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What do we Really Know about Food Security?


  • Carlo Cafiero


Many discussions following the 2007/08 food price crisis have revolved around the magnitude of the negative impacts that it may have had on food security worldwide. Analysts have been asked to provide timely assessments, often based on partial data and information. The variety of opinions and the ranges of reported estimated impacts that have followed have revealed how shaky the informational ground on which they move is. This paper deals with two issues related to the way in which the state of food insecurity in the world can be assessed from the perspectives of the availability of and the access to food, dimensions for which the economic lenses conceivably are the most adequate. The two issues are: the quality and coverage of available data and the methods through which the relevant information is filtered from the data to draw inference on food security. The conclusion we reach is that, for policies to be informed by solid evidence and to be sure that monitoring and evaluation is based on firm empirical grounds, much remains to be achieved, both in terms of data quality and coverage and regarding methods, standards and tools for assessment. However, we do not have to start from zero. A wealth of data has accumulated in the past that, if properly analyzed, may allow shading light on the way in which food markets work and how households behave with respect to food consumption. The combination of the two should allow better understanding the determinants and impacts of food price volatility on food security. Once key data conveying information on those determinants have been identified, a comprehensive food security information system can be devised based on a key set of core indicators. Such a system would require the use of common standards in the collection, validation and dissemination of data on agricultural prices, production, trade and uses, and on food consumption patterns.

Suggested Citation

  • Carlo Cafiero, 2013. "What do we Really Know about Food Security?," NBER Working Papers 18861, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18861
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    Cited by:

    1. Magrini, Emiliano & Montalbano, Pierluigi & Nenci, Silvia & Salvatici, Luca, 2014. "Agricultural trade distortions during recent international price spikes: what implications for food security?," 2014 International Congress, August 26-29, 2014, Ljubljana, Slovenia 182726, European Association of Agricultural Economists.
    2. Olumuyiwa S Adedeji & Jana Gieck-Bricco & Vera V Kehayova, 2016. "Natural Disasters and Food Crises in Low-Income Countries; Macroeconomic Dimensions," IMF Working Papers 16/65, International Monetary Fund.
    3. Santeramo, Fabio Gaetano, 2014. "On the composite indicators for food security: Decisions matter!," MPRA Paper 58955, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. repec:oup:ajagec:v:99:y:2017:i:4:p:847-871. is not listed on IDEAS
    5. repec:eee:jfpoli:v:69:y:2017:i:c:p:58-67 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C19 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Other
    • O11 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Macroeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • O12 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Microeconomic Analyses of Economic Development

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