Working Papers

Food security and nutrition: Impure, complex and wicked?

Published 5 October 2017

Publication: Food Security Working Paper #002

By Julian May, October 2017

Food security and nutrition are receiving renewed attention in international and national policy agendas. This has been accompanied by a profusion of theoretical concepts borrowed from diverse disciplines and then employed to describe challenges to achieving food security and adequate nutrition. Complex eco-systems, wicked problems and public goods are among these.  In order to make a constructive contribution to policy debate, the underlying political economy of food security is interrogated to understand why food security problems may be indeterminate. This reveals food to be an outcome from a complex problem-determined food eco-system. The problems are ill-defined, the solutions uncertain and food itself is a commodity, predominantly privately produced and purchased. As a result, governments are compelled to take account of competing interests of actors within the food system when considering any intervention. Further, food security includes non-exclusive components such as food safety, social protection and food price stability and the right to food is enshrined in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Albeit impure, food security is then a public good requiring public sector action to ensure that it is universal, indivisible and interdependent with other human rights. Achieving this requires that collective action problems be resolved in order to achieve food security and nutrition.

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