Food Security in Developing Countries

CIES Working Paper No. 11

61 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2000

See all articles by Randy Stringer

Randy Stringer

University of Adelaide - Centre for International Economic Studies (CIES)

Date Written: March 2000


Food security and hunger are age-old problems that endure today. More than 820 million people are chronically undernourished because they are unable to obtain sufficient food by any means. Chronic malnutrition results from a continuously inadequate diet, reducing physical capacity, lowering productivity, stunting growth, and inhibiting learning. Over time, chronic malnutrition kills, blinds, and debilitates. Yet, enough food is produced worldwide to provide adequate food for all. The current global population of some 6 billion people have 15 percent more food available per capita than had the world's 3 billion people some four decades ago. After fifty years of substantial economic growth, steady progress in agricultural productivity, remarkable increases in per capita food availability, and numerous international and national efforts to address hunger, food security remains a formidable global problem.

Food security implies an individual has access at all times to enough food for an active and healthy life. Food security has numerous interrelated dimensions. Availability of food and access to food are the two most common defining characteristics of food security. Availability and access to food are affected by population growth, demographic trends, economic development, government policies, income levels, health, nutrition, gender, environmental degradation, natural disasters, refugees, migration disease, and concentrated resource ownership. Nations increasingly understand that many of these problems cannot be resolved by one country or group; they transcend national borders, spreading starvation, instability and environmental degradation throughout the region and around the world.

During the early 1990s, food security issues pushed their way back onto a crowded international agenda. Not since the "world food crisis" of the early 1970s had the international community focused so much attention on the seemingly never ending race between food production and population growth. Record-low levels of global food reserves in the mid 1990s, weather-related crop failures, financial and economic crisis, policy-induced declines in food production, and doubts about the long-term sustainability of the Earth's resource base to meet future global demands focused increasing attention on food security. In addition, many of yesterday's issues are back on today's agenda because of renewed concerns over declining growth rates for cereal yields, falling investment levels in agricultural research, and the persistence of large numbers of malnourished people throughout the developing world.

Moreover, economic liberalisation, privatisation efforts, government spending reductions and the globilisation of investment and manufacturing began raising new concerns about agriculture's ability to compete for resources. Stabilisation policies, structural adjustment programmes and transitions from socialist to market-oriented economies influence sectoral and regional growth patterns, modify incentive structures, shift relative factor prices and reshape economic and social institutions. These far reaching national-level reforms in economic, financial and political systems alter agriculture's capacity to attract or retain land, water, labour and investment.

Regional and multilateral trade agreements as well as international conventions on biological diversity, forestry, wetlands, fisheries and climate change have important implications for food production, consumption and trade, further complicating food security policy choices. Because food security is fundamental to national security and economic growth, agriculture gradually began to play a more dominant role in the policy debates about how to restructure domestic economies, reorganise public sector activities, and expand regional and global trade and environmental agreements.

This chapter reviews food security issues in developing countries. The following section explores the evolving nature, characteristics and conceptual issues associated with food security, focusing on the various policy approaches used to address hunger and how those policies have changed over time. Section III discusses how food security is measured, providing and overview of regional experiences. Section IV examines the relationship between food security, economic development and poverty. Section V assesses the topical issue of environmental sustainability. Section VI attempts to explain why the too often ignored relationship between gender and food security is so crucial to a successful reduction in food insecurity. The final section provides some concluding remarks.

Keywords: Food Security, Sustainable Development, Gender Issues, Poverty

JEL Classification: Q18, O10, Q20

Suggested Citation

Stringer, Randy, Food Security in Developing Countries (March 2000). CIES Working Paper No. 11, Available at SSRN: or

Randy Stringer (Contact Author)

University of Adelaide - Centre for International Economic Studies (CIES) ( email )

Adelaide SA5005
+61 8 8303 4821 (Phone)
+61 8 8223 1460 (Fax)

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