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Exploring definitions of food insecurity and vulnerability: time to refocus assessments


  • Hart, Tim G.B.


Recent high food prices and changes in the world food situation are exacerbating the conditions of households that are vulnerable to food insecurity, especially those with weak livelihood strategies. To address the impact of these and other stressors it is necessary to develop a deeper understanding of concepts such as ‘vulnerability’ and ‘food insecurity’. This is challenging as both concepts are used rather loosely in the food security literature, despite both having at least two dimensions. Vulnerability has an external and internal dimension, and food insecurity has a temporal and intensity dimension. However, assessments are often only concerned with one dimension at a time. An exploration of the two concepts suggests that in both cases the dimensions need to be combined in order to understand the different interactions and the interconnections between different dimensions and the multiple levels of the systems in which they are embedded. This combination of dimensions is important for understanding the significant role that livelihoods play in the accumulation of assets and for accessing food. It makes the understanding of the multiple causes and consequences of vulnerability and food insecurity for different households clearer. Those households and individuals considered chronically poor or food-insecure are likely to experience severe food insecurity in the long-term, as a result of their weak livelihoods and minimal assets. Consequently, future studies on vulnerability to food insecurity should focus on these chronically food insecure households in order to determine the multidimensional nature of the stressors they experience and their ability to cope and adapt to these stressors. This would contribute to our understanding of the contexts in which the data from larger quantitative studies are embedded.

Suggested Citation

  • Hart, Tim G.B., 2009. "Exploring definitions of food insecurity and vulnerability: time to refocus assessments," Agrekon, Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa (AEASA), vol. 48(4), December.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:agreko:58212

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Anonymous, 1997. "Meeting Food Aid and Price Support Objectives through Local Grain Purchase: A Review of the 1996 Experience in Ethiopia," Food Security Collaborative Working Papers 54956, Michigan State University, Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics.
    2. Abdulai, Awudu & Barrett, Christopher B. & Hazell, Peter, 2004. "Food aid for market development in Sub-Saharan Africa," DSGD discussion papers 5, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    3. Christopher B. Barrett, 1998. "Food Aid: Is It Development Assistance, Trade Promotion, Both, or Neither?," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 80(3), pages 566-571.
    4. Lavy, Victor, 1990. "Does food aid depress food production? The disincentive dilemma in the African context," Policy Research Working Paper Series 460, The World Bank.
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    Cited by:

    1. Andy Sumner & Richard Mallett, 2013. "Capturing Multidimensionality: What does a Human Wellbeing Conceptual Framework Add to the Analysis of Vulnerability?," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 113(2), pages 671-690, September.
    2. repec:spr:soinre:v:134:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1007_s11205-016-1419-x is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Azeem, Muhammad Masood & Mugera, Amin W. & Schilizzi, Steven, 2016. "Living on the edge: Household vulnerability to food-insecurity in the Punjab, Pakistan," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 1-13.
    4. Brunie, Aurélie & Fumagalli, Laura & Martin, Thomas & Field, Samuel & Rutherford, Diana, 2014. "Can village savings and loan groups be a potential tool in the malnutrition fight? Mixed method findings from Mozambique," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 47(P2), pages 113-120.
    5. L. J. S. Baiyegunhi & B. B. Oppong & G. M. Senyolo, 2016. "Mopane worm (Imbrasia belina) and rural household food security in Limpopo province, South Africa," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 8(1), pages 153-165, February.


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