The issues

What are the major obstacles to food security?

Many interrelated factors contribute to the complexity of food insecurity around the world today, including inadequate food distribution; supply disruptions; food waste; government policies that inhibit trade and negatively affect farmers; growth in nonfood use of crops; the impact of agriculture on the environment; growing resistance to the use of agricultural technology; and price volatility.

Inadequate distribution

Our food system produces enough calories to feed the world’s population today, but access to that food is uneven due primarily to extreme poverty. Feeding our growing global population in the years to come will require producing more food and distributing it in a manner that reaches more people.

Supply disruptions

Whether caused by political instability, weather-related production shortfalls, natural disasters, or other factors, disruptions in the food supply contribute to shortages that can have immediate and lasting impacts on food security.

Food waste

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, around 1.3 billion metric tons annually (enough to feed 2 billion people). Much of that food loss occurs during or after harvest in developing countries due to inadequate infrastructure, including lack of proper storage facilities, lack of education on grain storage and lack of efficient markets to ensure grains move through the supply chain. This food loss reduces incomes of smallholder farmers, raises food prices and contributes to hunger and malnutrition. In developed countries, the majority of food waste occurs at the household level after consumers purchase food. The World Economic Forum estimates that lost or wasted food drives approximately 4 percent of world energy consumption and 20 percent of freshwater consumption as well as using 30 percent of the world’s agricultural land area.

Government policy

Exporters, importers. Food security. Cargill.Some government policies interfere with markets, create standards that inhibit trade and remove price signals to farmers. Export restrictions and trading bans isolate local markets and give farmers little incentive to expand production for the next season, limiting the potential supply response to soaring prices. Trade plays a crucial role in ensuring food security by allowing agricultural commodities to move from places of surplus to places of deficit. In addition, inconsistent food safety standards are a barrier to moving food efficiently across borders. Predictable, science-based global food safety standards are needed to manage risk, provide transparency and ensure accountability.

Growth of biofuels

Growth of biofuels. Learn more about OECD-FAO.The use of agricultural feedstocks – including corn, soy, sugar cane and wheat – as inputs for the production of biofuels is projected to grow, largely driven by biofuel mandates and support policies. Six countries and regions – the United States, Brazil, European Union (EU), Argentina, Canada and China – accounted for 90 percent of world biodiesel production and 97 percent of ethanol production in 2010. According to United States Department of Agriculture projections, biodiesel production in these countries will rise about 50 percent between 2012 and 2021.

Environmental impact

The need to produce more food will place increasing demands on the environment. Agriculture will need to make better use of natural resources – especially water and land – through innovation and conservation. As populations continue to grow, so does the pressure on land use, water supply, use of chemicals and the challenge of protecting high conservation value forest areas and biodiversity.

Availability of technology

Advances in technology and innovation will be required to produce the significant yield increases needed to boost global food production sustainably. Smallholder farmers need access to technology, such as drip irrigation, to increase yields. Growing resistance to the use of agricultural technology, including genetically engineered crops and fertilizer, is a barrier preventing some farmers from growing more from less. The use of sound, proven science in food production increases agricultural production in a responsible way by ensuring that sensitive lands are not converted to agricultural production, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, less water is used and fewer chemical inputs are applied.

Price volatility

View the price volatility graph.Small changes in food production can have outsized effects on price when food stocks are low because demand for food persists even when prices rise. High food prices have a disproportionate impact on the world’s poorest people.