Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

III. Food Security

Food security is often defined in terms of food availability, food access and food utilization (USAID 1995). Food availability is achieved when sufficient quantities of food are consistently available to all individuals within a country. Such food can be supplied through household production, other domestic outputs, commercial imports or food assistance. Food access is ensured when households and all individuals within them have adequate resources to obtain appropriate food for a nutritional diet. Access depends upon income available to the household, on the distribution of income within the household and on the price of food. Food utilization is the proper biological use of food, requiring a diet providing sufficient energy and essential nutrients, potable water, and adequate sanitation. Effective food utilization depends in large measure on knowledge within the household of food storage and processing techniques, basic principles of nutrition and proper childcare.

"Global agriculture currently produces ample calories and nutrients to provide all the world's people healthy and productive lives", according to the USAID document (1995). "However, food is not distributed equally to regions, countries, households and individuals.... Improved access to food-thr ough increased agricultural productivity and incomes-is essential to meet the food needs of the world's growing population. "

Successful food security and poverty-oriented programmes not only assist poor rural populations to produce more and diversified products but to produce a surplus that can be marketed and thereby generate income for the purposes of improving quality of life through improved diet and nutrition, investment in productive activity, and as collateral for credit to purchase inputs and/or other supplies to enhance agricultural or non-agricultural enterprise.

3.1 Food security is a public good

3.1.1 Government's first task

Government's first task is to provide "the public goods needed by societies to remain peaceful and prosperous, goods that are unlikely to be produced in sufficient quantity by private markets alone or by non-governmental institutions" (Paarlberg 2002).

Public goods are goods with benefits that are available to all (i.e., they are "non-excludable") and not diminished in their availability even when consumed (i.e., they are "non-rival" or "non-subtractable"). Paarlberg argues that provision of public goods is only the first task of government, and would include some non-public (subtractable) goods as well; in this category he includes food security.

In the area of food security, one such good might be a supply of cheap food made available to the poor through a public food distribution system. In other cases the pursuit of food security might even require that private goods (such as land) be taken from a traditionally privileged category of citizens, with or without compensation, for redistribution to disadvantaged citizens. In still other cases food security might require government action to reduce racial prejudice or gender inequity.

Some of Paarlberg's concerns (2002) are with government responsibilities beyond the scope of this paper, but he makes a comment of particular relevance about outsiders assuming responsibility for improving public good performance by governments within the developing world. He notes that it is a difficult job given the powerful norms of nation-state sovereignty and non-intervention. "The most important forces producing persistent hunger today tend to be local or national rather than global, and they are still governed best at the local or national level rather than at the global level. Where national governments have responded well to this challenge, hunger has come under better control. Where national governments have not yet responded appropriately, hunger has persisted or even worsened. "

When governments signed the WFS pledge in 1996 to cut food insecurity in half, they acknowledged the importance of food security to the general welfare and as a public benefit. Still, all sectors must be involved in this fight against hunger, as the FAO Director-General has stressed (Diouf 2002). It is important that nearly 500 national and international private sector representatives attended the WFS. However, the role of the public sector is still central to this fight, as private sector investment in the developing countries is strongly influenced by the governance, legal framework, financial services, and transport, communications and energy infrastructure. Food security is, and will likely remain for some time into the future, the outstanding "public good" obligation of countries worldwide20.

3.1.2 Why the poor are food-insecure

Food insecurity result from various factors, some of them generic, such as poor governance and lack of institutional support21. Food insecurity can be transitory (when it occurs in times of crisis), seasonal or chronic (when it occurs on a continuing basis). Most often, food insecurity is owing unequal distribution... to regions, countries, households and individuals. Indeed worldwide there is currently plenty of food - too much sometimes - but the poor are still food insecure.

Other factors relate to the different elements of food security already mentioned: unavailability of food because of drought, flood, crop failure or other disasters; lack of access to food owing inadequate purchasing power; and poor utilization of food because of poor health, poor sewage, or debilitating disease such as AIDS.

But lack of income and access to adequate incomes is paramount, and is closely related to asset poverty. The poor have few assets. They benefit from growth only when it raises returns to the few assets they hold. For the poor to benefit from growth in the agriculture sector will require effective mechanisms for the transparent allocation of rights to land and other natural resources as well as training in the sustainable use of these resources. The policy and legal processes by which poor people, especially women, gain access to and maintain security over land are vital (DFID 2002). The same can be said for common property resources such as water, forests and rangelands. Too often the entitlements of poor people have been eroded.

The ultimate solution to combating hunger and food insecurity at the national, as well as the global level, is to provide undernourished people with opportunities to earn adequate income and to assure an abundant supply of food from either domestic production or imports, or both (FAO 2002G). Income generation is essential for improved and sustainable livelihoods. Extension, as already noted, can also serve as an indicator and stimulant to incipient commercial development.

Policy needs to take an explicit and realistic view of why particular groups and areas remain marginalised (Farrington et al. 2002). Whatever the explicit reasons or combination of reasons, these multidimensional problems result in the vulnerability of the person; they affect the family, the community and ultimately the nation. Their reality also affects the role of agricultural and non-agricultural extension.

Extension is extremely important in helping to confront problems of availability, access, and utilization. It helps to enhance the productivity and consecutively the production of food. It can assist in providing opportunities for income generation. And, it generally provides improvement of nutritional advice through home economics programmes and enhances the quality of rural life by way of community development.

The challenge to the public sector, and also the private for profit sector, and for civil society as a whole is to ensure the welfare and productivity of those on the periphery of society-whose problems and requirements increasingly spill over into mainstream populations. Whatever the explicit reasons, or combination of reasons for food insecurity, these multidimensional problems result in vulnerability of the person and consequently affect the family, the community and ultimately the nation.

3.2 Food security is a social and economic good

Agricultural economists have maintained that greater concentration on small farmers leads to faster growth rates of both aggregate economic output and employment (Johnson and Kilby 1975; Eicher and Staatz 1984). Nevertheless, as already noted other analysts argue that production-focused service delivery directed solely at the poor as producers in isolated areas will yield low and probably diminishing returns (Ellis 1998 and 1999; Farrington, Christoplos, Kidd and Beckman 2002; Berdegu and Escobar 2002; and Orr and Orr 2002).

"Hunger incurs huge economic cost" (Diouf 2002): "one-point loss of annual rate of economic growth, with loss of productivity, higher incidence of disease, and greater vulnerability of people, especially children". Meanwhile, official development assistance continues to fall each year and the proportion to agriculture and rural development has shrunk by 50 percent since 1990. The transfer of funds from the OECD countries to the rural populations of the developing countries amounts to some eight billion dollars per year, against over 300 billion to their own rural populations.

Additional investment required to achieve the objectives of food security will have to come mainly from the private sector. As the FAO Director General notes, "All the studies have shown that very few countries have achieved rapid economic growth without preceding or accompanying agricultural growth. Local entrepreneurs and multinationals need to be involved in the construction and development of such an economic and political environment" (Diouf 2002). Multi-sectoral cooperation is essential.

Regarding costs, an atypical question arises as to what are the costs to countries economically and socially of not assisting the poor to enter the mainstream society and the commercial system.

3.2.1 Investment in extension

A review of rural investment is taking place among international organizations indicating increasing concern for broad-based and other-than-agriculture entrepreneurial development in rural areas. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is reviewing its priority areas of investment to include farmers without agricultural potential and the landless poor, as well as farmers with agricultural potential, and has launched a major effort in favour of the development of the rural economy and poverty reduction (Echeverr a 1998). The World Bank and the Neuchatel Group also highlight the challenge of poverty and its alleviation, as well as the Millennium Development Goals.

When systematically and effectively provided, extension is known to enhance social and economic development. Technological change, and the knowledge system that underpins it, is a critical factor in development, according to the World Bank (2003a, 2003c). In spite of the difficulty of isolating its impact on agricultural productivity and growth from that of these other factors, studies have demonstrated the high economic returns of investments in agricultural research and dissemination, with returns typically above 40 percent (Birkhaeuser, Evenson and Feder 1988; Anderson and Feder 2003). Investment in agricultural research and extension is thus a crucial input of agricultural growth. At present, however, agricultural extension services in developing countries are grossly underfunded to undertake the activities required for achieving food security while protecting the productive resource base in order to keep up with population and economic growth.

Successful SPFS projects such as in Pakistan, demonstrate that food security and income generation can go together. Wellmanaged projects emphasize diversification of products as well as income opportunities for the rural poor, and the responsiveness of policy interventions to the requirements of disadvantaged groups. The project professionals begin by examining the agricultural situation, rural development constraints and problems of food security. Their work is both direct and "indirect" in that they work directly with farmers but also maintain indirect relations with a variety of local institutions, both for support and feedback to these institutions. Their activities may range from participatory forestry enhancement, animal diversification, and crop intensification-all with a view to promoting sustainable livelihoods. These SPFS extension professionals work with participants to better manage soil and water, to diversify their animal production, intensify their agriculture, and to organize themselves around their special agricultural interests, such as the building of greenhouses and processing facilities. Thus, the poor begin to experience improved nutritional intake and enhanced income generation. However, gaining the confidence of remote farm families is a primary task since many of these populations are disillusioned with certain organizations that have promised them assistance but have failed to act on their promises.

3.2.2 Investment in extension for women in agriculture

Women are the backbone of domestic work and the household economy as well as in most production, processing and storage activities, and marketing of agricultural products. This reality is often ignored, overlooked, or forgotten in putting together agricultural extension programmes. Evidence from observations in the field highlights the role of women in developing various activities of crucial importance to production and marketing of agricultural products. For instance in two SPFS projects in Guatemala (Jocot n and Solol), women had developed greenhouses to grow seedling for a commercial crop, broccoli, built a small compound for producing animal feed, and helped in building a processing centre for marketing agricultural products-this, in addition to cultivating, harvesting and marketing the sale of crops, animals and artifacts.

Administrators in developing countries need to disaggregate data regarding the agricultural and agriculture related activities of women and men. Field personnel need to ensure that women are recognized for their contributions and that their potential is encouraged through inclusion in decision-making and that support is provided to them with respect to organizing them for the purposes of production and other agricultural development activities. Women in Solol, Guatemala have been able to purchase with SPFS project providing half of the cost, home silos for storing maize. But these examples are widespread, and in general women lack access to credit as well as to extension services. The role of women in agriculture cannot, and should not, be overlooked or undervalued.

3.2.3 Observations from the field

SPFS participants have in several cases learned to improve their production of crops and animals to the point that they have been able to commercialize their production and the result has been the generation of income subsequently used for such purposes as building greenhouses, animal feed production units and processing facilities. One community in Solol, Guatemala is already beginning to export local broccoli abroad. The entire community is reaping the rewards of these developments: a women's group produces the broccoli seedlings that are then sold to producers on credit against their eventual sale; the community has built a processing facility with the funds accumulated from sales. The market has attracted wholesale buyers and as a result the quality of life has improved for the entire community.

One of the outstanding features of the Jocot n, Guatemala project is that the team, in collaboration with the Cooperaci n Espa ol, has organized about 35 middleschool youths, trained them, and with the agreement of their school, Intermachs, these youths contribute to the project goals. The youth travel regularly during the school year to a project location and spend usually two days at a time working with the community. These young people exhibit a remarkable understanding of the project problems, and their general enthusiasm for working with the team is impressive. The youth receive academic credit for their work and the relationship provides them with experience as well as ideas for possible careers in agriculture and extension. This is the kind of cooperation that other projects and national programmes should be promoting.

In Sustainable Livelihoods in Southern Africa (2003, issue no. 9), the editors argue that without increasing the reach and influences of services in rural areas, it is unlikely that there will be significant impact on poverty reduction. They argue that in a climate of cutting public expenditure, one way to reduce poverty is to develop community based service delivery models, such as the paraprofessional or community worker/volunteers model, including viable health workers, paravets, barefoot doctors, community agricultural facilitators, community business advisers, village-based home based care workers for HIV/AIDS, or community forestry workers. The community worker is part of the community, and lives and works in the community. This compares with the Chinese model where extension agencies employ village workers for a small fee to assist with agricultural programmes in the agent's absence (Beets et al. 1996).

Several observations can be made. First and foremost is the importance of developing extension programmes that foster food security and income generation in rural areas. Differentiated systems of agricultural extension are needed, including wider ranging SPFS projects; also there exists the important potential of communication for rural development in promoting food security and income generation in rural areas. These observations underscore that governments need to renew their vision of extension, to organize multisectoral agricultural and rural development extension providers, and to begin to develop a dialogue and cooperation with respect to these activities.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page