Madda Walabu University
Collage of Social Science and Humanities
Department of Geography and
Food Security and Livelihood
Getachew Demissie (Dr.)
• The objective of this course is to provide students with an
understanding of human vulnerability to various forms of
insecurity particularly livelihoods and food insecurity.
• It covers topics like: the definitions and concepts of livelihoods,
food security/insecurity and human vulnerability to various forms
• It emphasises on livelihood assets and coping strategies of poor
households in developing countries and the influence on the state
of different facets of livelihoods and food insecurity.
• It put resource scarcity, degradation and mismanagements in the
context of vulnerability at different levels to explain the intensity
and patterns of food insecurity over space and time.
• Different up-to-date techniques of food security analysis will be
At the end of the course you will be able to:
• Understand the concepts of livelihood, food
• Analyse the sustainable livelihood framework;
• Identify factors and causes of food insecurity;
• Compare and contrast the various livelihoods and
food security/insecurity analysis techniques
• Explain food security program and strategies of
Chapter One: Introduction
1.1 Livelihoods: Origin, Definition and Concept
• Livelihood is defined as a means of support for living
an individual or household life.
• It is a source of income, work or occupation one
• The term is well recognized as humans inherently
develop and implement strategies to ensure their
• The hidden complexity behind the term comes to light
when governments, civil society, and external
organizations attempt to assist people whose means of
making a living is threatened, damaged, or destroyed.
• There are two broad approaches to defining
• One has a narrower economic focus on
production, employment and household income.
• The other takes a more holistic view which unites
concepts of economic development, reduced
vulnerability and environmental sustainability
while building on the strengths of the rural poor.
• The usefulness of livelihoods-based approaches to
development has been recognized since the late
1980s, when the concept was popularized by
international agencies such as the World
Commission on Environment and Development
(WCED) and prominent researchers such as Robert
Chambers and Gordon Conway.
• The growing popularity of livelihoods as an
analytical construct during the 1990s paralleled
several ‘progressive’ trends in development
thinking, including shifts towards participatory,
‘people-centered’ and holistic approaches to
poverty analysis and development interventions.
• This popularity culminated in several development
agencies – including donors like DFID, UNDP and
WFP, and NGOs like CARE and SC-UK – developing
livelihoods-based frameworks to inform their
• These frameworks have been applied, to varying
degrees, to problem assessment and analysis,
program design, even project implementation and
• Many earlier development approaches assumed
that rural society was homogenous (in other words,
that there was no differentiation between
households in rural areas) and that households had
single-purpose economies (in other words, that
they only had one way of making a living).
• As a result, development agencies tended to focus
on narrow, sectoral, production- orientated
strategies that often bypassed those most at risk
and failed to recognize that poor households have
multiple economic strategies.
• One of the key findings that flowed from
participatory research and appraisal was a much
more subtle understanding of livelihoods and the
different elements that they combine.
• Chambers and Conway developed a definition of
livelihoods and the factors that make them
sustainable which underpins all of the livelihoods
frameworks currently being used:
• A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets
(stores, resources, claims and access) and activities
required for a means of living.
• A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with
and recover from stress and shocks, maintain and
enhance its capabilities and assets, and provide
sustainable livelihood opportunities for the next
generation; and which contributes net benefits to
other livelihoods at the local and global levels in the
long and short term.
• Other livelihoods definitions make people more
central and are less concerned with precise
terminology for different kinds of assets.
• They highlight issues of ownership, access and
• One of these definitions of livelihoods states:
livelihood refers to people’s capacity to generate
and maintain their means of living, enhance their
well-being and that of future generations.
• These capacities are contingent upon the
availability and accessibility of options which are
ecological, economic and political and which are
predicated on equity, ownership of resources and
participatory decision making.
• Although many researchers and agencies have
developed their own definitions of livelihoods
and related concepts, most of these definitions
share common characteristics, including a
focus on various categories of assets (rather
than income, the standard focus of poverty
analysis) and the institutions that influence
individual or household access to these assets.
• Some definitions include an explicit focus on
livelihood strategies (‘how the poor make a
living’) such as agricultural intensification,
livelihood diversification, or migration.
• A good working definition of livelihoods is
provided by Frank Ellis (2000:10):
“Livelihood refers to the assets (natural, physical, human,
financial and social capital), the activities, and the access
to these (mediated by institutions and social relations)
that together determine the living gained by individual or
• Later work indicates that it might be useful to
add political capital as this can be a key asset
defining livelihood activities, access to resources
• From extensive learning and practice, various
definitions have emerged that attempt to
represent the complex nature of a livelihood.
• One of them is the definition suggested by
Chambers and Conroy:
A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (including
both material and social resources) and activities required
for a means of living.
A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and
recover from stress and shocks and maintain or enhance
its capabilities and assets both now and in the future,
while not undermining the natural resource base.
• In this definition a number of strands coalesce
(unite or merge).
• On the one hand, there is a requirement for
livelihood to be able to recover from “stress
and shocks” but also to be able to “maintain
and enhance” capabilities and assets into the
• A central element in this “resilience” to stress
and shocks is the diversification of elements
that comprise “livelihood”.
• This definition lies at the core of the livelihoods
framework as expressed in the household
• Every household has a variety of capabilities
and Household livelihood security is often
influenced by the ability of the household to
diversify its livelihood sources.
• This means using a wide variety of livelihood
strategies so that the household does not
depend on only a few sources of livelihood.
• The more diverse a household’s livelihoods
strategies are, the bigger its capability and
asset base, and the more secure it is.
• The smaller a household’s asset base is, the
more vulnerable it is likely to be.
• Households may depend on a combination of
cash remittances from family members who have
a formal job, benefits from a range of informal
trading and economic activities, using natural
resources, livestock, pension benefits, insurances,
burial societies (‘edir’), (‘ekub’) and other sources.
• Households have sustainable livelihoods when
they can cope with, and recover from, shocks like
retrenchment or drought, and stresses like
• Livelihood sustainability also has an important
environmental dimension, which requires that
the natural resource base must be maintained
for future generations.
• Generating a livelihood can be seen as a process in which households
use their capabilities and assets to engage in activities to pursue
multiple livelihood strategies to generate livelihood outcomes.
• These strategies may be more or less sustainable, and the livelihood
outcomes they generate may be more or less desirable.
• Positive outcomes include:
– increased well-being,
– more income,
– greater equity,
– improved food and water security and
– a more sustainable use of the natural resource base.
• Negative livelihood outcomes include:
– diminished well-being,
– less income,
– greater inequality,
– diminished food and water security and
– an unsustainable use of the natural resource base.
• A household which pursues more sustainable
strategies is likely to generate more desirable
livelihood outcomes, which will have a
positive impact on the assets and capabilities
of the household.
• This will put the household in a better position
to diversify and improve its livelihood
1.2 Food Security: Origin, Definition, Concept
• Although there are about 200 definitions given
for the term food security, the most commonly
accepted definition is that was approved by the
1996 World Food Summit (WFS).
• “Food security exists when all people, at all
times, have physical, [social] and economic
access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food
which meets their dietary needs and food
preferences for an active and healthy life”.
• The term “Social” was added to the 1996
definition in 2002.
• Food security is defined as the existence of the
necessary conditions for human beings to have
physical and economic access, in socially
acceptable ways, to food that is safe, nutritious
and in keeping with their cultural preferences,
so as to meet their dietary needs and live
productive and healthy lives.
• This widely accepted definition points to the
following dimensions of food security:
• Food availability: the availability of sufficient
quantities of food of appropriate quality,
supplied through domestic production or
imports (including food aid).
• Food access: access by individuals to adequate
resources (entitlements) for acquiring appropriate
foods for a nutritious diet.
• Entitlements: are defined as the set of all
commodity bundles over which a person can
establish command given the legal, political,
economic and social arrangements of the
community in which they live (including traditional
rights such as access to common resources).
• Utilization: Utilization of food through adequate
diet, clean water, sanitation and health care to
reach a state of nutritional well-being where all
physiological needs are met.
• This brings out the importance of non-food inputs
in food security.
• Stability: to be food secure, a population,
household or individual must have access to
adequate food at all times.
• They should not risk losing access to food as a
consequence of sudden shocks (e.g. an economic
or climatic crisis) or cyclical events (e.g. seasonal
• The concept of stability can therefore refer to both
the availability and access dimensions of food
• One way to understand these four dimensions of
the broad food security concept is to examine how
the meaning and common understanding of food
security has evolved over time.
• In modern times the interest in “food security” was
reignited following the world food crisis of 1972-74.
• The crisis originated from a combination of factors,
including adverse conditions in several parts of the
world, which reduced global grain supplies.
• Subsequently, a dramatic increase in demand for
grain imports doubled international grain prices,
which threatened the food security status of food
• As a result, the first World Food Conference held in
1974 focused on the problem of global production,
trade and stocks.
• Hence, the original food security debate
focused on adequate supply of food and
ensuring stability of these supplies through
• Subsequent food security efforts focused
primarily on food production and storage
mechanisms to offset fluctuations in global
supply and ensure the ability to import food
• Food availability addresses the “supply side” of
food security and is determined by the level of
food production, stock levels and net trade.
• However, it became obvious that an adequate
supply of food at the national or international
level does not in itself guarantee household level
• For example, the Green Revolution in Asia of the
1960s and 1970s, with its package of improved
seeds, farm technology, better irrigation and
chemical fertilizers, was highly successful at
augmenting food supplies, but this was not
automatically translated into improvements in
food security of all people.
• This insight highlighted the problem of a lack of
• From the early 1980’s, the importance of food
access was increasingly recognized as a key
determinant of food security.
• Hence, food production is just one of several
means that people have to acquire the food that
• Concerns about insufficient food access have
resulted in a greater policy focus on incomes and
expenditure in achieving food security objectives.
• This has brought food security closer to the
poverty reduction agenda.
Other means to access food
• Food can be accessed through trade, barter,
collection of wild foods and community support
networks; it can also be received as a gift (or
even through theft).
• Remember that access to food is influenced by
market factors and the price of food as well as
an individual’s purchasing power, which is
related to employment and livelihood
• A third dimension – food utilization – has
become increasingly prominent in food security
discussions since the 1990s.
• Utilization is commonly understood as the way
the body makes the most of various nutrients
in the food.
• This food security dimension is determined
primarily by people’s health status.
• General hygiene and sanitation, water quality,
health care practices and food safety and
quality are determinants of good food
utilization by the body.
• Sufficient energy and nutrient intake by
individuals is the result of good care and feeding
practices, food preparation, diversity of the diet
and intra-household distribution of food.
• Combined with good biological utilization of
food consumed, this determines the nutritional
status of individuals.
• Food security was traditionally perceived as
consuming sufficient protein and energy (food
• The importance of micro-nutrients for a
balanced and nutritious diet (food quality) is
now well appreciated.
• The phrase “all people, at all times” is integral to
the definition of food security, and is key to
achieving national food security objectives.
• “All people” - Different people are food secure
to varying degrees and will be affected by
adverse events differently.
• We must assess variations in food security status
between different groups of people.
• Most commonly, humanitarian and development
agencies differentiate between groups according
to their main livelihood (source of food or
income), in addition to other factors such as
geographical location and wealth.
• “All times” - This recognizes that people’s food
security situation may change.
• Even if your food intake is adequate today, you are
still considered to be food insecure if you have
inadequate access to food on a periodic basis,
risking a deterioration of your nutritional status.
• Adverse weather conditions (drought, floods),
political instability (social unrest), or economic
factors (unemployment, rising food prices) may
impact on your food security status.
• The phrase “at all times” refers to the stability
dimension of food security.
• It emphasizes the importance of having to reduce
the risk of adverse effects on the other three
dimensions: food availability, access to food or food
• Food security exists when all people, at all times,
have physical and economic access to sufficient safe
and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs
and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
• The realization of the importance of each dimension
has added value to our earlier understanding.
• For food security objectives to be realized, all four
dimensions must be fulfilled simultaneously.
• For example, while there has been a growing
realization of the importance of the food access
dimension, it has not displaced earlier concerns
about adequate food availability.
• Even if people have money, if there is no food
available in the market, people are at risk of food
• Similarly, the importance of food utilization has
further enriched our understanding.
• Food security is not just about quantity of food
consumed, but also about quality, and that your
body must be healthy to enable the nutrients to be
• Finally, these three dimensions should be stable
over time and not be affected negatively by
natural, social, economic or political factors.
• Food Security exists, at the individual, household,
national, regional, and global levels when all
people, at all times, have physical, social, and
economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious
food to meet their dietary needs and food
preferences for a healthy and active life
Food Self Sufficiency versus Food Security
• The notion of equating national food security with food
self-sufficiency is a problem area that should be clarified.
• Food self-sufficiency is taken to mean the extent to
which a country can satisfy its food needs from its own
• Self-sufficiency is usually measured by the self-
sufficiency ratio (SSR), which is the share of domestic
production in total domestic use, excluding stock
• Many countries, which were considered to be self-
sufficient in food, were found to be food insecure.
• This could be due to the fact that they either lack an
efficient food system or the capacity to raise the level of
• That is to say the amount of food produced in the country
might be sufficient or surplus, but its citizens might not
have the financial capacity to buy sufficient food.
• As mentioned earlier at some length, food security in
general is a concept which integrates a number of
• Some countries that were known to be food deficit were
able to exercise a considerable level of national food
• These countries were able to import food through
generating sufficient foreign exchange and improving the
efficiency of the marketing system.
• For example, some oil exporting Arab countries do not
grow agricultural products, but are known to be food
• This is because they are able to import adequate quantity
of food to their citizens.
• Therefore, attaining food self-sufficiency alone does
not necessarily imply the achievement of food
• The concept of food self-sufficiency and food
security differ on two fundamental points.
• Food self-sufficiency looks only at national
production as sole source of supply while food
security takes into account commercial imports and
food aid as possible sources of commodity supply.
• Food self-sufficiency refers only to domestically
produced food availability at the national level
while food security brings in elements of stability of
supply and access to food by the population.
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