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What is food security, and how can you contribute towards it?

Article by Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah

Posted: July 4, 2022

Food security is the focus of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UN SDG) 2: Zero Hunger. But what is food security, and why does it matter?

Well, in short, food security is about having enough to eat.

More than 690 million people live in hunger every day. According to the UN if recent trends continue, the number of people affected by hunger would surpass 840 million by 2030. 

And day-to-day hunger isn’t just an immediate problem. It has lasting effects too. Studies have shown that children who experience food insecurity suffer from restricted growth and development – physically, socially and emotionally – and are more susceptible to chronic health conditions later in life. 

Food insecurity is a global challenge that needs to be met with the development of better food production systems, education, conflict resolution and other impactful world hunger solutions.

With ethically-driven programs that are structured around the UN SDGs, GVI offers effective ways to assist in reducing world hunger.  We offer programs centred around activities aimed at achieving UN SDG 2: Zero Hunger in a sustainable way.

And these activities don’t just address world hunger, they also go a long way in assisting the local community in becoming empowered – economically and socially. 

Interested in volunteering to make a positive impact on world hunger? Here’s what you need to know about food insecurity, and how to get involved in global efforts to address it. 


A closer look: what is food insecurity?



Food insecurity refers to situations where people don’t have reliable access to nutritious food. This could mean that there isn’t enough food produced. But it could also mean that people don’t have enough money to buy food, or access to transport to get to the places where food is sold. 

Over time, food insecurity can lead to hunger, malnutrition – a lack of proper nutrition – and in extreme cases, starvation.

But, what causes food insecurity in the first place?

The causes of food insecurity range from social and economic, to environmental. Conflict, natural disasters, increasing population sizes and cycles of poverty are all obstacles to the production and distribution of food. 

For example, the extreme weather patterns caused by climate change – an environmental factor – means that droughts and floods occur more regularly in certain areas. This affects how well crops can grow and influences the amount of food that can be harvested. 



At the same time, natural resources are being depleted at an increasing rate due to population growth and unsustainable development worldwide. Working towards sustainable agriculture is an essential part of establishing food security.

With fewer resources available, or unequal access to these resources, not every individual has the same capacity to secure and benefit from nutritious food. 

The COVID-19 pandemic also added to food insecurity in a big way, since many people lost their jobs or became ill, making securing food an even more difficult task. And, the restrictions on imports and exports that came with the pandemic had a significant impact on food systems that depend heavily on imported food – making food less readily available and causing food prices to rise. 

Adding to global food security in the future comes down to addressing the causes of food insecurity right now.  And this means getting involved in the types of activities that add to the access that communities have to nutritious foods, and the opportunities they have to improve their well-being.

But before getting started, there’s one important distinction to make with regard to food insecurity. Food insecurity doesn’t mean there isn’t enough food produced in the world. It means that many people can’t gain access to, afford or grow their own supplies.

Social causes of food insecurity include inequalities in food distribution, unequal access to economic opportunities, and avoidable food waste.

Globally, around 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted each year. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) states that this amounts to one-third of the food produced for human consumption.

With food waste being such a big challenge, deciding where to begin can be a difficult task. 



But, with years of experience, international organisations have pinpointed the types of efforts that get to the crux of the matter. These solutions can begin on an individual level, by providing educational opportunities for community members to learn more about food production and food waste. 

And, even big businesses and institutions – like supermarkets – can be encouraged to keep a closer eye on their food-management systems. For example, supermarkets can make food more accessible by selling or donating imperfect – but nutritious – fruits and vegetables instead of throwing them away. 


How food insecurity is being addressed through the UN SDGs



The UN SDGs aim to make a positive impact in addressing major global challenges, such as poverty, inequalities in wealth and gender, and environmental health. They take complex global concerns and break them down into 17 clear goals that guide global efforts. 

Out of the 17 UN SDGs, number two is Zero Hunger. This goal is focused on reducing the number of hungry people in the world to zero by 2030.  It calls for a change in global food and agricultural systems, and a re-examination of how we produce and consume food globally.

By addressing core issues in agriculture, such as crop biodiversity, more food can be produced, and more jobs created within the industry.

These are some of the ways that improvements in the sustainability of the agricultural sector can make a positive impact on food security:

  • Building on agricultural biodiversity – or providing a wider variety of plant life – means growing agricultural resources. These resources include plants that are able to grow in various climates, withstand drought, or have resistance to pests. This will make it easier to produce the amount of food that’s required globally – no matter what the weather.
  • Contributing towards women’s empowerment in the agricultural sector won’t only add to gender equality. It’s also a way to strengthen the agricultural workforce. In fact, the UN reports that if women had the same access to farming resources as men, we could prevent 150 million people from living in hunger.
  • Supporting smallholder farmers is also key, because these small-scale producers contribute as much as 80% of the food in many countries.
  • Getting involved in education is another cornerstone of addressing food insecurity. Providing educational opportunities – focused on proper nutrition and more effective farming practices – can assist in supporting income generation and healthy lifestyles. These can add to food security in a big way. 


Volunteering to add to global food security



As a volunteer, you can make a positive impact in addressing food insecurity, and add to efforts to end world hunger by taking part in international community-development programs. These types of opportunities allow volunteers to facilitate nutritional workshops, assist in setting up community food gardens, and contribute towards establishing sustainable farming practices. 

All of GVI’s volunteer projects are aligned with the UN SDGs. You can choose from ethical volunteer projects or internships all around the world.

In Fiji, you could get involved in sustainable agricultural practices, fresh-water management, and other environmental initiatives. These activities aim to establish long-term benefits that build on the well-being of communities abroad. 

And don’t be fooled into thinking that these are small efforts. While setting up vegetable gardens might seem simple on the surface, they’re an important element in addressing nutritional concerns at a local level. 

And, this Fiji volunteer project is an excellent example of a project that works towards holistic health, because it adds to the well-being of people and the environment



Teach children of different ages in Peru to plan for a successful future by providing them with the skills that they need to access employment opportunities in the tourism industry. Or, facilitate English lessons that can add to the professional development of local adults. 

You could even get involved in food-security efforts by teaching English to Buddhist monks in Cambodia. Your assistance can build on the literacy and employment opportunities that these individuals will have access to. A steady income in the future means food insecurity will be less likely.

Work with women in Ghana to add to their access to income-generating opportunities, and build on gender equality in these communities. Through this project, you could contribute to women’s access to quality education, and their social and economic independence.

Food-security volunteer opportunities have a broad scope, but don’t get bogged down by all the details. What’s important is that every effort to address food insecurity can make a positive impact, so why not start making a meaningful contribution today?

Browse GVI’s community-development projects to find out how you can get involved in efforts aimed at addressing world hunger

Disclaimer The images in this article were taken pre-COVID-19.

By Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah is a freelance writer from New Zealand with a passion for outdoor adventure and sustainable travel. She has been writing about travel for more than five years and her work has appeared in print and digital publications including National Geographic Travel, Conde Nast Travel, Business Insider, Atlas Obscura and more. You can see more of her work at petrinadarrah.com.
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