The Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines food security as “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.”
Food security is built on:
1/ food availability: sufficient quantities of nutritious food are available on a consistent basis.
2/ food access: nutritious food is affordable for all people.
3/ food use: knowledge of basic nutrition and care, as well as adequate water and sanitation, enable all people to use food appropriately to meet their needs.
Food security is a complex sustainability issue. It is about individual health. It is also about the health of the community (socially and economically) and of the environment (no healthy food can be produced reliably over the long term where natural resources are wasted and depleted).
Therefore, food security requires farming practices that not only provide nutritious food in sufficient quantities, but also nurture healthy soils that grow healthy plants in order to nourish healthy human beings and feed healthy animals over the long term. Such farming practices forego chemical inputs, and follow a cycle whereby resources are continuously regenerated (see agroecology). To be truly sustainable, moreover, these farming practices must reward farmers with a comfortable livelihood (in other words, they must be supported by a political and economic ecosystem that enables a positive return on farmers’ investments and work).
Many scientific studies have indicated that such farming practices provide all of these benefits, including sufficient and nutritious food supplies, as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, indicated in his report “Agroecology and the right to food” in March 2011.
The increased volatility of global food prices since 2008 is demonstratingthat food security cannot be built on global trade, contrary to a popular myth spread by the World Trade Organization and private interest groups. For instance, when the Russian crop of wheat failed in 2010, wheat prices exploded around the world. In another example, the recent decision by China to increase its imports of U.S. corn has set off the alarm over the expected surge of the commodity’s global prices.
Even more worrisome is the destruction of local agriculture by cheap (subsidized) imports. Communities or even whole countries that used to be food self-sufficient now depend on food produced outside of their borders, which increases the risk to their food security. This food is grown on land over which they have no sovereignty, in conditions they can’t control. It is also subjected to the risks that are inherent to geopolitics, including the volatility of oil prices. Simultaneously, land-grabs by foreign investors who grow food for exports is also a growing threat for local communities. Poverty and malnutrition, even population displacement coupled with the loss of farming skill and knowledge, typically follow. India, Mexico, South-Koreaare just some examples among many others. Farmers in France and Australia, for instance, have also been calling for an end to unnecessary cheap imports that threaten their livelihood.
Local food systems is where food security is at. They provide communities with better control and oversight over the quantity and quality of the food they produce and consume. They also provide redundancies, so that the impact of one failed crop remains relatively contained.
Many of us wonder: can organic agriculture (roughly understood as a method of farming that does not use synthetic and chemical inputs, nor relies on biotechnology to increase yields; but rather focuses on supporting Nature to do what it does best) nourish the planet? And who can afford it anyway? Hopefully, what you’ve just read has already provided you with some elements for an answer: yes, organic agriculture delivers on quality, diversity AND quantity; and yes, we can afford it provided the system is designed to support it.
Here is a more pertinent question however: can industrial agriculture nourish us now? Will it nourish our children? Can we afford to stay the course we’re on? The speed of the environmental and public health degradations caused by the current global food system should give us pause as to what may befall us if we don’t change paths. The IAASTD Report clearly spelled it out: “business as usual is not an option. Already, the global food system produces almost double the amount of food that is actually needed, while one billion hungry people coexist on this planet with an equal number of obese people, not to mention over 300 millions with diabetes 2 (see UNEP Green Economy Report, Agriculture chapter, 2011.)