Food & Nutrition Security Introduction

Key Principles and Priorities

Food and Nutrition Security (FNS) exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to food, which is safe and consumed in sufficient quantity and quality to meet their dietary needs and food preferences, and is supported by an environment of adequate sanitation, health services and care, allowing for a healthy and active life (CFS). Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Governments have committed themselves to respect, protect and promote the full realization of the Right to Adequate Food (RtAF).

Food and Nutrition Security depends on the following four dimensions:

Availability – at national as well as local level sufficient cultural acceptable, good quality and nutritious food has to be available. This can be supplied through domestic production or imports, including food aid. Women make up 43% of the overall agricultural workforce1, and in many societies they have the main responsibility for food production as opposed to growing cash crops.

Accessibility - households and individuals need adequate resources (entitlements) for acquiring appropriate foods for a nutritious diet. It is about affordability of available food, besides access to natural resources and other necessary inputs for production of food. Although across the world women still do most of the cooking, they often have weaker access to productive resources and are more likely than men to be malnourished.

Utilization of food by individuals depends on the quality of the diet, clean water, sanitation and care to reach a state of nutritional well-being where all physiological needs are met. This brings out the importance of non-food inputs in food security such as personal hygiene, health status, feeding practices and care (including intra household distribution of food), especially for infants and young children. Given their specific needs for girls and women a lifelong scope should be applied in which they are not only considered as mothers(to be) and/or wives.

Stability - refers to the time frame over which food and nutrition security is being considered. The access to adequate food needs to be constant during the year and in the long-term. That includes own food production, income and economic resources. Households or individuals should not risk losing access to food as a consequence of sudden shocks (e.g. an economic or climatic crisis) or cyclical events (e.g. seasonal food insecurity). It is important take into consideration gender aspects in all these dimensions, recognizing and addressing the barriers and challenges that girls and women face.

The multidimensional character of food and nutrition security as well as the specific areas of attention is reflected in the figure below. This requires for an integrated and multi-actor approach; at all levels, adequate policies, programs, interventions, practices and monitoring mechanisms need to be in place to reach sustainable food and nutrition security and progressively realize the Right to Adequate Food.

Food and nutrition intro chart.png

The multi-dimensional character of food and nutrition security demands for a systemic change through a multi-actor and multi-level approach, involving of small scale producers (organizations), consumers, civil society groups, development organizations, research institutes, private sector actors and of course the public sector from local to international level. To facilitate coordination and collaboration, the different actors, should have a common: analysis of the problematic, vision of success, set of interrelated pathways for intervention and monitoring, evaluation and learning mechanism.

Agricultural and trade policies, together with infrastructure and natural resource management heavily influence the food production, processing, distribution and marketing mechanism and subsequently the availability of food. Own food production, income generating activities and economic development together with social safety nets define access to food. Subsequently access to basic services, including education of women and girls, nutrition awareness and care are closely related to each other and determine the utilization of food and as such the nutrition situation at individual level.

A food system includes all processes and actors involved in feeding a population: growing, harvesting, storage, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consumption, and disposal of food and food-related items as well as overall governance. As an active member of the European Group on Food Security of CONCORD2, ICCO Cooperation advocates for a food system that enables everyone to eat a healthy, nutritious diet that is based in the right to adequate food, shaped by planetary boundaries, resilient and defined by people. Policy makers and authorities should be hold accountable for providing the necessary support for resilient food systems, working from a rights based approach that involves the perspectives and interests of small producers and base of the pyramid consumers.

Special areas of attention

  • Small scale producers

Seventy per cent of the 850 million people that go hungry are small scale producers3. Too many of them do not grow enough food to feed themselves and their families throughout the year. They are locked in a cycle of low productivity, lack of assets and services and weak market power. Besides this they face other challenges such as climate change, land degradation and price volatility. Notwithstanding these challenges, small holder farmers (commonly defined as those producing food in holdings of less than two hectares) produce more than 50 percent of the world’s food4. They have huge potential to meet not only their own food needs, but also the growing requirements of increasingly urbanized and expanding populations, whenever they receive appropriate support. They need support to sustainably improve their production (natural resource management increasing resilience), storage and links with local markets, contributing to the availability of food at household level and enhancing income. In order to get sufficient and relevant support, small scale producers should be allowed to participate in the decision taking that affects their livelihoods. Moreover policies should protect their access to and use of land, water and other natural resources.

  • Position of women and girls

Gender issues are cross-cutting and play a crucial role to improve and change the situation at all levels and within all sectors. Women are over-represented both in poverty and poor nutrition statistics. Increasing productivity at the household level does not automatically lead to equal access to increased income. Evidence has shown that improving the position of women in society in itself has direct positive impact on food and nutrition security. FAO states the production could increase with 20% and poverty would decline, if women would have equal access to productive resources. Supporting women in their role as producers and caretakers is important, but it is even more important to apply a lifelong approach and broadly strengthening their position in society.

  • Sustainable economic development – making markets work for the poor

Economic development is crucial for reaching food and nutrition security in a sustainable way. Hereto market-led approaches will need to be designed, validated and brought to scale. The involvement and commitment from private sector actors is key. Among other things they can become more inclusive in their sourcing (e.g. buying local, improved conditions in value chains) and marketing (e.g Base of the Pyramid products). Private sector actors should not harm the interest of small scale producers (e.g. their access to natural resources such as land and water), but contribute to improve food and nutrition security of these groups.

  • Ecological sustainable – Disaster Risk Management

Creating sustainable livelihoods also calls for increasing resilience to external shocks and disasters. During planning and implementation of development programs it is important to ensure that interventions do not increase (or create new) disaster risks but rather contribute to reducing them. Climate change is posing threats to resilience of people in many areas. Experiences have shown that linking indigenous and scientific knowledge is crucial. Elements that have potential to increase resilience include: crop diversification, applied irrigation systems, agroforestry, seed banks, applied food processing and adequate local storage facilities.



  1. FAO, The state of food and agriculture 2010-11. Rome: FAO, 2011, p7
  2. World Bank, World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development, Washington: World Bank 2007.
  3. World Bank, World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development, Washington: World Bank 2007.
  4. Christian Aid, Healthy Harvests: the benefits of sustainable agriculture in Africa and Asia, 2011.