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Human Geography: Food Insecurity


The global community is becoming increasingly aware of sustainability problems around the world. Today, numerous international non-government organizations fight to promote sustainable development. Sustainable development is a term coined by the UN in the 1980s. The idea behind sustainable development is to satisfy the current needs of humanity without interfering with future generations’ ability to meet their needs (United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987). The most recent UN conference on sustainable development identified seventeen goals in different spheres, including economics, equality of opportunity, healthcare issues, and food supply. Goal 2 of the UN’s agenda for sustainable development is “zero hunger,” which is a significant bother for numerous nations. The present paper aims at synthesizing historical and current data on food insecurity.

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History of the Topic

The topic of food security as a global concern did not arise before the 1930s. Before that time, the problem of food security was viewed only on the national level. However, in the early 1930s, Yugoslavia proposed that the Health Division of the League of Nations should disseminate information about the food position in representative countries of the world (Simon, 2012). In 1935, the Health Division of the League of Nations published a survey that numerous poor countries suffered from malnutrition and hunger (Simon, 2012). The problem aggravated during World War II, as the governments tried to control farm outputs to ensure sufficient supplies of food (Simon, 2012). The insufficient production of food during the last years of war caused the governments to support farming to stabilize the situation with food shortage (Simon, 2012). As a result, in the 1950s and the 1960s, food production increased by 50%, and per capita, food production increased by 20% (Simon, 2012).

In the 1970s, a series of climate-related changes created numerous food importers, which caused the emergence of international organizations that aimed at addressing this problem. These organizations included the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the World Food Council, the Committee on Food Aid Policies and Program, and the International Emergency Food Reserve. As a result, in the 1990s and 2000s, food security became one of the central goals of the UN’s agenda, which led to significant improvements in the situation. Thus, today, the problem is addressed from different angles.

Important Data Points

When speaking about the problem of food security, it is crucial to understand the problem in numbers. In 2017, the number of undernourished people in the world was estimated to be 803 million, which accounts for 11% of the population (Rubenstein, 2020). The UN also reports that up to 98% of undernourished people live in developing countries (Rubenstein, 2020). Some important figures about the distribution of food insecurity are demonstrated below:

  • China has 124.5 million undernourished people (Rubenstein, 2020);
  • 195.9 million undernourished people live in India (Rubenstein, 2020);
  • 137.1 million undernourished people live in other Asian countries (Rubenstein, 2020);
  • 239.9 million people suffering from food insecurity live in Africa (Rubenstein, 2020);
  • 39 million food-insecure people live in Latin America (Rubenstein, 2020);
  • Only 14.2 million people experience undernourishment in developed countries (Rubenstein, 2020).

Even though statistics for 2017 shows a significant improvement in comparison with 924 million undernourished people (15% of the world population) registered in 2000, the number still demonstrates that food security is a significant problem (Rubenstein, 2020). Moreover, the number of undernourished people increased between 2014 and 2017, as, in 2014, it was 783.7 million (Roser & Ritchie, 2019). The historical changes in the number of undernourished people are demonstrated in Figure 1 below.

 Food security: Historical Data
Figure 1. Food security: Historical Data (Roser & Ritchie, 2019).

While the problem of food insecurity may seem far away, as the most affected people are the ones that live in developing countries, there are some facts about food insecurity in the US that should be mentioned:

  • One in eight American families experience food insecurity in some form (Perry, 2019);
  • Almost half of students in the US are food insecure (Perry, 2019);
  • Food-insecure people are more prone to obesity, as they are forced to buy products high in calories and low in nutrition (Perry, 2019);
  • Around 60% of older people in the US are forced to choose between buying groceries and paying utility bills (Perry, 2019).

Current Status of the Problem

Today, the problem of food insecurity remains a major problem in the international agenda. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, 2020), in 2019, almost 750 million people (nearly 10% of the world population) experienced severe levels of food insecurity. Around 2 billion people experienced moderate to severe food insecurity in 2019 (FAO, 2020). The statistics show that the current trends are not on track with the ultimate goal of zero hunger by 2030 (FAO, 2020). Moreover, up to 132 million people may be added to the list of people suffering from severe food insecurity due to COVID-19 (FAO, 2020). The pandemic also has a significant negative impact on people to afford healthy diets, which has a severe negative impact on people’s health (FAO, 2020). The effects of climate change negatively affect food security, as it causes unpredictable losses in the food production supply chain (FAO, 2020). Thus, a shift to sustainable diets and agriculture methods is needed to improve the current situation. In summary, even though the world was making progress towards better food security in the early 2010s, the current trend is negative, and the problem will continue to develop due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Major Challenges in Addressing Food Insecurity

One of the central problems in addressing food insecurity in the current circumstances is the impact of factors outside of immediate human control. In particular, natural disasters associated with climate change and the pandemic create significant challenges in addressing the problem of food insecurity. For instance, the early effect of the COVID-19 pandemic was that three-thirds of families in the US started eating less (Niles et al., 2020). On the global level, the measures for addressing the pandemic, such as lockdowns, had a significant impact on food distribution mechanisms and supply chains, which resulted in decreased food production and increased wastes globally (FAO, 2020). On the other hand, the consequences of climate change had a disrupting effect on the stability of food production, which negatively affected food security (FAO, 2020). Thus, humanity needs to address these global challenges to improve food security.

In order to solve the problem of food security, humanity needs to address at least four challenges besides the pandemic and climate change. First, people need to increase yields, profitability, and environmental sustainability simultaneously (FAO, 2020). Second, humanity needs to develop varieties of plants and breeds of animals that can help to achieve sustainability (FAO, 2020). Third, it is crucial to address the problem of food waste on all levels of supply chains (FAO, 2020). Finally, equitable food systems should be created (FAO, 2020). Addressing these four challenges will help to solve the problem of food insecurity worldwide.


The problem of food insecurity is a significant bother of humankind. The issue became global in the 1930s and evolved during the 20th and the 21st centuries, as various international organizations were created to address the matter. Today, the global community views food insecurity is as a multidimensional problem closely interrelated with healthcare, the environment, agriculture, and economics. The latest statistics show that global society was partially successful in decreasing the number of people suffering from malnutrition; however, there are numerous challenges it will need to address in the future.


Food and Agriculture Organization. (2020). The state of food security and nutrition in the World 2020. Web.

Niles, M. T., Bertmann, F., Belarmino, E. H., Wentworth, T., Biehl, E., & Neff, R. (2020). The early food insecurity impacts of COVID-19. Nutrients, 12(7), 2096.

Perry, R. (2019). 5 surprising facts about hunger in America. United Way. Web.

Roser, M., & Ritchie, H. (2019). Hunger and undernourishment. Our World in Data. Web.

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Rubenstein, J.M. (2020). The cultural landscape: An introduction to human geography (13th ed.). Perason.

Simon, G. (2012). Food security: Definition, four dimensions, history. Web.

United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). Our common future. Oxford University Press.

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