Food security and the global challenge to ending hunger

By Charles Kwuelum

“Food security” essentially refers to enough food being available and accessible. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines it as “people at all times having physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meet their dietary needs and food preferences for active and healthy life.” More than just having enough food to eat, food security requires having the variety of foods necessary for a healthy diet to prevent malnutrition.

But ensuring that all people are “food secure” is a major challenge. Both natural and human factors lead to food insecurity. In addition to drought, climate change and other disasters, factors such as greed, income inequality, mismanagement, trade policies that favor farmers in wealthy countries, and a lack of political will to ensure that all have enough to eat have all contributed to extreme impoverishment and hunger. Human structures and systems are largely to blame for this situation.

An additional factor is food waste. According to the FAO, rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tons) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons). Annually, 1.3 billion tons of food are lost or wasted, one third of all the food produced for human consumption.

U.S. policy

The U.S. government has contributed toward combating hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity globally. In the current session of Congress, two bipartisan food security bills were introduced, the Global Food Security Act and the Food for Peace Reform Act.

The Global Food Security Act was signed into law in July. The law provides increased funding for food security, but relies largely on partnerships with multinational corporations as part of an overall framework of profit-oriented trade. In the past this type of approach has often increased unfair advantages for multinational corporations over smallholder farmers, through land grabs and other practices.

The Food for Peace Reform Act, which is unlikely to pass in the current Congress, would reform U.S. food assistance programs to make them more efficient and effective. It would allow more food to be purchased locally and regionally, greatly reducing the delivery time and more importantly, supporting local farmers. It also would allow food assistance to be shipped on non-U.S. vessels, significantly increasing the reach of various food programs to millions more people at no additional cost.

Some have opposed the bill, contending that it would lead to an end to the purchase of U.S. farmers’ agricultural commodities for the Food for Peace Program. Some also fear it would put mariners of U.S.-flagged ships out of work and therefore undermine U.S. national security by reducing our domestic sealift capacity.

The common good

But there is much more that the U.S. and others in the international community can do, including greater recognition of each person’s fundamental right to food. A person’s right to food is cultural, moral and non-negotiable. For us as Christians, it is also basic to our faith (see, for example, Ezekiel 18:7, Isaiah 58:10, Matthew 25:35).

Many factors affect food accessibility, including the opportunity for meaningful work, responsible management and leadership and equitable distribution. Ensuring the right to food and access to food for every person is an obligation and moral responsibility of everyone, including stakeholders, governments, structures and institutions. It will require taking steps to protect and enhance livelihoods, particularly in rural areas. It will increase the access of small-scale and local farmers (including women) to land, economic resources, and markets.

When stakeholders show indifference or, even worse, play politics with life-saving policies to protect the common good, unjust food systems result. A healthy food system integrates nutrition, a balanced consumption chain, agricultural resources, methodologies and nature. In light of emerging and changing circumstances, it sets new priorities based on ethics and inspired by the common good–the interest or benefit of all (Proverbs 31:8-9).

An agro-ecological approach

A food system that is based on the common good builds on traditional knowledge and ethical research and technology. An agro-ecological approach helps to create a more resilient and sustainable food system by conserving natural resources like soil and water, thereby ensuring that communities have the right to adequate nutritious bio-diverse food and food sources. It seeks to empower small farmers, including women.

Such an approach combines knowledge of soil and food production with good governance, development assistance, economic growth, functioning healthy markets and supply chains and increased domestic and private sector investment oriented toward the common good. Agro-ecology helps communities to attain local food sovereignty, with access to and control of local resources like land, water and seeds.

In October 2015 the governments of the United Nations pledged to work toward “zero hunger” by 2030 as one of the Sustainable Development Goals. The U.N. General Assembly has also declared a Decade of Action on Nutrition. These commitments are important and achievable, if individuals, corporations, governments and institutions work together toward the common good.