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What is food security?

The COVID-19 pandemic has put the term “food security” into the minds of millions of people around the world.

Broken global supply chains and rising unemployment have forced millions of people around the world into a struggle to put food on the table.

Even before the pandemic, food security was one of the biggest and most complex problems in the world. So, what does it mean?

Essentially, food security is the idea that everyone has easy access to the food they need to survive and thrive.

That idea may seem straightforward, but the definition has evolved since it was first introduced at the World Food Conference in 1974.

At that time, the focus was on the availability of food. Over time we have learned that availability is not the only factor to consider. Famines can occur even when food is widely available.

The United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security (CFS) now defines food security as existing “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.”

What determines food security?

Sometimes the reasons for food insecurity are fairly straightforward. Long-running droughts that affect food production can lead to a scarcity of food, affecting anybody relying on that source of nutrition.

In other cases, like the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more complex. Even though the plants and animals people consume are not directly affected by the virus, job losses, travel restrictions and lockdowns have made it much harder for people to get the food they need.

In 2020, the CFS identified six key factors that determine food security:


There needs to be enough food available so as people can satisfy their dietary needs. For food security to exist this food must not be contaminated and it has to be something the people in that culture are willing to eat.


Even when food is available, it is not always accessible to all people. Some people may not be able to afford food without compromising other basic needs. This makes them food insecure. They must also be able to access the food without putting themselves in harm’s way.

Social status can also play a role in food security.

Given some people’s status within society their access to culturally appropriate, nutritious food is far less than others.


Sometimes people cannot access the nutritional benefits from food because they do not have access to clean water, sanitation, healthcare preventing them from making the most of the nutrients they consume. For example, having access to clean water sources enables people to prepare and cook food safely.


Sudden shocks in the form of natural disasters, conflict, political instability, unemployment, and rising food prices can affect food security. In the context of these shocks, even if people have enough food today, they may be food insecure tomorrow given the dramatic changes that these shocks can entail, particularly for those who are considered most vulnerable.


People need to have a say in how their food is harvested, processed and distributed, as well as a choice in what they eat and produce. People who are historically and currently disadvantaged are more likely to be food insecure.

Why is food security such a big issue

Food security has been a global issue for decades, and it will be a priority for decades to come.

A growing population, higher levels of meat consumption, climate change, water shortages and rising food prices are just some of the pressures facing food security worldwide.

With the world’s population expected to reach 9 billion in 2050 and a changing climate putting even more pressure on vulnerable families, food security is an issue that is here to stay.

How you can help

ChildFund’s programs in more than 60 countries address food security head on by partnering with communities to develop sustainable solutions.

Donate to ChildFund today to help create a secure future for children.

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