Executive Summary: When we ponder the development issues we experience today, we often think about the most pressing one that seems more important to us individually. For instance, you may hold a higher weight to the environmental issues compared to the issue of the wealth gap. However, many of the issues you can name somehow relate to the issue of food security. For instance, insufficient means of income levels, war outbreaks, education availability, population growth, global climate change, biodiversity loss, and natural resource depletion all pose a threat to food security in one way or another.
The purpose of this policy brief is to gain a more robust understanding of the causes and implications of food insecurity so that we may make more informed policy decisions.
To efficiently improve food security, policies must be targeted on the regions, countries, and people who are most affected by food insecurity. Then we must target alleviating the underlying problems causing food insecurity by explicitly mapping them out.
To ensure that food security results in improvements of well-being, nutrition security must be improved as well. This can be done so by increasing agriculture involvement at the household level. We must also continue to study the impacts of measures taken to create this change, so that we may make amendments to policies put into place and improve models from successful policies.
Introduction: There are millions of farmers hard at work around the world, yet we still worry if there is food to feed our population. Moreover, this has been a concern due to our growing population.
However, today at a global level agriculture is currently producing ⅓ more calories than necessary to feed everyone in the world. This means that in principle there is indeed enough food to feed our population, but nevertheless one in nine people go to bed hungry. If we produce more than enough food why do people still experience food insecurity? This is due to the fact that although we produce more than enough food at the global production level, the food is not always made available, accessible, or usable for everyone at all times. Some factors that affect this include not having a means of transportation, money, or other inputs needed to gain access to sufficient food.
So, how can we use the power of policy to decrease the level of food insecurity experienced today? The purpose of this policy paper is to better understand the causes and implications of food insecurity of the disadvantaged so that we may confront the pressing development issue. In particular, we will be focusing on food security in the urban area setting, including the population of poor urban dwellers. Several of the papers included in this policy brief have studied the role of urban agriculture in addressing urban food insecurity problems using household survey data, case studies, systemic data from peer-reviewed journals. This subject has become really important with the growing urbanization of poverty and of populations in developing countries. Furthermore, these papers look further into empirical data, as well as examples of policies implemented in developing countries, and assess the effectiveness of these certain approaches.
Problem Description: Food Security is generally defined as having access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets basic dietary needs. Looking further into the underlying causes of food insecurity lies several factors. These include political instability, war status, imbalances in trade policies, monetary setbacks, population growth, gender inequality, etc. These lingering factors can all be linked to the basic causes of insufficient food availability and access to food. Moreover, certain the socio-economic characteristics belonging to households, local conditions, and the effectiveness of public programs are associated with the probability that a household experiences food insecurity. The increase in urbanization has also influenced the struggle for ensuring food security, especially for poor urban residents. Whether urban agriculture has a positive influence or not in food security, many scholars refuse to ignore the potential role of urban agriculture in this situation.
After various studies, including Zezza’s recent dataset that bridges nationally representative household survey data for 15 developing countries, it was concluded that urban agriculture’s role in urban poverty and food insecurity should not be “overemphasized,” but should also not be disregarded, for it still provides a substantial share of income and livelihood for the urban poor. Zezza’s survey focuses on dietary diversity as the outcome, total calorie consumption and geographic variables as the dummy variables, and per capita consumption expenditure, land ownership status, household size, education level, and age as the control variables. After introducing the set of controls, the study concluded that there is indeed a positive correlation between agricultural engagement and dietary sufficiency. For instance at the household level, individuals engage in agriculture for private consumption, and/or to sell their produce in the market. By doing so households have access to a means of income, to nutritionally rich foods and a diverse diet, and an increase (if not maintained) stability of food consumption.
At a more aggregate level, urban agriculture makes up a critical share of production of perishable and nutrient-rich foods. These trends further highlight the fact that the urban poor are more susceptible to fluctuations in food prices, and therefore vulnerable to food insecurity. A common approach to these fluctuations is for households to adjust their consumption towards inferior goods as a cheaper source of calories. This comes with the trade off issue of substituting a richer set of nutritionally valuable food for what is often empty calories. Responses such as this can be harmful in the long run to the health of specific population subgroups such as women of reproductive age and children. For this reason we can also conclude that by participating in urban agriculture, households gain access to a more diverse diet, and to a helpful medium as they cope with the changes in food prices. Results such as those from Zezza’s paper serve as evidence to urge urban planners and policymakers to plan for better access to means of urban agricultural practices.
Currently, the debate whether urban agriculture may serve as an instrument to food security still continues. Moreover, the policies explicitly tackling food hunger such as the Millenium Development Goal have shown to provide a large impact in supporting this. In fact by 2015, we met the Millenium Development Goal to halve the number of undernourished people (Poulsen, 2015). Moreover, several countries have implemented a set of actions aimed at improving living conditions, including their position when it comes to food security. Brazil in specific implemented a program about a decade ago called the Zero Hunger Program that involves tackling hunger by replacing existing development models to promote growth and solve inequality. The figure included below shows Brazil’s policy dimensions to achieve food security, which was achieved by mapping out goals to find a solution.
Measurements of effectiveness of this program include the National Household Sample Survey (PNAD). This survey interviews 360,000 individuals and 150,000 households over the past decade. Measurements have shown a large success since these efforts have been put into place, such as a 12.3 percent increase in the number of households experiencing food security. One of the reasons Brazil’s Zero Hunger Program has been successful is due to the large conditional cash transfers used to make this possible. Policy Options: Many policy proposals have fallen into two main categories: those associated with municipal planning, or those associated with agricultural planning. The category focusing on municipal planning generally focuses on issues of land access and transportation technology efficiency, while the agricultural-based policies focus more on the inputs and outputs resulting from households participating in agricultural activities.
Since land availability is scarce, an option for tackling this would be to use small areas within cities to implement community gardens in convenient places such as rooftops of buildings, greenhouses, patios, empty lots, etc. This could increase the production in agricultural policies, but an issue with this is deciding who will control these gardens, and who will the food go to? Could this offer a new job for individuals seeking careers in cultivated plants? We have increased global connectivity between cities and countries overtime by improving our transportation technology. However, it is evident that those advances have stemmed from unsustainable sources such as energy from fossil fuels. We could further improve this to better food security by continuing to seek more sustainable methods of transportation such as renewable energy-based fuel so we would correct for the negative externalities of our economic development and further prevent detrimental environmental impacts.
Although this can be an option, it probably will not be a focus because we have already improved transportation technology by a lot to gain access to resources such as international trade. Moreover, as urbanization increases, this concern of geographic barriers and distances becomes lessened. Creating models based on previously successful policies such as the Millenium Development Goals or the Zero Hunger Program, can help guide us in the direction most efficient when tackling this issue. We can use policies such as these and tailor them to specific countries or subgroups that need it the most as a model for tackling food insecurity. Once we make these steps, we can make it more possible to find the most successful solution.Conclusions & Recommendations: The debate still lingers if urban agriculture is worthy of direct public policy support, as each case needs specific methods out of poverty and possible alternative measures to increase household’s access to food. This can be through the promotion of or availability of different income generating activities and employment opportunities.
In addition, this can also be through improving the efficiency of the urban food markets people rely on. This can be done through implementing new policies that tackle the issues that influence food security such as education availability, etc. This way it does not directly attempt to undergo the issue of food security head on, but instead digging to the roots of the issue and handling it from there. We can start out the plan by explicitly mapping our goals, similar to Brazil’s method. Moreover, we will in fact need financial support, conditional cash transfers possibly may be implemented to aid the movement. This big sacrifice will be needed to make a positive change in the long run, but it will be worth it.
To aid the food security issue, we could also look further into implementing convenient sources of agriculture around urban areas such as discussed previously. Moreover, we could incentivize folks into practicing agricultural activities in urban settings by adding it to their tax statement. This could be more complicated with government regulations but it is a simple seed of an idea to help aid the issue. The point is that we make an effort to tackle this pressing issue, as a large portion of our population is still experiencing hunger even though we are globally producing sufficient food. We must continue to study this, and try different methods to make a change until we have found the most effective and efficient solution.