How can countries better plan for food security?
Food security impacts people and communities in different ways. This means that solutions must be tailored to meet local needs. Here we explore key interventions that decision makers can introduce at a local scale to improve food and water security.
Food insecurity is a global challenge that demands immediate attention, especially in the context of climate change and its impact on agricultural systems. As these impacts worsen across the world, alongside factors such as war and conflict that are contributing to human displacement and supply chain disruptions, we must focus on fostering practical solutions and ideas that can help countries better plan for food security.
The global food security challenge
Food security is a global challenge with localised solutions. According to the United Nations, an estimated 9.7 billion people will inhabit the planet by 2050 and almost 10.4 billion by the 2080s (1), with an increasing percentage living in cities. This population growth and urbanisation trend, coupled with climate change, poses significant challenges to food production, distribution, and access. To ensure everyone has access to safe, nutritious, and affordable food and water, we must focus on solutions that address the root causes of food and water insecurity, and better understand their interconnections. This intersects with other challenges such as nutrition insecurity and sustainable land management for food production.
Water security: a cornerstone of food security
Agriculture accounts for approximately 70% of global freshwater use (2), making efficient water management critical for sustainable food production and intimately linking water scarcity to food security. Indeed, water is the central theme of the 2023 World Food Day, which calls on governments to design science and evidence-based policies that capitalise on data, innovation and cross-sectoral coordination to better plan and manage water. Countries need to prioritise water security and sanitation as part of their food security planning by implementing policies and enabling solutions that improve water use efficiency, such as drip irrigation. However, these interventions must be coupled with ongoing funding and maintenance plans to ensure long-term impact (3).
Integrated water resource management and international cooperation on transboundary water bodies, which make up 60% of the world’s freshwater sources, can also help countries better manage their water resources (4). By safeguarding water availability, countries can produce food more sustainably, even in regions prone to water stress and drought such as the South of Europe. In September 2023, the European Union introduced revised lists of surface water and groundwater pollutants, to better manage water sources and increase security, as well as to restore ecosystems and eliminate pollution (5).
Local solutions for global food security challenges
Every region faces unique food security challenges and opportunities, making it essential for countries to adapt strategies to their specific contexts.
Here are five actionable steps that countries can take to better plan for food security:
- Invest in research, development and innovation: Support research institutions, universities and startups to develop innovative agricultural practices and technologies tailored to local conditions. EIT Food recently received $500,000 in funding from the Citi Foundation’s Global Innovation Challenge to provide support for community organisations that are developing social and economic challenges facing low-income communities. The programme will initially focus on Madrid where interventions may include supporting community gardens and kitchens, funding for healthy food innovation, and support for local entrepreneurs.
- Promote sustainable farming practices: Encourage farmers to adopt sustainable agriculture techniques, such as crop rotation, organic farming, and agroforestry, to improve soil health and resilience. Networks and communities such as the European Carbon+ Farming Coalition take a farmer-centric approach to this, with the aim of increasing the uptake of regenerative and climate-smart agriculture practices, identifying the roadblocks to adoption, and designing solutions that improve food security with economic, practical and ecological benefits to farmers in parallel.
- Expand access to credit and resources: Provide small-scale farmers with access to credit, training, and resources to enhance their productivity and income. Education courses and resources on topics such as the future of water and food security, building regenerative models, nutrition for health and sustainability, and technologies for sustainable farming systems can help farmers and other stakeholders to tailor their processes and develop new solutions that put food security and agricultural productivity hand in hand.
- Strengthen supply chain resilience: Build robust and efficient food supply chains, in both urban and rural environments, to reduce food waste and food loss. This can ensure nutritious and plentiful food is always available to consumers, while reducing the environmental impacts of food waste and food loss. By placing simple, local food systems at the centre of urban planning, and encouraging knowledge sharing among local businesses, governments can better prepare for disturbances and shocks.
- Empower local communities: Engage local communities in food security planning and decision-making processes to ensure their needs and perspectives are considered. An example of this is community-based management of acute malnutrition (CMAM) whereby governments work alongside organisations and NGOs to shift the management of food insecurity and malnutrition from facility-based to community-level treatment. This approach is actively used by organisations including WHO and UNICEF in countries such as Ghana to plan resources and provide food security relief to those who need it most, quickly and efficiently (6).
The Global Food Security Index: a tool for tracking progress
Before implementing solutions, it is essential to understand the scope of the challenge. That is why accurate measuring and monitoring of food security levels is critical. The Global Food Security Index (GFSI) is a valuable tool that assesses and ranks countries based on their food security performance. It considers factors such as food availability, affordability, quality, and safety. By analysing these metrics, countries can identify their strengths and weaknesses and develop targeted strategies for improvement.
Although interventions should always be tailored to local needs, regularly reviewing the Global Food Security Index scores means governments can set specific targets for improvement and implement policies and programmes accordingly. All global indices have their limitations and blind spots, but this data-driven approach can help countries track their progress and make evidence-based decisions to ensure food and water security for their populations.
Ensuring a food secure future for all
Addressing global water and food security requires countries to collaborate while implementing localised solutions. Collaboration between countries and organisations, alongside initiatives like the Global Food Security Index, can guide countries in their efforts to build resilient and sustainable food systems. By spotlighting success, sharing knowledge, channelling sufficient funding and prioritising evidence-based policies and programmes, we can better work together to ensure a food-secure future for all.
- United Nations: Population
- FAO: Water for sustainable food and agriculture
- World Bank: Water in Agriculture
- UN Water: Transboundary water
- European Parliament: Reducing pollution in EU groundwater and surface waters
- Journal of Taibah University Medical Sciences: Joshua A. Akuu, Moses A. Amagnya: Community-based management of acute malnutrition: Implementation quality, and staff and user satisfaction with services