The necessary link between food security and sustainability

The necessary link between food security and sustainability

Without a shift to a more sustainable world, food security may be impossible to achieve. Hunger, a worldwide epidemic is only going to get worse without organized intervention. Can we turn this ship around?

Original Paper:
Berry, Elliot M., et al. "Food security and sustainability: can one exist without the other?" Public Health Nutrition18(13), (2015): 2293-2302. DOI:

Threats to global food security present a challenge that most agree is only getting worse. The possibility of achieving a food secure world without sustainable development is highly debated in policy and academia. A recently published article in the journal of Public Health Nutrition explores this notion along with the evolution of food security from the 1970s to present day. In an analysis of more than 80 articles, the authors posit that one cannot exist without the other. This conclusion sheds light on previously unidentified challenges to food security, such as rural transportation, infrastructure, and even our diets.
The concept of food security has grown over time. In the 1970s the focused was solely on supply due to the extreme instability of agricultural commodity prices. Over time, it expanded to include food access and nutrition, embracing the critical needs of vulnerable populations. By 2001, the definition of food security had adopted nutrition and evolved to its most present definition: 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.

The authors argue that regional economic and social conditions are root causes of hunger, and that a transition toward sustainability can help achieve global food security. In 2009, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) worked to ensure that sustainable food systems address factors such as price volatility, climate change, biofuels, and food waste, which iscurrently estimated as up to one-third of produce. This wider scope helps to identify root factors such as diets, water use, and infrastructure that ultimately contribute to food insecurity. For example, 75 percent of Tanzanians are farmers in rural regions where 90 percent of the roads are unpaved. For many countries in the global south, accessibility depends on the transport infrastructure. Less roads means reduced food access. 

A major challenge in achieving sustainable food systems is that food security means different things to different nations. Because of this, world nations have yet to agree on a set of objective multinational indicators. To overcome this barrier, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), along with the International Fund for Agriculture Development and the World Food Programme, have been working on a suite of universal food security indicators. Their aspirations are to develop a set of gages that transcend all the dimensions of food security. With the addition of environmental and sustainability factors, the hope is to create the long-term conditions for a food secure future.    
In this process, FAO also identified relationships between the collective actions of household food consumption and how individual dietary trends drive food production. FAO illustrates how water, carbon, and nitrogen footprints are attached to our food. For example, the distance food has to travel to get to consumers' plates or the amount of water required to cultivate it. The authors recognize the impacts that our diets have on the environment and argue for more responsible consumption.
Defined in 2010, sustainable diets are low in environmental impact. They contribute to food and nutritional security while reducing intergenerational health impairments. When adopting a sustainable diet, people are made aware of plate portions and their direct correlation to food waste. Consumption trends can increase pressures on land, water, and genetic resources. To take up a sustainable diet is both protective and respectful to biodiversity and ecosystems by optimizing natural and human resources.
The authors' primary argument is that sustainability needs to be an integral part of food security planning. They infer that sustainable improvements in food security would require a radical transformation in society's approach to the environment, renewable energy sources, population growth, agricultural research, distribution of rights, and entitlements. It is a reasonable conjecture that large-scale population displacement is a possibility in the near future. Climate change is the worst threat to food security and the projections are devastating. Soon, our agricultural practices may not be able to meet the world's demand for food. The absence of sustainability measures today implies a social and moral responsibility from governance, policy makers, farmers, and consumers to do their part in combating world hunger.

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