7.2 What is food security and how is it defined?

7.2.1 Defining food security

The definition of food security has evolved over time.

  • Achieving food security (incorporating good nutrition) is not simply a question of producing enough food.
  • Food security is an outcome of four key conditions that need to be in place: food needs to be available, accessible, utilisable – and these three factors have to be stable over time.
  • Nutrition-related health outcomes are impacted by multiple social, economic, cultural and political factors.

The most recent well-accepted definition from the FAO is that:

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

7.2.2 Influences on food security

The connection between food and health is complex, and is influenced by availability of nutritious food, accessibility and affordability of food, and other socio-economic and health factors. Food security therefore plays an important part in nutrition outcomes.

Food security is an outcome of many factors, not just supply

Food security is influenced by adequate supply, food accessibility (physically and also in terms of affordability) and utilisation. For example the wherewithal for food preparation (cooking fuel) or storage needs to be in place. Non nutritional considerations (such as prevalence of illnesses such as diarrhoea) also influence the extent to which the body can absorb and use the nutrients in the food.

Indicators have been produced to allow policy makers to assess whether a population is food secure or not, relating to the four factors: availability, accessibility, utilisation and stability. For more about these indicators, see the this FAO data.