2. Improving household food security

29. Food security is defined in its most basic form as access by all people at all times to the food needed for a healthy life. Achieving food security has three dimensions. First, it is necessary to ensure a safe and nutritionally adequate food supply both at the national level and at the household level. Second, it is necessary to have a reasonable degree of stability in the supply of food both from one year to the other and during the year. Third, and most critical, is the need to ensure that each household has physical, social and economic access to enough food to meet its needs. This means that each household must have the knowledge and the ability to produce or procure the food that it needs on a sustainable basis. In this context, properly balanced diets that supply all necessary nutrients and energy without leading to overconsumption or waste should be encouraged. It is also important to encourage the proper distribution of food within the household, among all its members.

30. The right to an adequate standard of living, including food, is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Food security should be a fundamental objective of development policy as well as a measure of its success. Household food insecurity affects a wide cross-section of the population in both rural and urban areas. The food-insecure socio-economic groups may include: farmers, many of them women, with limited access to natural resources and inputs; landless labourers; rural artisans; temporary workers; homeless people; the elderly; refugees and displaced persons; immigrants; indigenous people; smallscale fishermen and forest dwellers; pastoralists; female-headed households; unemployed or underemployed people; isolated rural communities; and the urban poor. Increasing the productivity and incomes of these diverse groups requires adopting multiple policy instruments and striking a balance between short-term and long-term benefits. The choice of policies must be attuned to the characteristics of a country's food security problem, the nature of the food-insecure population, resource availability and infrastructural and institutional capabilities at all levels of government and communities. Breast-feeding is the most secure means of assuring the food security of infants and should be promoted and protected through appropriate policies and programmes.

31. Bearing the above in mind, in countries where the food-chain is not secure and household food insecurity is a problem, governments, NGOs and non-profit organizations, the private sector and international organizations should, as appropriate, work in a collaborative manner to:

(a) Adopt development strategies to create conditions for economic growth with particular focus on the alleviation of poverty, food security and sustainable agricultural systems.

(b) Strike an optimal balance between macroeconomic policy objectives and food security needs, minimize the possible adverse impact of structural adjustment programmes on the food security of the poor and, where some negative effects are unavoidable, introduce appropriate measures to alleviate these hardships. In the countries concerned, governments and international organizations should promote programmes that will increase food production and, where appropriate, agricultural trade, so that poor countries and poor segments of a population have improved access to food. International lending practices should be re-examined and long-term action must be planned to maintain food supplies at those levels required to meet the needs of growing populations.

(c) Adopt and implement land-use policies where appropriate to enhance food security through the setting aside of adequate areas of agricultural lands and aquatic and other natural resources for the production of food and other sources of nutrition.

(d) Adopt policies and programmes to strengthen local leadership, including balanced gender training; enhance community involvement; promote people's participation; develop rural areas to stem rural-urban migration; and empower women, both as producers and consumers. Women and women's organizations are often very efficient, effective and fundamental in improving household food security.

(e) Adopt special programmes that will enhance productivity with a view to reducing costs and increasing and stabilizing production and incomes of the poor. Such programmes could include improving the access of small-scale producers to inputs, credit and other essential services, as well as to markets through improved infrastructure. The role of agricultural cooperatives and effective extension services in increasing production and producer incomes should be stressed.

(f) Improve access to work opportunities or production factors for urban and rural workers, female heads of households, those employed in the informal sector and unemployed and underemployed people by stimulating the creation of jobs, increasing their skills, providing credit on easy terms and increasing the availability of improved technologies, other inputs and means of production.

(g) Improve access to land and other natural resources by introducing and implementing agrarian reforms and, in particular, through the effective implementation of tenancy reforms and the promotion of efficient utilization of agricultural resources and resettlement in new lands, wherever feasible. Such actions must be taken in full compliance with applicable international laws and agreements.

(h) Increase employment opportunities, particularly in rural areas, by encouraging the private sector to augment such opportunities in agriculture, industry, handicraft and business.

(i) Stabilize food supplies through adequate stockholding in the form of strategic food security reserves as a first line of defence in emergencies; improve post-harvest handling, packaging, storage, preservation, transport and distribution of food to reduce losses at all stages; enhance animal health and production possibilities including fish farming and attention to fisheries resources; ensure a stable supply of fuel for cooking meals; carry out research and introduce measures to improve production, utilization and preservation of indigenous and traditional foods; improve rural food processing technologies; increase marketing facilities at the village, cottage and industrial levels to smooth the food supply flow throughout the year; introduce a variety of cropping strategies, such as crop rotation, mixed cropping, biological inputs and planting of perennial fruit-bearing trees, and develop other agroforestry approaches; ensure an adequate supply of clean and safe water; promote household and community gardens; and ensure the sustainability of food supplies by employing production and marketing systems based on safe and renewable resources that protect the environment and biodiversity.

(j) Improve emergency-preparedness planning through: effective early warning and other information systems; food security reserves; preparation of contingency plans of action to meet emergencies; and enhancing the entitlement of affected people through, for example, public-works programmes; as well as introduce measures to prevent natural disasters, such as irrigation schemes, flood control schemes, etc. In this respect, the international community can play an important role by providing timely and well-targeted food aid and other technical and financial assistance, particularly in the form of food-for-work programmes and for rehabilitation. Coordinated action of relevant organizations of the UN system is of particular importance in this context. Food aid should not interfere with, or be considered as a substitute for, local food production. The special needs of refugees and displaced persons, these include people affected by wars, civil unrest or natural disasters, should be given priority attention in food aid programmes. The provision of food supplies should strive to meet minimal nutritional requirements. NGOs can also provide significant help through effective and appropriate disaster management training at all levels, early warning, food and nutrition surveillance schemes, nutrition education, resource mobilization and action-oriented programme implementation.

(k) Strengthen planning of food-related assistance programmes so that they reach the population in need without disrupting the local economy or local food habits including food production and marketing. Such programmes could include food distribution systems, particularly for the poor and unemployable, and income transfer schemes, such as targeted food subsidies, food stamps and feeding programmes for vulnerable groups with a view to promoting nutritionally adequate diets. In particular, introduce self-targeting food distribution and income transfer schemes for those foods consumed primarily by the poor by locating public food distribution centres in areas where the poor live, taking into account that these populations should be able to select nutritionally adequate diets from the range of foods available.

(l) Strengthen the coping mechanism of the household to meet emergencies by improving its capacity to protect itself from the impact of an emergency through, for example: household and community food storage; group savings and credit schemes; diversification of income and employment sources; and improved marketing infrastructures. Action could also include helping the household when the emergency occurs, for example, by supplying seeds for growing short-term crops, by providing food aid, livestock feed and water and, when the emergency is over, by introducing rehabilitation measures to help the household recover from adverse effects of the emergency.

(m) Adopt or strengthen a public sector policy supporting labour-intensive public works programmes and programmes to reduce geographical isolation, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where priority actions are needed to quickly alleviate acute nutritional problems. Labour-intensive infrastructure programmes are one of several valuable instruments that may be used to improve employment, income and access to food. They transfer and stabilize benefits, thus decreasing the risk of consumption shortfalls among the poor, and can strengthen needed infrastructure, such as roads, to facilitate better trade and movement of foods from rural to urban centres, promote resource conservation or irrigation and land development or combat such problems as desertification.

(n) Encourage necessary research by governmental, international and private institutions to promote household food security through better food production, handling and storage and prevention of food losses, crop and genetic diversity, and improved food processing, preservation and marketing. Research should be done on household handling of food and intrafamily food distribution to assure adequate food availability and to protect the nutritional value of food and prevent food losses and wastage. Such research can enhance rural employment and promote the role of women, in particular, in all aspects of food production, processing and marketing. Research should also be carried out on appropriate cost-effective indicators to measure household food security problems and to measure progress of appropriate programmes in solving those problems.

(o) Promote better general and nutritional education to eliminate illiteracy and improve knowledge in the selection of a safe and adequate diet and of food production, processing, storage and handling techniques at all levels, especially the household level. Programmes should be directed at household leaders, with particular focus on women, and should also include home economics education for both boys and girls. The awareness of men and women of the benefits of limiting household size and the advantages of family planning practices should be increased. The role of mass media in delivering positive nutrition improvement messages and eliminating harmful food taboos should be emphasized. It is important to develop and carry out public information campaigns to improve the quality of nutrition through better use of available food supplies by the households and to promote recognition of the fact that each member of a household should be able to share fairly in available food resources irrespective of sex, age or any other individual characteristic.

(p) International financial and specialized agencies should give high priority to assisting countries with their programmes for strengthening household food security. The nature of such support may be increased investment in production enhancement projects such as irrigation, soil fertility improvement and soil and water conservation, intensification of agriculture or assisting countries undertaking structural adjustment. Assistance should also include technology transfer adapted to the local conditions in developing countries to improve food production and processing while protecting intellectual property rights as appropriate; the training of personnel at all levels; and the establishment of a suitable economic environment to improve the competitiveness of developing countries.