Food insecurity: what is it and how to combat it?

To better understand what food insecurity means, it is necessary to first understand the definition of food security. Check out.

At the end of 2020, the Brazilian Research Network on Food and Nutritional Sovereignty and Security (PENSSAN Network) carried out research that showed alarming numbers about food insecurity.

More than 116 million people in Brazil are at some level food insecure and 19 million are hungry. This represents that more than half of the population – of the 211.7 million Brazilians – does not have food security, a definition provided for in law number 11,346 2006.

Hunger and food insecurity are correlated themes, however, the second is more comprehensive, and brings up urgent and current debates regarding tackling food waste, social inequalities and access to healthy and complete food in every sense.

What is food insecurity?

To better understand what food insecurity means, it is necessary to first understand the definition of food security:

The Organic Law on Food and Nutritional Security (Losan), of July 15, 2006, defines food security as:

“Realization of everyone’s right to regular and permanent access to quality food, in sufficient quantity. But without compromising access to other essential needs, based on health-promoting dietary practices. They respect cultural diversity and are socially, economically and environmentally sustainable.”

Already the IBGE Since 2003, it has been using the Brazilian Food Insecurity Scale (EBIA) to draw up diagnoses of national food security. As well as helping to understand the concept with studies and new classifications.

  • Mild, moderate and severe

In one of the classifications made by IBGE, it is divided into three degrees, and is thus used to provide strategic information in the management of public policies that identify and quantify the groups belonging to these categories.

  • Light: concern or uncertainty about access to food in the future; inadequate food quality resulting from strategies aimed at not compromising the quantity of food.
  • Moderate: quantitative reduction of food among adults and/or disruption in eating patterns resulting from lack of food among adults.
  • Serious: quantitative reduction of food among children and/or disruption in eating patterns. Thus, resulting from lack of food among children; hunger (when someone goes the whole day without eating due to lack of money to buy food).

It is in the third and final classification, the severe degree, that the hunger stage is found, and where the two concepts intertwine.

What is the difference between food insecurity and hunger? 

They are two different concepts. Hunger is a physical sensation caused by extreme discomfort due to lack of food. 

Meanwhile, food insecurity is a concept that refers to the lack of access to quality food, whether due to physical, economic, political or social aspects. Because of this, it can even happen to people who have access to food every day.

Therefore, hunger would be one of the symptoms of food insecurity, as well as lack of access to healthy food, inability to buy food and uncertainty about whether one will have a next meal.

What are the causes of food insecurity?

It is a phenomenon arising from socioeconomic order, historical and structural issues.

For each country, a different reality. The reason can vary across many dimensions. However, we can mention some of the main causes of food insecurity:

  1. Scarcity of resources;
  2. Supply problems;
  3. Economic crisis;
  4. Unemployment;
  5. Climate changes;
  6. Unequal distribution of income.

The more causative factors a country has, the higher the rates of malnutrition and poor nutrition and, consequently, food insecurity.

Second UN report, the most impactful causes for nations are conflicts, economic crises, and high inequality.

Brazil is one of the main food producers in the world and the fourth largest grain producer, according to Embrapa. And in the country it has been growing, mainly due to the lack of access to food (a symptom of the population's poverty). Furthermore, by food waste, (Brazil is one of the countries that wastes its production the most, according to the Oxford committee for hunger relief).

Consequences of food insecurity 

The main consequences of food insecurity are for the individual's health and well-being. This is because, when we do not have access to nutritious food, we run the risk of developing some problems, such as malnutrition and other diseases. 

Furthermore, in the case of children, food insecurity can affect their physical and cognitive development, even harming their academic development and their future.

Lack of access to fresh, healthy foods can also contribute to chronic health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. 

Food insecurity can also have negative social and economic impacts, increasing the vulnerability of communities and affecting the productivity and economic stability of entire regions.

Food insecurity in Brazil

Food insecurity in Brazil reached 59.4% of the country's households, according to survey carried out by researchers from the Free University of Berlin, in partnership with the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and the University of Brasília (UnB) in November and December 2020.

When observed within the classifications of food insecurity, the survey data indicates that 31.7% of those interviewed are in a mild state; 12.7% moderate and 15% severe.

When analyzing regions of the country, the National Child Food and Nutrition Study (Enani 2019) points out that the North (61.4%) and Northeast (59.7%) regions are those that suffer most from food insecurity in Brazil.

Challenges to reducing food insecurity in Brazil

The data indicates that the Brazilian situation is worrying. Seven years ago, in 2014, the FAO announced in the Annual Report on the State of Food and Nutritional Security in the World that the country had left the Hunger Map.

At the time, Mapa, a large document organized by UN criteria that investigates the scenario of hunger in the world, pointed out that in Brazil the percentage of the population in a situation of malnutrition was below 5%.

Today, however, after changes in the criteria for producing this document, it is difficult to say whether or not Brazil is back on the Hunger Map.

However, a study of Penssan Network points out that the severe Brazilian food insecurity index (hunger) reached 9% at the end of 2020.

To combat food insecurity and hunger, action is needed to address the causes of these increases.

Food insecurity in Brazil 2022 

The Covid-19 pandemic has further aggravated the scenario of hunger and food insecurity in Brazil. According to data from the IBGE, the country has 33.1 million people without anything to eat, with 14 million more in severe food insecurity in 2022, compared to 2020. 

Furthermore, 6 out of 10 homes are unable to maintain full nutrition and are concerned about food shortages. 

Finally, the study shows that 58.7% of the Brazilian population lives with some type of food insecurity, whether severe, mild or moderate. Bringing to the numbers, there are 125.2 million Brazilians in this situation.

Solutions to combat food insecurity

Civil society and private institutions can do their part by combating waste and creating solutions for access to quality food for everyone through technology.

For example, the iFood, foodtech Brazilian country, joined forces with the NGO Ação da Cidadania and partner companies to redistribute surplus food in a series of actions to combat hunger.

The movement called Everyone at the Table seeks to connect the private sector and social organizations to combat food insecurity and waste.

With hundreds of tons of food donated, the aim is to put this action facilitated by Law 14,016 into further debate. It authorizes establishments that produce food to donate it, within ideal conditions of conservation and consumption.

A donation culture can contribute to combat to food insecurity in a more horizontal way. In times of crisis, charitable donations gain visibility, but they need to coexist with strategies that reach the structure of the problem.

And technology is intertwined with actions to combat hunger when it facilitates donations and access to food for those in need. In 2021, iFood donated over R$ 7 million from a simple donation at checkout.

With just one click, after placing your order, the customer can choose an amount and donate to partner institutions. In addition, it will involve social organizations that work with solidarity meals, donations of basic food baskets and other activities.

The problem of food insecurity is huge and everyone's responsibility: governments, public and private institutions. Charge the main structure, which is the stable economy and the reduction of inequality. Thus, adding attitudes such as containing waste and using technology are the starting point for combating food insecurity.

Want to know how a restaurant can donate surplus meals and food to help fight hunger? Click this link here and find out more!

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