Thought for Food Blog

Food security in perspective

Current global food insecurity 

In the 2022 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report, the extent of 2021 food insecurity levels revealed that 828 million people were affected by hunger, (150 million more than 2019, possibly reflecting the effects of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide); nearly 924 million people faced severe levels of food insecurity and, overall, 2.3 billion people were moderately or severely food insecure. Almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020.1

In September 2022, the situation appeared to grow grimmer with reports of “humanitarian organisations estimate one person dying of hunger every 4 seconds”2 and of 10 climate hotspots (Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Guatemala, Haiti, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, Somalia, and Zimbabwe) where major weather extremes have happened since 2000 identified.3

Note that different countries face different issues, and food insecurity at the national and household levels affect both developing countries4–5 and developed countries. For example, 1 in 10 households in the US struggled to feed families in 2021 due to poverty.6–7

The following issues are increasing and will exacerbate these numbers in 2022:

  • conflict (where food is a weapon8), examples of which are the war in Ukraine, where both Ukraine and Russia “account for 30% globally traded wheat, 20% maize, 70% sunflower supplies and Russia remains a critical supplier of fertilizer”9 or Boko Haram’s armed conflicts in Nigeria;10

  • climate extremes such as in Pakistan where 16% of the population was living in moderate to severe food security before the disastrous floods in September 2022 that affected 33 million people and has resulted in 5.7 million more persons becoming severely food insecure;11

  • continuing global and national economic shocks; and

  • growing inequalities.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on economies and households cannot be underestimated as well.12–26

This article was written by Shamin Renwick, MLIS, PhD, FCLIP, Senior Librarian II/Librarian, School of Education Library at The University of the West Indies.

Understanding the concept of food security 

Food security is a complex and, sometimes considered, a “wicked” problem (i.e., one that is not easily formulated, and one for which multitudinous solutions with wide-ranging and unintended consequences are proffered), which often have cascading and irreversible and sometimes detrimental effects.27 Food security is not simply food production or food supply, with which it is often equated, but is a multidisciplinary and multidimensional concept. There were nearly 200 documents tracing the development of the term in the early 1990s.28

The term “food security” has been identified in the literature only since the mid-1970s, having developed as a concept founded upon the work on hunger and entitlements by Amartya Sen, an Indian economist and philosopher.29 It is a human right to which all people have a claim.30–32 Food security can be considered at the national and household levels. It can be achieved by one of two scenarios: food self-reliance, i.e. the country has sufficient foreign exchange to satisfy food requirements; and food self-sufficiency, i.e. the country produces sufficient food within the country. It is usually a mix to some extent of these two concepts.27

Food security can be defined based on time, that is, chronic or transitory,33 and may also be characterised based on cause, “as [a result of] conjunctural or structural reasons affecting aggregate availability and household access. For example, conjunctural aggregate availability problems may emanate from a fluctuating food supply as a result of a shortfall in local production or inability to import sufficient food and conjunctural household issues may arise from a fluctuating income” (Schejtman (1988) as quoted in Renwick (2017)).27

National food security 

At the national level, food security can be defined as the capability to ensure that adequate food of a required nutritional value is available to the population, at all times. This supply must be affordable and accessible to households and sustainable in both the short-term and long-term. It is a complex concept involving issues of food availability, sustainability,34–35 sufficiency, stability, external or foreign dependency of the food supply and food access or equity of the food supply.36

Household levels of food security

Household food security exists when all the people living in the household have access to enough food for an active, healthy life.37 It is a growing health problem in all countries38 and is affected by the accessibility, availability and the utilization of food. Several factors including poverty, low income, level of education, household size, employment status, age and gender of the household head, and food price are key in determining household food insecurity.39

Sustainable Development Goals related to food security 

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) initiative was adopted at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in 2015 to address various global challenges with the aim of a better and more sustainable future for all.40 SDG 2: Zero Hunger (End Hunger, Achieve Food Security and Improved Nutrition and Promote Sustainable Agriculture) directly targets food insecurity.41 However, whilst all SDGs appear to have an impact on food security to an extent, some SDGs, namely SDG 1 (Ending Poverty), SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), SDG 4 (Quality Education), SDG 5 (Gender Equality), SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), SDG 13 (Climate Action), and SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) address the issues that affect food security.

Food security is affected across the production, distribution and consumption chains. Though it is said that more than sufficient food is produced to feed the world’s population,42–43 food wastage occurs when there is food loss in the production, storage, processing and distribution phases and the term food “waste” refers to “food that is fit for consumption but consciously discarded at the retail or consumption phases”.44–48 The latter results in about one-third of the food produced being thrown away uneaten.49 SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) addresses targets for food loss and food waste. There are even calls for researching issues such as microplastics as a threat to food security, as they are increasingly present in the food chain.50

FSTA contains a wealth of reliable, interdisciplinary, food-focused information, making it a great tool for researching published science on food security. For example FSTA has been indexing an average of 1500 articles annually directly referencing food security from over 800 global sources including journals, theses, books and reports, while content relevant to food security is selected from over 1500 interdisciplinary sources being currently monitored by the IFIS Science team

Read more facts about FSTA content on this topic, including key journals and FSTA descriptors.

What can we do? 

Many of the issues affecting food security are outside of an individual’s control. These matters are in fact managed by policy makers, politicians, planners, economists as well as farmers and those involved in the distribution of food. It would be humanitarian for importers, distributers and retailers to manage costs and profits without penalizing the poorest. Alas, this is outside the remit of the person in the street.

Individuals and families, at a community level, can make a difference by paying attention to issues like food quality51–52 and food safety.53 Unsafe food, may contain harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances that can cause more than 200 diseases,54 ranging from diarrhoea to cancers and can create a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition in young children,39,55 elderly and the sick. Sharing our knowledge and continually learning about nutrition, food preparation, food storage and diets enhances our levels of food safety and food security.56

In conclusion 

Taking personal responsibility and paying attention to the information gathered to support decision-making57 are fundamental to our food choices, whether it is in the light of extreme food advertising and marketing faced by individuals and families58 or at the level of the policy maker or planner.59 Though technical solutions are proposed,60–62 there is the view that the real obstacles to alleviating the world food problem are political and ideological.63


  1. FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations), IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development), UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), WFP (World Food Programme) and WHO (World Health Organization). 2022. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022: Repurposing Food and Agricultural Policies to Make Healthy Diets More Affordable. Rome: FAO.
  2. OXFAM International. 2022a. “Humanitarian Organizations Estimate One Person Dying of Hunger Every Four Seconds.” Press Release. September 20, 2022.
  3. OXFAM International. 2022b. “Hunger in a Heating World: How the Climate Crisis Is Fuelling Hunger in an Already Hungry World.” Press Release. September 16, 2022.
  4. Sousa, Luna Rezende Machado de, Arlette Saint-Ville, Luisa Samayoa-Figueroa, and Hugo Melgar-Quinonez. 2019. “Changes in Food Security in Latin America from 2014 to 2017.” Food Security 11 (3): 503-13.
  5. Koryo-Dabrah, A., R. S. Ansong, J. Setorglo, and M. Steiner-Asiedu. 2021. “Food and Nutrition Security Situation in Ghana: Nutrition Implications for National Development.” African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development 21 (5).
  6. Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Matthew P. Rabbitt, Christian A. Gregory, and Anita Singh. 2022. Household Food Security in the United States in 2021. Washington, D.C.: USDA Economic Research Service.
  7. Lakhani, Nina. 2022. “One in 10 US Households Struggles to Afford Enough Food, Study Finds.” The Guardian, September 7, 2022.
  8. Ord, Sam. 2022. “How Food Is Used as a Weapon.” Socialist Worker (2807).
  9. Fujita, Akiko. 2022. “Global Food Insecurity Driven by War, Climate, and Lack of Resources: IRC CEO.” Yahoo!
  10. George, J., A. Adelaja, and D. Weatherspoon. 2020. “Armed Conflicts and Food Insecurity: Evidence from Boko Haram's Attacks.” American Journal of Agricultural Economics 102 (1): 114-31.
  11. “5.7 Million Pakistani Flood Victims to Face Serious Food Crisis, UN Warns.” 2022. ABC News, October 3, 2022. response-/101498010#:~:text=16%20per%20cent%20of%20Pakistan's,a%20major%20public%20health%20crisis.
  12. Arumugam, Surendran, Burhan Ozkan, Aravind Jayaraman, and Prahadeeswaran Mockaisamy. 2021. “Impacts of Covid-19 Pandemic on Global Agriculture, Livelihoods and Food Systems.” Tarim Bilimleri Dergisi 27 (3): 239-46.
  13. Paslakis, G., G. Dimitropoulos, and D. K. Katzman. 2021. “A Call to Action to Address COVID-19-Induced Global Food Insecurity to Prevent Hunger, Malnutrition, and Eating Pathology.” Nutrition Reviews 79 (1): 114-6.
  14. Deaton, B. James, and Brady J. Deaton. 2020. “Food Security and Canada's Agricultural System Challenged by COVID‐19.” Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics 68 (2): 143-9.
  15. Anubhab, Gupta, Zhu Heng, M. K. Doan, A. Michuda, and B. Majumder. 2021. “Economic Impacts of the COVID-19 Lockdown in a Remittance-Dependent Region.” American Journal of Agricultural Economics 103 (2): 466-85.
  16. Yenerall, J., and K. Jensen. 2021. “Food Security, Financial Resources, and Mental Health: Evidence During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Nutrients 14 (1).
  17. Rogus, Stephanie, Kathryn E. Coakley, Shadai Martin, Diana Gonzales-Pacheco, and Christopher J. Sroka. 2022. “Food Security, Access, and Challenges in New Mexico During COVID-19.” Current Developments in Nutrition 6 (1).
  18. Ayanlade, A., and M. Radeny. 2020. “COVID-19 and Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa: Implications of Lockdown During Agricultural Planting Seasons.” Npj Science of Food 4 (1): 13.
  19. Devereux, S., C. Bene, and J. Hoddinott. 2020. “Conceptualising COVID-19's Impacts on Household Food Security.” Food Security 12 (4): 769-72.
  20. Godrich, Stephanie Louise, Johnny Lo, Katherine Kent, Flavio Macau, and Amanda Devine. 2022. “A Mixed-Methods Study to Determine the Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security, Food Access and Supply in Regional Australia for Consumers and Food Supply Stakeholders.” Nutrition Journal 21 (1): 1-10.
  21. Hirvonen, K., A. Brauw, and G. T. Abate. 2021. “Food Consumption and Food Security During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Addis Ababa.” American Journal of Agricultural Economics 103 (3): 772-89.
  22. Jiang, X., Y. Chen, and J. Wang. 2021. “Global Food Security under COVID-19: Comparison and Enlightenment of Policy Responses in Different Countries.” Foods 10 (11).
  23. Niles, M., F. Bertmann, E. Belarmino, T. Wentworth, E. Biehl, and R. Neff. 2020. “The Early Food Insecurity Impacts of COVID-19.” Nutrients 12 (7): 2096-.
  24. Rivington, M., R. King, D. Duckett, P. Iannetta, T. G. Benton, P. J. Burgess, C. Hawes, et al. 2021. “UK Food and Nutrition Security During and after the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Nutrition Bulletin 46 (1): 88-97.
  25. Wolfson, J. A., and C. W. Leung. 2020. “Food Insecurity and COVID-19: Disparities in Early Effects for Us Adults.” Nutrients 12 (6): 1648.
  26. Xu, Tian, Zhou Ying, and Wang Hui. 2022. “The Impact of COVID-19 on Food Consumption and Dietary Quality of Rural Households in China.” Foods 11 (4): 510.
  27. Renwick, Shamin. 2017. “The Information Experience of Food Security among Decision Makers in the Caricom Region: A Study of Trinidad and Tobago; Barbados and Belize.” PhD thesis, Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension. Faculty of Food and Agriculture. The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago.
  28. Smith, Marisol, Judy Pointing, and Simon Maxwell. 1992. “Part III: Household Food Security: Concepts and Definitions - an Annotated Bibliography.” In Household Food Security: Concepts, Indicators, Measurements. A Technical Review, edited by Simon Maxwell and Timothy Frankenberger. New York: UNICEF/IFAD.
  29. Sen, Amartya. 1987. Hunger and Entitlements, Research for Action. New York: World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER), United Nations University.
  30. Haddad, Lawrence, and Arne Oshaug. 1999. How Does the Human Rights Perspective Help to Shape the Food and Nutrition Policy Research Agenda? FCND Discussion Paper No. 56. Food Consumption and Nutrition Division, International Food Policy and Research Institute (IFPRI) Washington, D.C.
  31. Ziegler, Jean. 2012. “Right to Food.”
  32. Early, R. 2021. “Human Rights and Food.” Food Science & Technology 35 (2): 56-9.
  33. EC-FAO (European Commission-Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations). 2008. An Introduction to the Basic Concepts of Food Security. Food Security Information for Action Practical Guides. Rome: FAO.
  34. Guiné, Raquel de Pinho Ferreira, Maria Lúcia de Jesus Pato, Cristina Amaro da Costa, Daniela de Vasconcelos Teixeira Alguiar da Costa, Paulo Barracosa Correia da Silva, and Vítor João Pereira Dcomingues Martinho. 2021. “Food Security and Sustainability: Discussing the Four Pillars to Encompass Other Dimensions.” Foods 10 (11): 2732.
  35. Beltran, J. P., F. Casanas, R. Clotet, Y. Colomer, L. G. Vaque, R. M. Martin-Aranda, P. Puigdomenech, and I. Romagosa. 2021. “Food Security and Innovative Tools with a Global Food System Approach.” European Food and Feed Law Review 16 (3): 202-11.
  36. Ali-Renwick, Shamin. 1992. “Food Security in Trinidad and Tobago: Data Requirements and Policy Implications.” MPhil thesis, The University of the West Indies. St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago.
  37. USDA ERS (United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service). 2022. “Food Security in the U.S.: Measurement.”
  38. de Oliveira, K. H. D., G. M. de Almeida, M. B. Gubert, A. S. Moura, A. M. Spaniol, D. C. Hernandez, R. Perez-Escamilla, and G. Buccini. 2020. “Household Food Insecurity and Early Childhood Development: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Matern Child Nutr 16 (3): e12967.
  39. Drammeh, W., N. A. Hamid, and A. J. Rohana. 2019. “Determinants of Household Food Insecurity and Its Association with Child Malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Review of the Literature.” Current Research in Nutrition and Food Science 7 (3).
  40. United Nations. n.d. “The Sustainable Development Agenda.”,Summit%20%E2%80%94%20officially%20came%20into%20force.
  41. United Nations. n.d. “Sustainable Development Goals: Goal 2: Zero Hunger.”
  42. United Nations. 2019. Can We Feed the World and Ensure No One Goes Hungry. UN News: Global Perspective Human Stories.
  43. Erdman, Jeremy. 2018. “We Produce Enough Food to Feed 10 Billion People. So Why Does Hunger Still Exist?” Medium, February 1, 2018,,this%20excess%2C%20hunger%20still%20exists.
  44. Karpouzis, Fay. 2019. “How to Tackle the Problem of Food Waste in Schools.” Nutridate 30 (3): 3-8.
  45. Yu, Yang, and Edward C. Jaenicke. 2020. “Estimating Food Waste as Household Production Inefficiency.” American Journal of Agricultural Economics 102 (2): 225-47.
  46. FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations). 2019. “Food Loss and Waste and the Implications for Food Security and Nutrition.” In State of Food and Agriculture 2019: Moving Forward on Food Loss and Waste Reduction, 66-87. Washington, D.C.: United Nations.
  47. Althumiri, N. A., M. H. Basyouni, A. F. Duhaim, N. AlMousa, M. F. AlJuwaysim, and N. F. BinDhim. 2021. “Understanding Food Waste, Food Insecurity, and the Gap between the Two: A Nationwide Cross-Sectional Study in Saudi Arabia.” Foods 10 (3).
  48. Rosenberg, Moshe. 2021. “Thoughts About Food Security, Food Loss and Waste and What Has to Be Done.” AIMS Agriculture and Food 6 (3): 797-8.
  49. Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, n.d. “The Nutrition Source: Food Waste.”
  50. De-La-Torre, G. E. 2020. Microplastics: An Emerging Threat to Food Security and Human Health. Journal of Food Science and Technology 57 (5): 1601-8.
  51. Blakstad, M. M., D. Mosha, A. L. Bellows, C. R. Canavan, J. T. Chen, K. Mlalama, R. A. Noor, J. Kinabo, H. Masanja, and W. W. Fawzi. 2021. “Home Gardening Improves Dietary Diversity, a Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial among Tanzanian Women.” Maternal and Child Nutrition 17 (2): e13096-e.
  52. Beavers, A. W., A. Atkinson, and K. Alaimo. 2020. “How Gardening and a Gardener Support Program in Detroit Influence Participants' Diet, Food Security, and Food Values.” Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition 15 (2): 149-69.
  53. Moldovan, Paul, Cristina Liliana Mitroi, and Gabriel Bujancă. 2021. “Food Safety/ Security - Biological Risk (Review).” Journal of Agroalimentary Processes and Technologies 27 (4): 403-8.
  54. WHO (World Health Organization). 2022. “Food Safety.”
  55. Christian, V. J., K. R. Miller, and R. G. Martindale. 2020. Food Insecurity, Malnutrition, and the Microbiome. Current Developments in Nutrition 9: 356-60.
  56. Walls, H., P. Baker, E. Chirwa, and B. Hawkins. 2019. “Food Security, Food Safety & Healthy Nutrition: Are They Compatible?” Global Food Security21 (January): 69–71.
  57. Begley, A., E. Paynter, L. M. Butcher, and S. S. Dhaliwal. 2019. “Examining the Association between Food Literacy and Food Insecurity.” Nutrients 11 (2): 445.
  58. Chiong, R., and R. Figueroa. 2022. “Food Insecurity and the Association between Perceptions and Trust of Food Advertisements and Consumption of Ultra-Processed Foods among U.S. Parents and Adolescents.” Nutrients 14 (9): 1964.
  59. Renwick, S. 2019. “Information Use Behavior of Decision-Makers for Food Security in the English-Speaking Caribbean: A Study of Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, and Barbados.” Journal of Agricultural & Food Information 20 (4): 292-314.
  60. Barrett, C. B. 2021. “Overcoming Global Food Security Challenges through Science and Solidarity.” American Journal of Agricultural Economics 103 (2): 422-47.
  61. McDowell, B. 2021. “Can Science Deliver Zero Hunger?” Food Technology 75 (5): 24.
  62. Buss, D. 2021. “Feeding the World Better.” Food Technology 75 (10): 22.
  63. Morgan, Dan. 1980. Merchants of Grain. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin.

Researching food security in FSTA

The growing understanding of the role of all contributors to the production, distribution and consumption chains and the need to consider holistic approaches to food systems has prompted an increase in the coverage of topics directly referencing food security in FSTA over the past two decades (as illustrated in the chart below). Food security data in FSTA focuses on documents of importance to the food industry and academic food research. Topics include research aiming to improve the nutritional value and quality of crops and animal foods, identification and use of underutilized food resources and food production side streams, alternative technologies for the production of foods and food ingredients, and all aspects of the manufacture, distribution and consumption of foods, as well as food policy and economics examining approaches to ensure sustainable production and food security at national and household levels. The data in FSTA are obtained from both high-quality food, agriculture, nutrition and policy journals but also from a wide range of other interdisciplinary sources.

Since 2017, FSTA has been indexing an average of 1500 articles annually directly referencing food security from >800 global sources including journals, theses, books and reports, while content relevant to food security is selected from the >1500 interdisciplinary sources being currently monitored by the IFIS Science team.

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