Food Security: Challenges, Prospects and Implications

How to reach Food Security? The answer to this question is not easy, and depends on the organizations, companies, institutions and civil society involved and advocating for change. The way of approaching to the Food Security concept can be wide different from one point of view to another, and achieving a world with sustainable and environmentally friendly farming systems, accessible and fair markets for producers and consumers, as well as overcoming hunger and malnutrition, is as complex, dynamic and multidimensional as the poverty issue all around the world.

Additionally, when we look at the needs of each actor involved in food production, commercialization and consumption, a deeper complexity can be observed:

  • While looking for high yields crops, reduced use of land and water and optimization of profits.
  • When trying to obtain livelihoods improvement, increasing income, sustainable production, low price inputs, better access to stable markets, short supply chains, reduced risk, fair output prices and increasing resilience.
  • When working on well-developed and regulated markets, reduced inequity, respected laws and institutional arrangements and frameworks.
  • While trying to establish low and stable prices, constant access and availability of safe foods, to satisfy consumers’ needs.

Each one of these issues is difficult to be satisfied and the way to achieve them can influence the others. For example, looking for profit maximization and productivity increase can lead to unfair conditions for the farmers who do not have enough access to the main assets like land, water and capital. Changes in prices of inputs like agro-chemicals affect the already volatile food market worldwide. The changing climate increases risk and losses of farmers, leading to low-risk but less productive decisions and deepens hunger in areas attacked by famine. Resources become scarcer and maintaining soil fertility and water availability is a matter of concern for more than one, and can be costly, difficult and technologically challenging.

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Short supply chains and locally produced food may be successful on places with enough assets to produce and transport food for small populations, but this is not feasible again in places with water scarcity, low productivity or lack of roads between farms and markets, and sometimes fair output prices are expensive for consumers. Then, consumers cannot have enough access to food if they just trust on short supply chains, so that it is necessary to develop complex supply chains, what increases the cost of food and make it vulnerable to waste, speculation and price crisis. As a consequence of this complexity, public institutions try to regulate markets, being this a difficult task because of pressure from multilateral organizations, large companies or other actors that claim for free and non-regulated markets.

Hence, relationships between actors and the contradictions generated by these relationships make the landscape of Food Security issue even more complex, creating conflict, interdependency, opportunism, challenge and overlapping discourses between the actors of the system.

With this complex landscape, some questions are identified, maybe obvious, but very difficult to answer if seen just from one single point of view:

  • How can the world obtain sustainable agricultural production, consumption and growth?
  • How can we improve the access for assets like water and land in countries with poor soil, droughts risk and low yield seeds, and without generating more pressure on environmental assets use, and reducing the ecological footprint of agricultural activities?
  • How can we empower smallholders in order to create resilience within the peoples? And how can we improve rural areas’ livelihoods to overcome poverty and make them become self-sufficient, without generating more dependency on external agents?
  • How to achieve food security worldwide if there is lack of commitment from actors and institutions, or if they fail to build a common agenda that consider all the voices, in terms of production, pollution, human development and hunger?

These questions cannot be answered successfully if they are addressed with just the current economical and productive model. A change in the paradigms of food production, processing, distribution and commerce is needed in order to achieve Food Security worldwide. Thus, the statement that some advocates have released, “Business as usual are not possible anymore”, makes sense and encourages looking for rational and adequate arrangements between social, environmental, economic and productive issues, and balanced relationships between the actors of food production, distribution, commerce and consumption. The search of solutions implies the formulation and recognition of scales and strategies on the local, national and regional levels, for which it is necessary to understand that in a world of specific local conditions, not a standard solution can be applied.

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In this way, it is necessary to develop new food systems in which solving the problem of hunger is the main issue. For this, an institutional arrangement must be proposed, where the public and the private sectors integrate smallholders and consumers concerns and points of view into the agenda, with an active participation of small scale farmers and consumers’ organizations, as well as representatives of rural and urban areas coming from the “third sector”. Participation of all the actors in the arena of developing a food secure world does not involve only advocating from a point of view, but taking real actions at all levels, something that is forgotten sometimes. Understanding the roles, rights and duties of each actor in the food supply chain is a key for reaching Food Security, with environmental sustainability and poverty relief, getting well-established governance structures. This implies changes in relations of power and the acknowledgement of constituencies and stakeholders along the extended food supply chain.

Hence, Food Security becomes an issue that can be fulfilled only if there is a serious and sustained commitment of governments, companies, farmers and consumers for overcoming hunger and poverty. For this, it is necessary to neglect personal and corporate interests and understand that global Food Security is one of the most important issues in this changing, dynamic, endless world-making process.

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