Food Security is a complex and flexible concept, which has undergone a number of revisions since its first use in the mid-1970s. The most recent definition of food security was introduced by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO):
“Food security [is] a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”
The original definition provided by the World Food Summit in 1974 focused more on the supply side and the financial accessibility of food:
“availability at all times of adequate world food supplies of basic foodstuffs to sustain a steady expansion of food consumption and to offset fluctuations in production and prices”
In 1996, the World Food Summit again redefined the concept of food security and set an aim to halve the number of undernourished by 2015:
“Food security, at the individual, household, national, regional and global levels [is achieved] when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”
Four pillars of Food Security
The widely accepted World Food Summit (1996) definition reinforces the multidimensional nature of food security; accordingly FAO Food Security encompasses four main pillars: availability, economic and physical access to food, utilization and stability. In order for food security to exist, all four pillars should be addressed; otherwise, the community, individual or the country can face food insecurity.
 FAO. 2002. The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2001. Rome
 United Nations. 1975. Report of the World Food Conference, Rome 5-16 November 1974. New York.
 FAO. 1996. Rome Declaration on World Food Security and World Food Summit Plan of Action. World Food Summit 13-17 November 1996. Rome.
From the perspective of food security, it’s very important to review past and future forecasts on possible potential threats and challenges as well as the state of agriculture as agriculture remains the largest employment sector in most developing countries and is crucial to both national and global food security.
Looking ahead, it’s expected that the world population will reach about 9 billion by 2050 compared to today’s 6.8 billion which, in its turn, means a substantial increase in food demand. Moreover, sharp food price increase in 2008 (130% for wheat, 74% for rice etc) showed the first signs of potential threats that may lead to food insecurity and hunger. It already caused a series of protests and riots in about 36 countries and brought up the need for food aid amounting 1.2 billion USD to help 75 million hungry people in 60 countries over the world. According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, there’ll be the need for 20 billion USD annually to overcome food crisis.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reported that almost 870 million people were chronically undernourished in the years 2010-2012. This represents 12.5% of the global population, or 1 in 8 people. Higher rates occur in developing countries, where 852 million people (about 15% of the population) were chronically undernourished.
The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were one of the initiatives aimed at achieving food security in the world. The first Millennium Development Goal stated that the UN “is to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty”, the target was to reduce the proportion of the world’s hungry by 50 percent by 2015, which was missed by a small margin. As many as 72 developing countries out of 129 have reached the MDG hunger target. Most of these enjoyed stable political conditions and economic growth, along with sound social protection policies aimed at assisting the most vulnerable.
However, As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) give way to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or Global Goals, about 795 million people globally are still without sufficient calories and at least two billion lack sufficient nutrients.
A key factor of success in reducing undernourishment is economic growth, but only when it is inclusive – providing opportunities for the poor who have meagre assets and skills, to improve their livelihoods. Enhancing the productivity of family farmers and strengthening social protection mechanisms are key factors for promoting inclusive growth, along with well-functioning markets and governance in which all voices are heard.
At the same time, it is important to consider other factors that are having severe impacts on food production: water stress and desertification is reducing the amount of arable land; many pests are becoming resistant to insecticides, but many of the most effective chemical agents are now banned under environmental regulations; underdeveloped infrastructure means that losses increase further during transport and storage; consumption patterns are changing and developing nations such as India and China have an increased appetite for meat, and climate change is bringing new microbial diseases to food-growing regions along with more extreme and unpredictable weather patterns.
In September 2013, Oxfam launched the project Improving Regional Food Security in the South Caucasus through National Strategies and Smallholder production funded by the European Union. The project was initially launched in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. After two years, Oxfam refined its approach and continued more policy-based advocacy work in Armenia and Georgia and more technical research activities in Azerbaijan.
The four year project, implemented in Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan (2013-2015) aims to improve food security and nutrition through:
- National Management of the availability, access, and nutritional content of food;
- Legislation to support local food production and consumption and;
- Representation of women and men small-holder farmers in food security policy and strategy development.
- Availability of food: the food production index is low and quite similar across the three countries in the region.
- Access to food: Both countries have extremely high priced food, which is also reflected in the proportion of income spent on food, which is 64% in Armenia and 54% in Georgia
- Utilization of food: The caloric poverty is not an issue in the region, however, there is a considerable dependency on starchy foods and lower access to protein, which is manifested in a high proportion of children who are physically underdeveloped (or ‘stunted’) across the region. On the other hand, 56% of the total population in Azerbaijan, 56% in Armenia, and 54% in Georgia were considered overweight or obese in 2008.
- Food Stability: All three countries have far higher levels of food import dependency than the rest of the region or developed countries. For example, in 2009-2011, the cereal import dependency ratio was 72% in Georgia, 56% for Armenia and 38% of Azerbaijan.
- Gender and food security: Women are the principal producers and processors of food in the region: therefore they are crucial to food access and stability. They take the main responsibility for domestic food production which means that they are not only central to access, but also nutritional and phytosanitary choices, therefore making them critical to utilisation. Low status and lack of access to resources mean that women and girls are the most disadvantaged by the inequitable global economic processes that govern food systems and by global trends such as climate change. Responses must treat food insecurity as equality, rights and social justice issue.
The overall objective of the project is to contribute to the improvement of food security and nutrition in the South Caucasus through small holder farmers’ representation in the governance processes.
The specific objective of the Project is to contribute to the design and implementation of effective food security and nutrition strategies in the South Caucasus through the active participation of small holder farmers’ representative bodies.
The 3 main expected results of the project are:
- Inclusive and gender-sensitive food security and nutrition strategies (which define the priorities and policies on the availability, access and nutritional content of food) are developed and implemented in the 3 targeted countries.
- Enacted food security and nutrition legislations support local food production and consumption in the 3 targeted countries
- Increased representation of civil society through alliances and working groups in food security and nutrition strategy/policy decision making processes.
– Oxfam and partners provided analysis and recommendations on the draft agricultural strategic frameworks (5-10 years) of the three countries to ensure that food security, gender, small-holder inclusion, coordination, monitoring, action plans and budget are well defined;
– Oxfam and partners support national alliances and networks of civil society and non-government organisations to develop common positions for advocacy.
- Georgian Alliance for Agricultural and Rural Development (GAARD)
- Agriculture Alliance of Armenia (AA) – 16 member organisations
- Agriculture and Food Security Alliance of Azerbaijan (AFSA)
– Oxfam and partners increased evidence and understanding on food security through research and public events.
- Baseline research on Food Security in the South Caucasus – October 2014
- Impact of trade turn-over with key trading partners in Azerbaijan – September 2014
- Diagnostic Review of Existing Food Security Institutional Mechanisms and Public Policy in Georgia – September 2014
- Nutritional Aspects of Food Security in Armenia – August 2014
- Nutritional Diversification and Policy Review in Armenia and Georgia
- Food Security and Nutrition challenges in High Mountains of Georgia
- Various conferences to raise awareness on food security in all three countries.
Structural and institutional changes as a result of project’s advocacy work
– National Working Group in Armenia – Informal group was set up to coordinate with the Ministry of Agriculture on the development of the Strategy for Sustainable Agricultural Rural Development 2015-2025
– Provincial Working Groups in Armenia – includes regional government, extension services, banks and MFIs, private sector companies/processors, NGOs, media as well as farmers and farmer cooperatives
– Private Sector Sub-Working group – Cooperatives, processors, private sector companies, financial institutions (supported by the partner BSC).
– Official Food Security Working Group under the Ministry of Agriculture – An official working group was set up under the Ministry of Agriculture by decree, which brings different Government Departments to work on food security strategies. Some of the members are: Dept. Of Agriculture and Food, including the Division of Sectoral Development; Division of Food and Water/National Food Agency, Policy and Analytical Department , adviser to the Minister of Agriculture, Food Security expert from the GAARD.
– Farmers’ Congress in Georgia – Organised together with Oxfam implementing partner Elkana to mobilise farmers from all regions of Georgia to give a platform to discuss and debate existing problems and challenges in agriculture.
Food is an indispensible part of our lives and a commodity that even shapes national identities and represents a source of national pride. As such, food security policies that foster local production and consumption contribute to increase the income of small holder farmers and also perpetuate a tradition of local food production. Growing your own food increases the availability and diversity of food, and responsive national food security policies can create an enabling environment for local farmers to grow, utilize and trade food.
Furthermore, the lack of comprehensive food security and nutrition policies can pose an increasing threat to national security in terms of over-dependency on imports, increased sensitivity to foreign currency exchange rate fluctuations and inadequate workforce development as a result of poor nutrition. It is up to the governments, in collaboration with civil society, farmer organisations and the private sector, to take steps to develop a holistic vision of the country-specific food security concept, which promotes the responsible use of natural resources, harnesses the full potential of local farming practices, promotes healthy nutrition and supports local producers to become competitive in diverse markets.
Women constitute the majority of unpaid productive workers who produce and prepare food. However, women often lack financial, strategic or productive resources to redress the gender imbalance in women’s access to diversified and nutritious food. Price volatility puts vulnerable female farmers at a high risk where pregnant and post-natal women are most disadvantaged. Food utilisation, from a gender perspective, is of vital importance. If pregnant women are iron deficient, it can result in women dying at childbirth, whereas specific nutrients are of vital importance during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Additionally, malnourishment also results in stunting or other health problems. Women and girls are, therefore, the most vulnerable segment of the population and are critical to ensure food security.