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Food security


A family is food secure if it has sufficient safe and nutritious food throughout the year so that all members can meet their nutrient needs with foods they like/prefer for an active and healthy life.

People usually get food by producing or buying it. Sometimes they gather wild foods. In times of food shortages they may receive free or subsidized food. To be food secure, people need enough food and a variety of foods.

Families may become more food secure if you help them to improve:

Improving food production and storage

Family farmers may be able to increase the amount and types of foods they produce by:

Some rural families may be able to make fish ponds or raise small animals (e.g. poultry, rabbits). Pastoralists may be able to get more productive breeds of animals or learn how to care better for them. Fishermen may be able to increase catches by using better fishing methods.

Figure 3. Families may be able to produce more food

Even people with small amounts of land may be able to improve kitchen gardens or grow vegetables in containers. Refer families that need help to the relevant extension services or to successful local farmers and fishermen. Also see FAO. 2001. Improving nutrition through home gardening. A training package for preparing field workers in Africa (listed in Appendix 3).

Improving stores reduces losses of harvested food crops

Much food is lost in on-farm storage. Improved secure stores and safe use of pesticides increase the amount of food available. Sometimes community stores are a good way for farmers to store their crops and seeds. Ask an agricultural extension worker to give families information on better storage if they need it. Food storage in the kitchen is discussed in Topic 4.

Improving food preservation

Some foods can be preserved so they keep longer (e.g. by drying). If necessary, show families practical methods for preserving foods, such as drying vegetables, fruits or fish. Or ask a home economics colleague to demonstrate food preservation methods.

Flour, porridges and milks keep longer if they are soured or fermented. This also improves the digestion of these foods and increases the absorption of iron from the food.

Improving budgeting for food

Find out which foods give the best ‘value for money’

Some families need advice on how to budget for food and how to use their money in a more efficient way. They may need to know which foods give value for money. This depends on the prices of available foods and this may vary with season, type of shop, etc. To be able to advise families on which foods may be ‘good buys’ in your area:

Remember that different foods have different amounts of waste (skin, bones) and some may be adulterated (e.g. milk diluted with water; spices mixed with ground up bricks or stones).

Buying food in large quantities may save money. Most families do not have the money or storage space to do this, but sometimes a group of families can buy in bulk and share the food (e.g. beans, sugar).

Figure 4. Finding out which foods are good value for money

Food that is of poor quality is poor value for money. Box 8 below lists signs of poor-quality food.


Cereals and other dry foods

Contain insects or dirt; look or smell damp or mouldy; bag is broken; legumes are wrinkled; flour is lumpy.


Soft, sprouting, bruised or damaged; rotten spots.

Vegetables and fruits

Wilted, too soft, rotten spots, bruised.

Meat, poultry and fish

Bad smell or colour; fish have dull eyes or loose scales. Uninspected meat, liver and other offal may contain dangerous parasites.

Fresh milk

Smells bad; is, or has been, exposed to dirt and flies.

Canned foods

Can is swollen, rusty or damaged; food has leaked out; food looks, smells or tastes bad. Any of these signs means the food may be very poisonous.

Advise people to check ‘sell by’ (and ‘use by’) dates on labels and not to buy (or use) foods after these dates.

Source: Adapted from Burgess and others. 1994. Community nutrition for Eastern Africa. AMREF, Nairobi.

Some foods are poor value for money because they contain few nutrients and are expensive. Examples are sodas (bottled fizzy drinks), ice lollies and sweets, which are mainly sugar and so are bad for the teeth (see Topic 1, page 21). These foods should be kept as treats and not given often to children.

Foods fortified with micronutrients are often ‘poor buys’ especially if they cost a lot. Exceptions to this rule are salt and fortified staple foods (cereal flours). Usually they do not cost much more than the non-fortified variety and can therefore bring some nutritional advantage at an acceptable cost.

Buy iodized salt if available

In general, it is best to obtain nutrients by eating a healthy diet. Buying a food fortified with a micronutrient is only justified if there is a serious lack of foods containing that particular micronutrient. An example is iodized salt. Unless people can regularly eat fish and other foods from the sea (which are rich in iodine), they are likely to develop iodine deficiency. This is because soils in many parts of the world, and the plant and animal foods raised on them, are low in iodine (Section C explains what happens if people lack iodine). Iodine deficiency disorders are serious and widespread and so, in most places, iodized salt is more than a good buy - it is a ‘must buy’.

Nutrient supplements and ‘tonics’ are usually poor buys. They are often expensive and we should get the nutrients we need by eating a variety of different foods.

Gathering wild foods

Wild foods increase the variety of foods in the diet - and make meals more tasty. The list below gives some examples of useful, nutritious wild foods.

Circle the wild foods used locally; add others, local names and methods of preparation to the list.















Before sharing this information with families, you may need to:

1. Find out. Whether most families have enough to eat throughout the year. If not, why not. Whether most people eat a variety of foods. If not, why not. What staple and other foods are produced and eaten locally. What the blocks to increasing food production are.Whether much food is lost during on-farm storage. Who can help farmers and other food producers to produce more foods and improve storage. Which foods people buy. Which foods are good buys. What the availability of iodized salt is. What the blocks to people buying more or better food are. Whether people gather wild foods. If so, which ones. What other good wild foods could be gathered.

2. Prioritize. Decide which information is most important to share with groups or individual families.

3. Decide whom to reach. For example: women and men who produce, store, preserve or buy the family food, especially those from food-poor families.

4. Choose communication methods. For example: discussions and demonstrations with community and farmers’ groups and at schools and youth clubs.

Examples of questions to start a discussion
(choose only one or two questions that deal with the information families need most)

Are there some local families who do not have enough to eat? Can we help them?

How can we produce more food? Can we produce more, different foods?

How do we store food on the farm? How can we improve our stores?

How can we budget better for food? Which local foods are best value for money?

Which foods are poor buys?

Why is iodized salt a must buy?

Which wild foods do we eat? Are there others we can eat?

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