Impacts Of Food Insecurity

Food is vital for human survival. Humans can only survive about three weeks without food. Around the world, people's access to food varies, with some people struggling to access even basic food supplies. In 2020, 2.37 billion people globally were unable to access food resources. This is a big problem. But what causes it? What are the impacts and effects? Let's dive in. 

Impacts Of Food Insecurity Impacts Of Food Insecurity

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Table of contents

    Food insecurity definition

    Although seen at different scales globally, food insecurity is common in the developing world, where poverty and economic inequality is much higher. However, food insecurity can be seen in the developed world too. During the month of April 2022, 2.6 million children in the United Kingdom were food insecure1. But what does this mean exactly?


    Food insecurity is understood as a lack of food supplies that are high in nutrients and can be economically accessible.

    Causes of food insecurity

    There are many causes of food insecurity. These can be social, economic, and even political. Let's take a look at some of these causes.

    Poverty

    The most prominent cause of food insecurity is poverty or low income. If people are unable to afford food, then food insecurity will increase. In times of economic crises, this will often worsen; the cost of living crisis, post-pandemic, (2022), has not only increased the cost of food, but also other amenities, making life generally more expensive. As wages are not going up at the same right as the prices of amenities and inflation, this is causing more people to fall below the poverty line.

    Population growth

    Population growth around the world has been steadily rising; currently, the world has a population of 8 billion people. An increase in population comes with an increase in the demand for food. If there is a rise in the demand for food products (either for resources or for food consumption), there will be strains on the amount of available food. In the developing world, access to food is limited; developing countries typically have higher birth rates too, which could mean food supplies may become even more strained.

    Factors affecting crop growth

    If crop growth decreases, food insecurity can arise. Crop growth can be negatively influenced by a few things:

    Diseases

    Pesticides and fertilisers are typically used to reduce farmland disease, and to help crops grow well. In more developing countries, access to pesticides and fertilisers may not be as readily available as they are in the developed world. This means that diseases can affect crop growth, and reduce food production.

    Water insecurity

    Water insecurity can describe the lack of access to clean and safe water. Naturally, water is used for drinking, but also for crop production and the rearing of livestock. With reduced water supplies, food production is therefore limited. You can read more about this in our article on the Impacts of Water Insecurity.

    Climate

    With the rise in global temperatures and climatic change around the world, the production of food is negatively impacted. Flooding or droughts, exacerbated by Climate Change, can cause food production to become more difficult. If there is reduced food production, prices of food will likely rise, which can reduce accessibility. Biofuels have become more prominent due to the demand for renewable energy sources; this means that more crops are grown for energy production, rather than for feeding populations. Prices will also rise as a consequence of this.

    Impacts of Food Insecurity Figure 1 Drought StudySmarterFig. 1 - drought causes the soil to dry out and crack

    Conflict

    In some cases, conflicts and war can directly impact access to food. In harsh conflicts, areas of farmland can be destroyed purposefully, damaging, and consequently reducing the production of food. People may also flee war-torn areas, leaving behind areas of farmland. Often, people are displaced by war; refugees typically have limited access to food supplies.

    The Ukraine conflict has caused upheaval in global food and energy markets, with soaring food and fuel prices putting millions at risk of hunger across the world2.

    Food has also been known to be used as a weapon of war. An example of this can be Hitler's Hunger Plan, where German soldiers took control of food supplies in the Soviet Union. Millions died as a result.

    Social Impacts Of Food Insecurity

    There are many social impacts of food insecurity. Let's look at a few of them

    Undernourishment and famine

    Food insecurity will typically result in undernourishment, where people do not have access to all or some of the vitamins and minerals needed for healthy living. Those people who are undernourished are basically surviving, but maintaining poor health. Famine is the result of having not enough food for survival. Famine is deadly. In Somalia, 250,000 people died from the famine that occurred in 2011.

    Famine is what happens when there is an extreme lack of food. People don't have enough food to survive

    Rising food prices

    With the increase in the need for food, combined with reduced food production, food prices will go up. This is because when there is a high demand for something that there isn't a lot of (low supply), its value increases. This leaves some people essentially unable to afford the higher food prices, leading to insecurities. Natural disasters or wars can also impact the rates of production, and therefore the price of food.

    The Ukraine war can be an example of this, with the rise in prices of sunflower oil; Ukraine produces the most sunflower oil globally.

    Civil unrest

    As discussed above, conflicts impact food production in a big way. However, the lack of food production and rising food insecurities can cause conflicts themselves, such as civil unrest, rioting, or protests. This will only worsen, as food insecurities around the world become more prominent, in the face of climate change, or increased warfare conflicts globally.

    Impacts of Food Insecurity Figure 3 Empty Supermarket StudySmarterFig. 3 - food insecurity is likely to worsen as climate change worsens

    Environmental impacts of food insecurity

    Food insecurity doesn't just affect people, but the environment too. Let's take a look at some examples of the environmental impacts of food insecurity.

    Soil Erosion

    Soil erosion can mean that crops are unable to be grown, and if they do grow, they are of poor quality.

    Soil erosion occurs when topsoil layers are eroded away faster than the rate at which the soil can be replaced.

    This soil erosion can be caused by factors such as the overuse of land for animal grazing. The soil gets washed away quickly when animals eat the vegetation, and the soil becomes quickly compacted when animals are using the land. Deforestation, as well as overusing the land for plant growth, also increases the risk of soil erosion further. With food insecurity, the need to produce more food and rear more animals increases, furthering this damage.

    Water pollution

    With a higher demand for food, more fertilisers and pesticides are used, which can be a direct cause of water pollution in the surrounding area, affecting wildlife and causing environmental damage. This happens as the fertiliser

    Impacts of food insecurity on human development

    Humans need food for survival. The lack of food and prominence of food insecurity has a significant impact on the human development levels of a country. Firstly, let's understand the meaning of human development within geography.

    Human development can be understood as the improvement of people's well-being. It is often measured using the Human Development Index (HDI).

    The Human Development Index measures the level of human development in a country. It considers three specific factors; the health of a population, education rates, and the standard of living.

    How does food insecurity impact human development levels?

    The effects of food insecurity are vast; let's take a look at two factors of human development: health and education.

    Health

    Food insecurity typically results in lower life expectancy. When people have limited access to food and nutrients, poor health is often a result.

    Life expectancy is used to measure the health of the population (within the HDI). Life expectancy is the amount of time someone is likely to live.

    Undernourishment can result in a variety of diseases, and can significantly affect maternal health. Children specifically have been known to be more affected health-wise, with higher risks of anaemia (lack of red blood cells), stunted growth, and slower mental development. 45% of deaths of children under 5 are caused by undernourishment. Mental health issues too has been shown to be a result of food insecurity, with higher levels of anxiety and depression linked to not having enough and/or a reliable source of food.

    It is important to understand the difference between undernourishment and malnourishment. Undernourishment implies the lack of nutrients needed for good health. Malnourishment is similar, but implies an imbalance of nutrients. Often, more unhealthy food is cheaper, therefore people who are food insecure may experience malnourishment in the form of obesity or being overweight.

    Education

    Food insecurity can cause sicknesses, which means children are unable to attend school. Children are also more likely to repeat years of schooling. When they can attend, concentration levels may be much lower, due to hunger, affecting their ability to learn. Children who are food insecure also tend to perform worse in school, often producing lower grades. This can contribute to a vicious cycle, where lower grades mean people go into jobs that aren't paid very well, meaning that people may not be able to afford (healthy) food.

    Impacts Of Food Insecurity - Key takeaways

    • Food insecurity is the lack of access to food and nutrition.
    • Food insecurity can occur both in the developed world and the developing world.
    • The main causes of food insecurity are poverty, increase in population, factors affecting crop growth (disease, water insecurity and climate), and conflict or war.
    • Some social impacts of food insecurity are undernourishment or famine, rising food prices and civil unrest.
    • Some environmental impacts of food insecurity are soil erosion and water pollution.
    • Food insecurity can impact human development, influencing levels of health and education rates.


    References

    1. The Food Foundation, Food Insecurity Tracking, https://foodfoundation.org.uk/initiatives/food-insecurity-tracking#:~:text=Over%202.6%20million%20children,past%20month%20(April%202022).
    2. World Food Programme, The day the UN barred using hunger and starvation as weapons of war, https://www.wfp.org/stories/day-un-barred-using-hunger-and-starvation-weapons-war
    3. Figure 1: Drought ( https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Drought_in_a_Lake.jpg) by Sreyasvalsan (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Sreyasvalsan) License type CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode)
    4. Figure 3: Empty shelves (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dried_pasta_shelves_empty_in_an_Australian_supermarket.jpg) by Christopher Corneschi/ Fieldafar (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Fieldafar) License type: CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Impacts Of Food Insecurity

    What are the causes and effects of food insecurity?

    The causes of food insecurity include low income and poverty, the rise in population, warfare or conflict, and factors affecting the growth of crops (disease, water insecurity and climate). 

    Some effects of food insecurity can be undernourishment and famine, a rise in food prices, civil unrest, and environmental issues (soil erosion and water pollution). 

    Food insecurity can also impact human development factors, influencing health levels and education rates. 

    What is the main problem of food insecurity?

    Although there are many issues associated with food insecurity, the problem of death seems most significant.

    What are the social impacts of food insecurity?

    Some of the social impacts of food insecurity include undernourishment and famine, rising food prices and civil unrest. 

    What are the environmental impacts of food insecurity?

    The main environmental impacts of food insecurity are soil erosion and water pollution. 

    Who does food insecurity affect the most?

    Food insecurity affects many people. Although food insecurity is an issue in the developed world, the effects of food insecurity in the developing world (such as famine) show that food insecurity affects these people the most. Children are also impacted more.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    In 2022, how many children were food insecure in the UK?

    True or false: the most prominent cause of food insecurity is poverty, or low income.

    True or False: Famine is deadly.

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