national, or even global food supply and its shortfalls when compared to dietary requirements. Recently it has been applied at a local, household, or individual level despite the overall adequacy of supply (Maxwell, D 1996a; Pinstrup-Andersen 2009). The concept of food security has evolved and changed during the decades and it has been gradually enlarged (Berry et al. 2015; Solaroli 2014). Initially, it mainly focused on the availability of food and on food production; then it was expanded to explicitly include the accessibility of food (physical, economic, and sociocultural), its utilization, and lastly to encompass the stability of these dimensions (Berry et al. 2015).

Due to its fundamental importance and its multidisciplinary and multisectoral nature, food security as a concept has various definitions and operationalizations. Many academic disciplines use the concept, such as agriculture, anthropology, economics, nutrition, public policy, and sociology, as do numerous national and international governmental and nongovernmental agencies (Jones et al. 2013). Thus, Maxwell, D (1996b, 5) refers to food security as a “cornucopia of ideas”. The most widely accepted and used definition is the one offered by the World Food Summit in 1996: “Food security 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” (FAO-World Food Summit 1996). This definition highlights the four following pillars (CFS 2012; Solaroli 2014):

  • Food availability: The availability of adequate quantities of food supplied via domestic production or imports (inclusive food aid).
  • Food access: The market accessibility and affordability of food.
  • Utilization: Utilization of food through adequate diet, clean water, sanitation, and health care.
  • Stability: To be food-secure, individuals must have access to adequate food at all times. They should not risk losing access to food as a consequence of sudden shocks (e.g., an economic or climatic crisis) or cyclical events (Solaroli 2014).

In order for food security to occur, people must have access to suitable food at any time. Extreme situations such as economic crises, climate change, or cyclical events should not affect the accessibility of adequate food (Solaroli 2014).

Literature shows that many authors have tried to contribute to the measurement of food security (i.e., Clay 2002; Headey and Ecker 2013; Keenan et al. 2001; Maxwell et al. 1999; Santeramo 2015; Sen 1981); however, its multidimensional nature and complexity make it difficult to measure and assess.

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