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Re: What is the role of social relations and networks in household food security and nutrition?

Eileen Omosa University of Alberta, and Centre for Basic Research & Networking Africa, ...

Dear participants,

There are six more days before the end of our discussions on the topic of social relations and networks in food security and nutrition. You have done well so far by sharing your knowledge and experiences, thus brought out the many and different roles of social relations and networks as detailed below.

Emerging Issues:

To date, your contributions have focused on the following issues in relation to the role of social relations and networks in food security and nutrition:

  • Helps define the quality of our communities.
  • Provides caring social support systems.
  • A channel through which to better understand social-economic dynamics at the household and community levels.
  • A critical determinant of outcomes/success of development projects.
  • Enables members to spread risk, and move from a situation of isolation and vulnerability to inclusion and risk sharing.
  • An important vehicle for education and information sharing of best practices.
  • Defines the different types/levels of trust that in turn help build quality and caring communities.
  • The best way to understand a people is by knowing their food habits.
  • A very important but undervalued topic to date.

Summary of issues covered so far:

Many of you have made contributions in relation to the need and role of quality communities, best achieved through the establishment and maintenance of strong social relations and networks. The quality of community and its core element of care have an influential role on food security, especially the food security of people with low incomes (Kent George and Claudio Schuftan). Kent, in his draft paper on `ending hunger locally’ introduces the concepts of caring communities and strong social support systems, achieved if we establish strong relations through which to protect the vulnerable in society from outside exploitation, establish local food systems that are sensitive to the nutritional needs of members, therefore an effective way to reduce hunger in the larger community/world ( The quality of community, partly measured through its social relations and networks plays an influential role in the outcome of development objectives. Pamela Pozarny draws from her experience on the FAO supported PtoP project, evaluating the LEAP programme in Ghana (Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty) to illustrate on the need to understand and incorporate existing social relations and practices into our policy and programme design and implementation strategies. The reason being that an understanding of social relations and networks helps in the promotion of inclusiveness and equitable access to assets and resources by providing an understanding of how decisions are made, resources are allocated and how benefits are shared within households and communities. To quote the words of Pamela, “social networks in rural communities in Ghana serve as a safety net in themselves and an avenue towards increasing inclusion, participation, voice and engagements among all members of the community, including the most vulnerable.” (

The need to focus on social relations and networks within any community is further provided in the writings of Etkin Nina in Foods of Association. Drawing on field experiences from West Africa, Etkin provides an illustration of existing linkages in food, culture and society; especially on the different ways in which foods contribute to our well-being (physiologically and socially) by defining one’s personal and cultural identity, and how people `make’ themselves by eating food. To eat food, one must have access to food, and one way of having nutritious food by supporting integrated agricultural production which will in turn result in sustainability of food production and nutrition (Subhash Mehta). Sustainability in food production implies sustainable communities that are linked through strong social relations and networks and in turn are better equipped to identify the food and nutritional needs of their members, and subsequently a better focus on agricultural production that will meet the needs of the people i.e. cyclical interactions where strong social relations and networks help identify people’s food and nutritional needs, and in turn helps create a market for targeted  agricultural production, whose consumers forge more relations and networks in the social and market space:

Diagram conceptualized by Eileen Omosa

Therefore, linked communities through social networks will result in better identification of people’s food and nutritional needs.

Is the concept of social relations and networks limited to particular areas; more to rural than to urban societies? The UGAgri Group 1 notes that social relations and networks should be considered important in both rural and urban areas. The nature of majority of our societies is that a slight shift in social relations can alter one’s level of hunger and poverty. To Group 1, social relations increase as we move from urban to sub-urban and are at their strongest in rural areas. That social relations and networks decrease as distances between rural and urban areas increase, situations elaborated on by examples of lived experiences from Liza and Tonnica (urban) and Shermain (sub-urban).

Social relations and networks are an important instrument for education, the sharing of information and best practices among people and over generations, thus creating and maintaining trust over time (UGAgric Group 7). Group 7 elaborates on the issue of trust, which is abundant in rural areas where it results in more acts of caring for one another, demonstrated through gifting or loaning of food and other products and services to those in need. On the other hand, urban settings are made up of people from different communities, classes, ethnicities and professions resulting in fewer interactions, less trust leaving ‘every man on his own’. The result is less sharing and caring among urban dwellers resulting in higher levels of vulnerabilities of individuals and groups that do not have the cash to purchase food from the market. In such situations, anyone in need of food is forced to spend time and resources traveling to their rural homes to receive food as gifts from family and other networks in rural areas. Either way, rural or urban based, people still need strong social relations and networks for their survival.

What else we can talk about in the remaining days:

Social relations and networks are alive in both rural and urban areas, where they play an influential role of enabling people (rich and poor) lead a satisfying life.

  1. How do people who already have access to food security and nutrition utilize social relations and networks?
  1. What role do social relations and networks play in education, information sharing and policy formulation and implementation?
  1. To what extent have social relations and networks been considered/incorporated in the design of development projects, and what role do you see relations and networks play in future development endeavours?