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Causes and Effects of Food Insecurity

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 2593 words Published: 1st Sep 2021

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State reconstruction is primarily aimed at restoring peace and stability. One of the key factors that threaten peace and stability is food insecurity. This paper focuses on the key challenge of improving food security in protracted crises as well as during post conflict times. The goal of achieving food security often becomes a daunting challenge, especially when emergencies persist for years or even decades as evidenced in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Somalia. The paper begins with a brief overview of what food security entails, structural factors hindering food security as well as the effects of food insecurity. This will be followed by a glimpse into the protracted situation in the DRC as well as suitable frameworks for analyzing and responding to protracted crises. It concludes with recommendations on how to improve food security in protracted crises.

The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security to be existing when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to enough safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy lifestyle.

Food security means that:

Food is available – The amount and quality of food available globally, nationally and locally can be affected temporarily or for long periods by many factors including climate, disasters, war, civil unrest, population size and growth, agricultural practices, environment, social status and trade.

Food is affordable – When there is a shortage of food prices increase and while richer people will likely still be able to feed themselves, poorer people may have difficulty obtaining sufficient safe and nutritious food without assistance.

Food is utilised – At the household level, sufficient and varied food needs to be prepared safely so that people can grow and develop normally, meet their energy needs and avoid disease.

Food security is considered a complex sustainable development issue, linked to health through malnutrition, but also to sustainable economic development, environment, and trade. There is debate around food security with some arguing that:

  • There is enough food in the world to feed everyone adequately; the problem is distribution.
  • Future food needs can or cannot be met by current levels of production.
  • National food security is essential or no longer necessary because of global trade.
  • Globalization may or may not lead to the persistence of food insecurity and poverty in rural communities.

Issues such as whether households get enough food, how it is distributed within the household and whether that food fulfils the nutrition needs of all members of the household show that food security is clearly linked to health.

Agriculture remains the largest employment sector in most developing countries and international agriculture agreements are crucial to a country’s food security. Some critics argue that trade liberalization may reduce a country’s food security by reducing agricultural employment levels.

Structural Factors

Institutional failure, non-existent or weak public and informal institutions are arguably the primary source of protracted crises and food insecurity. This is due to the fact that basic public services such as health, education and protection are inadequately and ineffectively provided if at all. Poor governance of land use and access fuels disputes over land in these crisis situations and impacts negatively on food security in that agricultural production is hampered and investments to increase food production decrease when access to land becomes insecure. Unequal access of land is common in protracted situations of the DRC, Somalia and Sudan and a typical example is when the powerful politico-military rewards their supporters with extra land in an effort to secure their support base. This results in the majority of land being the property of a small number of landowners and the rest of small farmers being marginalized. State reconstruction became hindered when the economy of the DRC collapsed due to the powerful elite exploiting the country’s economic resources.

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Informal and cultural institutions also play a role in easing the burden of conflicts and can prove to be more effective than weak or collapsed formal institutions. A perfect example in this regard is the local council in the DRC known as chambres de paix that comprised of community elders who investigated and settled land disputes between farmers on the basis of compromise.¹ This form of justice system became the most trusted mechanism for providing protection to farmers and as a result, farmers no longer trusted the formal corrupt justice system and local courts which traditionally failed to afford them legal protection and justice. However, protracted crises have had a bad effect on informal institutions and thus deprived them of mitigating against the crises. For instance, in Sudan traditional elder authorities were eradicated by military forces.²

Causes and Effects of Food Insecurity


Poor people lack access to sufficient resources to produce or buy quality food. Poor farmers may have very small farms, use less effective farming techniques, and/or be unable to afford fertilisers and labour-saving equipment, all of which limit food production. They often find it difficult to grow enough food for themselves, let alone generate income by selling excess to others. Without economic resources and a political voice, poor farmers may be forced on to less productive land possibly causing further environmental deterioration. Addressing poverty is critical to ensuring that all people have sufficient food.


Without sufficient calories and nutrients, the body slows down, making it difficult to undertake the work needed to produce food. Without good health, the body is also less able to make use of the food that is available. A hungry mother will give birth to an underweight baby, who then faces a future of stunted growth, frequent illness, learning disabilities and reduced resistance to disease. Contaminated food and water can cause illness, nutrient loss and often death in children.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic has reduced food production in many affected countries as productive adults become ill or die. Lacking the labour, resources and know-how to grow staples and commercial crops, many households have shifted to cultivating survival foods or even leaving their fields, further reducing the food supply. Addressing health issues will improve utilisation and availability of food.

Water and the environment

Food production requires massive amounts of water. Producing sufficient food is directly related to having sufficient water. Irrigation can ensure an adequate and reliable supply of water which increases yields of most crops.

Where water is scarce, achieving food security may depend on importing food from countries with an abundance of water. This may be a more efficient use of a scarce resource.

Gender equity

Women play a vital role in providing food and nutrition for their families through their roles as food producers, processors, traders and income earners. Yet women’s lower social and economic status limits their access to education, training, land ownership, decision making and credit and their ability to improve their access to and use of food. Food utilisation can be enhanced by improving women’s knowledge of nutrition and food safety and the prevention of illnesses. Increasing women’s involvement in decision making and their access to land and credit will in turn improve food security as women invest in fertilisers and better seeds, labour-saving tools, irrigation and land care.

Disasters and conflicts

Droughts, floods, cyclones and pests can quickly wipe out large quantities of food as it grows or when it is in storage for later use. Seeds can also be destroyed by such environmental dangers. Conflict can also reduce or destroy food in production or storage as farmers flee to safety or become involved in the fighting. Previously productive land may be contaminated with explosive debris and need to be cleared before it can again be used for food production. Stored food, seeds and breeding livestock may be eaten or destroyed by soldiers, leading to long-term food shortages. Government spending needs to prioritise food security after conflicts.

Population and urbanisation

Population growth increases the demand for food. With most productive land already in use, there is pressure for this land to become more productive. Poor harvests and higher costs lead many poor farmers to migrate to cities to look for work. Expanding cities spread out across productive land, pushing food production further and further away from consumers. This increases the cost of all the activities associated with producing and transporting food, and decreases the food security of the poor in cities.

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Many poor countries can produce staples more cheaply than rich nations but barriers to trade, such as distance from markets, regulations and tariffs make it difficult for them to compete in export markets against highly subsidised farmers in rich countries. This deprives poor farmers of income and entire countries of the agricultural base they need to develop other sectors of the economy. Trade imbalances prevent poor countries from importing agricultural products that could enhance their food security.

The negative effects of food insecurity include impaired physical and cognitive abilities of children. Generally, food insecurity and hunger amounts to poor health status, making children sick more often, with higher rates of iron deficiency anemia, and also results in children being frequently hospitalized. In Somalia, for example, 20 percent of children die before the age of five. The nutritional status of women is also a major concern. They are mainly farmers and are usually carers of their families. It has been reported that two-thirds of women in the Horn of Africa suffer from anaemia, which is partly attributed to the high levels of maternal mortality.

Protracted Crises

The term is defined as conflict situations characterized by the prolonged and often violent struggle by communal groups for such basic needs as security, recognition, acceptance, fair access to political institutions, and economic participation.³


Democratic Republic of Congo is listed as one of the worst humanitarian crises. Its five-year war ended in 2003. The country is rich with gold, diamonds and minerals, yet millions of its people suffer from a lethal combination of disease and hunger caused by ongoing conflict and displacement. 5.4 million people were declared dead since 1998 from war-related violence, hunger and disease.

The devastating effects of pre-war land policies on the rural people of DRC have intensified since the war. Land is at center stage of conflict, especially in the regions such as Ituri and Masisi. It has also become an important resource to warring factions because through their control over land, they have reinforced their political position to the disadvantage of small farmers.

A study undertaken by FAO concluded that food insecurity in the DRC can be tackled through interventions that focus on land access and that possible interventions include the strengthening of the legal position of rural populations and the strengthening of the role of community representatives in land issues. The study also focused on the structural impact of the protracted crisis on local food systems and the effects and limits of food security interventions.

Frameworks for Analysis and Response

In protracted crises, food security interventions tend to be based on a standardized set of responses that do not consider the dynamic nature of protracted crises. Such interventions usually focus on food production and neglect other dimensions of food security. Responses to these situations are of a humanitarian/emergency nature. They contribute to saving lives and to protecting livelihoods but are inadequate for addressing the complex root causes of these crises.

Stated differently, traditional humanitarian and development approaches are often not suitable for guiding analysis and response. Organizations that intervene in these situations tend to concentrate on one side of the humanitarian/development divide and plan their response accordingly. The studies show that assistance is often externally driven and very few donors commit to longer term development once the acute phase of a crisis passes and thus disregard the root causes of the crisis unresolved. In the DRC and Sudan, analytical tools that were employed wrongly suggested that food insecurity in those countries were livelihoods crises at the household level caused by external factors. As a result, contextual analysis was not undertaken.

Alinovi et al therefore suggest that a new operational framework for food security in protracted crises should:

• have an overarching livelihoods-based framework to represent various processes at the global level and the effects of those processes at the household level;

• highlight appropriate food security responses policies and programmes;

• identify institutions that play a positive (or negative) role in strengthening the resilience of food systems; and

• identify institutions that are necessary for implementing food security response.


It is necessary to address both the short and long term dimensions of protracted crises in order to have an impact on increasing food security and thus prevent and/or mitigate the adverse effects of food insecurity, especially in protracted crises. The current aid architecture also needs to be reformed so that it is flexible enough to link short and longer term response. Response must be based on adequate analysis, including institutional analysis of these complex situations. Acting without adequate analysis may reduce the effectiveness of response and, in the worst cases, make the situation even worse.

The eradication of hunger and food insecurity must be considered a long-term development goal. Food insecurity cannot be addressed in isolation. Progress needs to be made also with relation to goals set in other pressing areas, including poverty alleviation; education and literacy; reductions in infant, child and maternal mortality; improved reproductive health; and environmental protection. The countries in protracted crises should establish their own regional and national targets as well as associated indicators.

These goals should be achieved within the framework of human rights. This rights-based approach acknowledges the responsibility of national governments and their international partners in fulfilling people’s fundamental rights, including freedom from hunger. Community participation should also be encouraged to ensure that beneficiaries participate in all decisions affecting their lives. Women should also have an equal voice in decision-making.


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