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Global Issues: Food Security

Locking up food security with permaculture

Nearly a billion people across the world experience the effects of food insecurity.

Nearly a billion people across the world experience the effects of food insecurity (1). According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), food security means having, at all times, both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life (2). Put more simply, families are able to afford and obtain enough nutritious food. A family is food secure when its members do not live in hunger or fear of hunger (2). Both in the United States and in developing nations, food insecurity is often linked to poverty. Shifts in the global economy, including rises in global food and oil prices, can affect food security throughout the world, with especially severe effects in low-income countries (13).

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines three main aspects of food security. The first is food availability, having a sufficient supply of food available on a consistent basis (3). This food can be either locally produced or imported from other places. In some cases, communities may be unable to produce their own food locally because of inappropriate agricultural technologies or practices; lack of natural resources or productive land; climate constraints; emergency situations like natural disasters; or health constraints, such as HIV/AIDS, that prevent people from engaging in labor (4). Communities may be unable to import food from other places because of issues like lack of foreign exchange, political unrest, or lack of transportation (4).

The second aspect of food security is food access, having sufficient resources to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet (3). Even when a sufficient supply of food exists to feed everyone, food may not always be accessible to everyone. People need to have sufficient incomes and resources in order to obtain food. There are a number of factors that can affect a person's economic access to food, including lack of job opportunities that can provide sufficient income, or lack of training or business knowledge for success with income generating activities (4).

The final aspect of food security is known as food utilization, or consuming a nutritious diet. This means that people make appropriate use of food, based on knowledge of basic nutrition and care, and have access to water and sanitation for preparing food and maintaining proper hygiene (3). Nutrition education can be an important part of improving food utilization-making sure people are aware of the variety of foods their bodies need to maintain good health. In many parts of the world experiencing food insecurity, people may consume sufficient quantities of starchy staple foods like potatoes, rice, maize, and cassava, but insufficient quantities of protein, oils, dairy, fruits and vegetables that make up a balanced diet (5). Changing this may not only require nutrition education, but also increasing food availability through improved agricultural practices and resources.

Disease prevention and management, including proper sanitation and hygiene practices, are also important for proper food utilization. Undernourished human bodies are more susceptible to illnesses like diarrheal disease and pneumonia. But with proper nutrition, sanitation, and hygiene, many diseases-especially those caused by food and waterborne contaminants-are less likely to occur.

Food security is an issue both globally and at home in the United States. According to recent data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), approximately 14.7% of U.S. households experience low or very low food security (7). This equates to nearly 50 million people in the United States, including about 17 million children (7). In response to food insecurity, the U.S. government offers food assistance to low income families through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This allows provides families with electronic benefits they can use like a debit card to purchase breads, cereals, fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products from approved stores (8). The federal government also funds school breakfast and lunch programs. Some community-based organizations, such as food banks, help address families' immediate food needs, while others work to address the root causes of food insecurity, improve local access to nutritious food, and provide community-based nutrition education.

Looking at food security globally, the number of people experiencing food insecurity in the United States and other developed nations makes up only about two percent of the global total (9). The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that 925 million (10) people in the world are undernourished. The largest percentage of undernourished people live in Asia and the Pacific Islands, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa (9). Fortunately, there is enough food in the world today for everyone to have the nourishment they need for a healthy and productive life (11). A key factor in addressing the world's food security challenges is improving the availability, access, and utilization of food across global communities.

Peace Corps Volunteers work with communities in many different capacities to address food security challenges. The support communities in developing irrigation systems to increase agricultural yields, in developing sustainable new food sources through practices like fish farming, and in helping communities improve the processing and marketing of their food products (12). They also provide assistance with school garden projects, agricultural micro-enterprises, and nutrition education initiatives. Explore the stories on Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools program's Global Issues page to learn more about how Peace Corps Volunteers' work in education, agriculture, income generation, health and nutrition is helping communities increase their food security.


  1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
  2. U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
  3. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
  4. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  5. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  6. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
  7. Peace Corps
  8. U.S. Department of Agriculture


Food access : Having sufficient resources to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet 2

Food availability : Having a sufficient supply of food available on a consistent basis 2

Food security : Having, at all times, both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life 1

Food utilization : Consuming a nutritious diet

Hunger: The sensation that the body is running short of food; can result in discomfort, illness, weakness, pain, and possibly malnutrition

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) : U.S. Federal Government program that provides food assistance to low-income U.S. families

Undernourished : Food intake does not include enough calories (energy) to meet the body's needs for an active life