Understanding Food Security

The need for food security has received increased attention from national governments and international organizations. Its importance is underscored by the fact it aligns closely with the first two of the XX Sustainable Development Goals. Food security is also a foundation for good health, national security, and development.

Apart from these obvious benefits, achieving food security has become a global imperative to stem the growth of hunger and ill-health in several parts of the world and with it, a growing incidence of poverty, hunger and malnutrition. Apart from its direct link to poor health and poverty, food insecurity has been implicated as contributing to civil unrest in some parts of the developing world.

Four conditions are needed to ensuring food security: food availability, access to food, the essential role of nutrition and stability.

  • Food availability includes the supply side of food security and is dependent on national stock levels, the level of food production, imports, and food assistance or food aid. An adequate supply of food at the national or international level does not in itself guarantee household level food security.
  • Access to food encompasses either a retrievable harvest or sufficient income, and transportation resources that provide food at affordable prices as well as the means to obtain appropriate foods with sufficient energy and essential nutrients.
  • Nutrition and stability are central to achieving food security. It depends on the way the body makes the most of various nutrients in the food. An individual’s ability to consume sufficient energy and nutrient intake requires many things, including access to good drinking water, a hygienic environment, good care and feeding practices to name a few. To ensure food security, it is important that the three factors of food availability, access and utilization are stable over time and resilient to shocks and stresses, such as climate changes, political instability, or sharp food price increases.

Drivers of Global Food Insecurity

Food security is threatened when disruptive events occur such as sharp drops in food production levels, armed conflict and displacement, demographic challenges, drought, flooding or environmental degradation. Also, pests and disease outbreaks have the ability to stifle food availability and access. For instance, the locust and army worm outbreaks in the Sahel and other part of the developing world have resulted in significant food shortages. Also, the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa contributed to stymied food production, market access and reduced incomes thereby limiting access to food. Food insecurity also tends to be prevalent in areas of chronic poverty and poverty greatly affects the ability to produce sufficient food.

But food security is also threatened by longer term demographic trends. By 2050, the world population is estimated to rise to 9 billion from 7.5 billion today. Much of this growth will occur in developing countries, especially in the urban areas of  Asia and Africa as migration off the land continues across many regions. Demographers project that by mid-century two-thirds of all global citizens will live in cities. The expected growth of mega and secondary cities have implications for food security, especially in Asia where it is exacerbated by an aging population. The drift toward urban centers is led by predominantly male youth, in search of better opportunities. This shift brings with it demand for urban resources, including land, water and energy. And as cities expand, more arable lands will disappear as they are converted into human settlements to absorb the growth in population.

Gender inequalities still abound in many countries facing food insecurity today. While women play an important role in food production, in many countries formidable cultural barriers prevent their full contribution in the quest to achieve food security. As many as 43% of women are engaged in agriculture in developing countries, yet they are often denied access to credit, basic information, and knowledge of modern production technologies. Even at the household level, women are frequently excluded from decision-making on issues affecting food security such as what to grow and how best to utilize the harvests.

Our Response

CHAD—Nurturing Vegetable Gardens
With funds from USAID’s, Bureau of Populations, Refugees and Migration (PRM), International Medical Corps is providing support for refugees from the Darfur Region to establish vegetable gardens in the Guereda area of Chad. Beneficiaries are assisted to secure arable lands and provided with seed of improved varieties of vegetables. In addition, International Medical Corps provides basic irrigation technologies and equipment, as well as extension support to improve the cultivation of these vegetables. The project complements other nutrition programs by increasing access to diverse varieties of vegetables.

In the Abdi area of Chad, International Medical Corps supports the production of vegetable gardens among women groups thanks to funds provided by European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO). Beneficiaries are selected from mothers of malnourished children enrolled in a nutrition programs for those with moderate acute malnutrition (MAM). In addition to receiving the technical training and other inputs required to ultivate vegetables, the International Medical Corps provides the mothers additional training on how to work in groups, cooking demonstrations, food preservation and health education to ensure a holistic assistance package.

YEMEN—Livestock Replenishment
Livestock make a significant contribution to both livelihoods and food security particularly in the developing world. It is cultural symbol of wealth in some societies as well as an asset that can be liquidated to meet food and other needs in difficult times. As food, livestock is a source of proteins and minerals.

In Yemen, with the support of Gates Foundation, International Medical Corps has provided support to smallholder livestock keepers so they can improve the health of small ruminants. In partnership with the Yemen Veterinary Service, International Medical Corps has undertaken veterinary campaigns to educate herders on improved animal production techniques, undertaken deworming and treatment of diseases. In addition, beneficiaries have been supported with fodder and salt licks to address the micro-nutrient deficiencies in their flock.

Still in Yemen, International Medical Corps with funds from the Gates Foundation, has provided nearly vulnerable 3,000 households with food assistance to enable them meet their food needs. Each household receive a basket of food commodities meant to provide a balanced diet. This activity has been implemented in close partnership with pre-qualified local food vendors. By engaging local food vendors in this activity, International Medical Corps has contributed to restoring market function and activities along the value chains of these food commodities.

In another program, supported by the USAID’s Office of Disaster Assistance, International Medical Corps, provided veterinary support to small livestock producers, while a carefully selected group of households with malnourished children enrolled in Community-based Management of Severe & Moderate Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) programs have been provided with goats to protect household livelihood assets and restore those lost as a result of the protracted war ravaging the country. Beneficiaries also receive trainings on improved techniques suitable for small producers.

These interventions in Yemen have contributed to improving livelihoods while at the same time protecting assets from depletion, especially among small farmers in communities suffering from the impact of the country’s protracted civil war.

NIGERIA–Food Assistance
Food security continues to be at risk in Northeastern Nigeria, particularly Borno State as a result of the crisis induced by the Boko Haram conflict. An estimated 3.5 million displaced people continue to depend on humanitarian assistance to meet their food needs. International Medical Corps has shown leadership in meeting this challenge.

In response to the humanitarian crisis northeastern Nigeria, International Medical Corps has since October 2016, entered into a partnership with the UN World Food Program (WFP) to provide in-kind food assistance consisting of General Food Distributions for about 76,000 IDPs in three camps. The program is also aimed at preventing malnutrition by providing Blanket Supplementary Feeding for over 67,000 beneficiaries made up of children under 5 years and pregnant and lactating women in 33 communities in 5 Local Government Areas (LGAs). As of August 2017, the program had distributed over 11,200MT in food commodities.

With funds from ECHO, International Medical Corps is assisting 1,903 vulnerable households with food vouchers to enable them to receive food from pre-qualified local vendors. This assistance is provided to complement the nutrition activities at Outpatient Therapeutic Feeding (OTP) sites and also to prevent children treated for Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM) from drifting into Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM).

As part of its psychosocial support to women survivors of Gender-Based Violence (GBV), International Medical Corps provides livelihoods support to enable beneficiaries to engage in the making of traditional hats, crotchety and hats. This has contributed to improving incomes and enabled beneficiaries to access some needed household products.

In response to the recent droughts in that country International Medical Corps has provide needed food assistance to food insecure households with malnourished children with funds provided by the Gates Foundation. So far, 15.4MT of local food commodities have been provided to 378 households to meet their urgent food needs and prevent malnutrition.


Food assistance in Borno State, Nigeria.
Providing food assistance to at risk children in Borno State.

Nearly 800 million people suffer from chronic hunger around the world.

As many as two billion people globally suffer from what is termed ‘’the hidden hunger’’- micro-nutrient deficiencies.

By 2050, the world will need to increase agricultural production by at least 60 percent to feed a projected 9 billion people in the world.