One of the most common misconceptions about the challenges in food security (the term used to describe getting people consistent access to the food they need), is that it exists due to a lack of food. That’s just not true. In fact, the world already produces more than one and a half times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. So what gives?
First, it’s important to understand that being food insecure isn’t just about lacking enough food to put on the table. It’s also about lacking access to diverse nutrient-dense foods like fresh produce. In this way, some people who are obese can actually be considered food insecure if the food they consume isn’t nutritious.
Here’s a rundown of the factors leading to food insecurity.
1) The most obvious is that people can’t afford nutritious food. While it’s up to governments to ensure that healthy, affordable food is available at all times, addressing the root causes of inequality will also go a long way towards empowering people to earn higher incomes.
2) Another barrier that stands in the way of food security is a lack of access. Around the world, people can find themselves in one of two dangerous situations: they live in areas so remote that there are limited options nearby, or they live in food deserts (urban neighborhoods or towns that lack ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.) When the latter is true, families end up buying their food from convenience stores (think 7-11) and fast food chains- both which are filled with unhealthy, processed food.
3) Distribution can be just as much of a challenge when you consider all of the things that can go wrong between food leaving its point of production to its point of sale. In the developing world, many of the roads are poorly maintained and there are few high-quality railways to transport goods to a centralized market. Imagine a one-lane dirt road in the middle of a heavy rainstorm. If a truck is delayed and it lacks adequate temperature control, much of the food could go bad before arriving at its destination. That’s a problem for the farmer, and the consumer.
4) As the planet has grown warmer and prone to more extreme weather events, small-scale farmers are paying the price. Droughts and heavy rainfall affect crop yields, and poor farmers can’t bounce back the same way that large agribusiness can. This affects consumers as well, who end up paying more when food becomes scarce. To protect farmers and consumers, world leaders and governments need to work with local farmers to fix the existing systems that leave small-scale farmers vulnerable.
5) Conflict and political instability have the power to wreak havoc on already fragile systems by interrupting distribution and isolating people. Food aid can help, but it must be done the right way- with consideration of what the local people eat, and with the intention of minimizing dependence on foreign aid.
6) Lastly, too many small-scale farmers aren’t empowered to reach their full potential- especially women. In many countries, laws exist that prevent women from inheriting the land they’ve spent their entire lives working on when their fathers or husbands pass. Similarly, women are often prevented from purchasing land, and prevented from selling their food at the market. By empowering women, more families will have the opportunity to thrive, especially since women invest more of their income in their families than men.
Furthermore, men and women alike need access to education to learn the most effective ways to grow and sell food, and they need the resources to implement the strategies they’ve learned. Without these changes, small-scale farmers are missing out on a tremendous opportunity to not only lift their families out of poverty but also to provide their communities with delicious, healthy food.
While it might feel daunting to consider how many barriers stand in the way of food security, the silver lining is that it isn’t some mystery. Experts understand what needs to be done to feed the world’s people- it’s just a matter of building support and implementing proven strategies.
If you’re ready to use your voice to ensure all people have access to healthy affordable food, sign the petition in Take Action Now to tell the US Congress to rethink the way it does food aid.