The Conditions of Sustainable Food Security: An Integrated Conceptual Framework

An Excerpt



Editorial Note

Of all the determinants of health, food security is the most basic. Without adequate and nourishing food, health cannot be sustained. This article develops a research methodology to assess food security at six different levels of complexity, showing how and why they interrelate.

[. . . ] the metaphor “food window” [is] a means of gaining insight into a society based on the values, behaviors and expectations associated with the production, distribution, and consumption of food. Addressing the social factors surrounding food security . . . serves as a window through which we observe the complexities and challenges emerging from the competing structures of production and consumption. (Corbett 1991: 251) [Corbett attributes this metaphor to Joseph Collins (1985: xvi) in Nicaragua: What Difference Could a Revolution Make? Rev. ed. San Francisco: Institute for Food and Development Policy.]


In 1975, the United Nations’ World Food Conference equated food security with a situation where adequate supplies are available to meet the growth in world consumption.

Food security is: Availability at all times of adequate world supplies of basic food stuffs . . to sustain a steady expression of food consumption . . . and to offset fluctuations in production and price. (United Nations 1975, quoted in Le Normand 1996: 89)

In 1983, the Food and Agriculture Organization indicated that access to stocks is as essential condition of food security as the existence of stocks:

Food security is ensuring that all people at all times have both physical and economic access to the food they need. (Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 1983, quoted in Le Normand 1996: 89)

The analysis of food security must now include accessibility, consumption, production, and circulation, or availability, of stocks. Accessibility and individual consumption are linked to a new set of factors, not reflected in the global economic analysis. Indeed, they are linked to the dynamics of the relations between institutions and within institutions where the circulation of food takes place. This circulation takes place at several levels and is determined by a complex set of factors.

  • between world markets and nations,
  • between national stocks and regions,
  • between regional stocks and communities or families,
  • between family stocks and the final individual consumption.

Commercial transactions are among these factors, as well as non-commercial transactions. Within households, non-commercial transactions may determine individual access to food and where factors such as food preferences, the sexual division of roles, and nutritional needs come into play.

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