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Achieving food security in vulnerable populations

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 01 November 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:0511430
  1. Deborah Cohen, assistant editor1
  1. 1BMJ

Communities that rely on raising livestock are most vulnerable to hunger when drought or other disaster strikes. How can aid organisations provide effective help? Deborah Cohen investigates

Hunger and malnutrition cause tremendous human suffering and cost developing countries billions of dollars in lost productivity and national income. The number of hungry people in the world rose to 852 million between 2000 and 2002, up by 18 million from the mid-1990s, and the total number of hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa is 203 million, a third of the population.1 I visited northwest Kenya to see how organisations work to try to improve food security in pastoralist communities.

Food security

The 2004 annual report from the Food and Agriculture Organization says that little is done globally to fight hunger, although the resources needed to combat it are small compared with the benefits.

Andrew Aitchison

Kaeris reservoir was built by the community to store drinking water for animals

Every dollar invested in reducing hunger can give from five to over 20 times as much in benefits. The report recommends giving priority to actions to improve food security.1

But food security is a complex issue. A country or region is food secure when “All people, at all times, have both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs for a healthy and productive life.”2 Food security depends principally on three variables: availability of food, access to food and a nutritious diet, and proper use of food to ensure maximal nutrition and hygiene.3 In turn, each of these variables is influenced by several factors, the most important of which is poverty; others include the national and international economic environment, population growth, infrastructure, the climate, the level of investment and donor commitment, access to appropriate training and job skills, asset …

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