Factors affecting food security

Global food supply is not even. Some places produce more food than others.

Physical factors (such as climate, soil quality and gradient) and human factors (such as technology) have historically controlled the quantity and type of food produced in any location. Today, there are many other factors that explain why some countries produce more food than others:

  • Climate - global warming is increasing temperatures by around 0.2°C every 10 years. Rainfall is increasing in some places, but decreasing in others. Higher temperatures and unreliable rainfall make farming difficult, especially for those farming marginal lands, who already struggle to survive. Even advanced countries (ACs) can be affected by drought. Countries such as Russia and Australia are huge exporters of wheat and barley respectively. When they suffer drought there is less food available globally and global food prices increase, leaving the poor most vulnerable.
  • Technology - improvements in technology have increased the amount of food available. Technology can overcome temperature, water and nutrient deficiencies in the form of greenhouses, irrigation and fertilisers. This can incur an economic or environmental cost. ACs import food from across the globe, all year round.
  • Loss of farmland - the growth of the biofuel market is taking up valuable farmland which is then not used for food.
  • Pests and diseases - pesticides have increased crop yields. Farmers in ACs can afford pesticides, whereas most farmers in low income developing countries (LIDCs) cannot afford them.
  • Water stress - irrigation systems provide water for countries with unreliable or low rainfall. Irrigation can double crop yields, but it is expensive to put these systems in place. Water can be taken either from underground aquifers or directly from rivers. Both have environmental consequences.
  • Conflict - war forces farmers to flee their land or to fight in conflict. Food can be used as a weapon, with enemies cutting off food supplies in order to gain ground. Crops can also be destroyed during fighting. Food shortages have caused riots and conflict. The South Sudan region has faced conflict for years, with 4 million people facing food insecurity. In the Darfur area conflict has lasted years because of disagreement over land and grazing rights.
  • Poverty - when people have less money, they cannot afford food and they become unable to work. Families in developing countries spend much of their income on food.

Impact of food insecurity

Food security is when the entire population of a country has access to enough safe and nutritious food to maintain an active life. The opposite is food insecurity, which is a problem for lots of different countries. Countries that do not have enough food to feed everyone usually have other associated issues to overcome. Some impacts of food insecurity include:

  • Famine - the World Food Programme classifies three hunger conditions:
    1. Undernourishment is when people do not consume enough calories. Over 800 million people in the world are undernourished.
    2. Malnutrition is when people do not eat enough of the right kind of foods to keep them healthy.
    3. Wasting is the most serious type of hunger. It is severe weight loss due to acute malnutrition resulting from starvation.
  • Soil erosion - the removal of soil occurs more rapidly in areas that are very dry. Food insecurity can lead to soil erosion as farmers try to get more out of their land.
  • Deforestation, overgrazing and over-cultivation expose the soil and make it vulnerable to wind and water erosion.
  • Rising prices - when there is less food available, the prices of food increase - since the year 2000 prices have risen. Poorer countries are more vulnerable to increasing food prices.
  • Debt - food prices can be set by speculators in ACs. This can cause great swings in the prices offered to farmers for their crops from year to year. Farmers may incur debts by borrowing to buy seeds and equipment and then find they cannot sell their crops at a high enough price to repay the loan.
  • Social unrest - everyone needs to eat and so when food supplies are low people have to fight for their survival. Riots in Algeria in 2011 were caused by high food costs. The prices of cooking oil, sugar and flour doubled within the space of a few months.
Riots in Algeria
Riots in Algeria were sparked by high food prices

Food security is the condition of having reliable access to enough affordable and nutritious food supplies. Food security has declined dramatically in many LIDCs.