Coming up with the most accurate and relevant technical definition of food security involved several iterations and contemplations.
The World Food Conference held in 1974 defined it with an emphasis on supply. Attendees agreed that the term should be defined as the “availability at all times of adequate, nourishing, diverse, balanced and moderate world food supplies of basic foodstuffs to sustain a steady expansion of food consumption and to offset fluctuations in production and prices.
Leaders factored in demand and access to the definition of food security. The first World Food Summit held in 1996 later defined as a situation that “exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
The Committee on World Food Security of the United Nation has upheld the latter definition because it captures the essence of what food security should be.
A Deeper Look at the Definition: The 6 Pillars of Food Security
Note that understanding food security further necessitates taking a look at its six pillars. The World Health Organization initially identified three pillars: availability, access, and use and misuse. The World Summit on Food Security held in 2009 proposed four pillars instead. These are availability, access, utilization, and stability.
A High-Level Panel of Experts for the Committee on World Food Security recommended in 2020 agency and sustainability to the pillars of food security. The six pillars of food security now include the following: availability, access, utilization, stability, agency, and sustainability. Below are the specific definitions of each pillar:
1. Availability: Pertains to the supply of food as determined and influenced by processes and mechanisms in production, distribution, and exchange.
2. Access: Refers to the affordability of food products in consideration of the preferences of individuals and households or the overall community.
3. Utilization: Corresponds to the availability of food that is both safe and enough to meet the physiological requirements of each individual.
4. Stability: Represents the ability of individuals, households, or their communities to secure food for current and future consumption.
5. Agency: Denotes the capability to make individual or collective decisions about what food to produce, how it is produced, and what food to consume.
6. Sustainability: Encompasses the ability of food systems to sustain food security without compromising the needs of the future generation.
The six pillars identified and described above collectively provide a holistic definition of food security. These pillars are also encapsulated in the definition postulated by the United Nations Committee on World Food Security, which defines food security as a situation that “exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
It is also important to underscore the fact that the six pillars of food security are also considered elements and dimensions. They also serve as guide for understanding what it means to be food secure, as well as for understanding the difference between food insecurity, food scarcity, and food shortage.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Food and Agriculture Organization. 2009. “Declaration of the World Summit on Food Security,” World Summit on Food Security, Rome, 16-18 November 2009. Available via PDF
- High Level Panel of Experts for the Committee on World Food Security. 2020. Food Security and Nutrition: Building a Global Narrative Towards 2030. High Level Panel of Experts for the Committee on World Food Security. Available via PDF
- International Food Policy Research Institute. n.d. “Food Security.” International Food Policy Research Institute. Available online