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Mark Hanlon

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Food Security: A Different Kind of Security

Posted: 10/19/11 02:11 PM ET

The need for "security" permeates our culture. Whether it is national security, social security or simply building security, one thing is clear: Americans care a lot about security.

But what about food security?

The term is likely foreign to a many of us. Food security is about adequate supply and access to a sufficient amount of food. For any parent living in poverty, food security is defined much more simply as "having enough to feed my kids." As the world marks World Food Day this week, it is an appropriate time to ask how much food security people really have across the globe.

Food security varies greatly continent by continent, nation by nation and family by family. While every nation has, unfortunately, a percentage of people struggling with food security, some countries -- and indeed some continents -- experience a much higher and more deadly amount of food insecurity. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the most food-impoverished are to be found in Asia and the Pacific as well as Sub-Saharan Africa.

In 1985, the issue of extreme food poverty was brought to light by the drought in Ethiopia. Images of skeletal figures were splashed across newspapers and magazines. The nightly news brought us glimpses of the reality of people starving to death. We as Westerners were shocked and appalled and many were moved to reach out to help with our time or our money. Eventually, the moment of crisis passed and the West turned its attention to other matters.

Today, we are in another moment of crisis in Somalia, but it isn't being reported to nearly the same degree. The current drought in this impoverished and war-torn nation is estimated to be far worse than anything they've seen in the last six decades. For those of us who saw the pictures of people suffering in the wake of the '85 drought, that is unimaginable.

But drought is only part of the equation. Food insecurity is also the product of economic realities. When farmers are unable to safely store their crops, they are forced to sell their harvests at low prices, leaving them without the resources to purchase additional foodstuffs. Many families face food insecurity as inflation rates drive us the cost of food and drive down the value of their meager incomes. An additional challenge to food security is that many communities don't have the knowledge or tools to cultivate their own crops and are therefore dependent on others for their food supplies.

The good -- but frustrating -- news is that the world produces enough food to feed everyone. Food security is achievable, but it isn't automatic. The solutions to food insecurity are obvious but they won't happen without some effort. Food security can be achieved by equipping people in fertile areas to cultivate their own crops, resourcing those with the knowledge of crop cultivation with the tools they need to tend and store their crops, and breaking down barriers of access to food supplies.

I've seen first hand that these strategies are successful at overcoming food poverty. My organization, Compassion International, has worked through our Complementary Intervention program to address food poverty in the communities where our sponsored children live. In 2009, Compassion International began working with the caregivers of Compassion-sponsored children in Uganda. The caregivers were equipped to grow several crops, shown how to successfully store their harvest and encouraged to share with their neighbors. Families in the project have reported that they have stored enough food to survive two or three years of poor harvest. For many families, this kind of food security has been life changing.

The effects of starvation may not be splashed across our nation's papers, featured on the nightly news or highlighted on online news sites, but food poverty remains a reality in the 21st century. Ending hunger--whether in our local communities or half-way around the world--should be a goal we all can embrace.

As a nation concerned with security, it is time to make food security a priority.