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SAGA Research Proposal: Food Security

One clear and compelling example of vulnerability in Africa is food insecurity — not having access to the quality, quantity, and diversity of food necessary for an active and healthy life (Barrett and Sahn 2001). In Africa, food insecurity, both chronic and transitory, is a problem that is afflicting more people each year. This suggests that an important aspect of our research agenda be focused on the three pillars of food security: availability, ensuring an adequate food supply to provide for the nutritional needs of the population; access, ensuring that incomes and food prices together maintain real purchasing power sufficient to ensure the ability to obtain a nutritionally satisfactory diet; and utilization, ensuring that food within the household is used effectively to maintain the health of all members.

One implication of our bottom-up approach is the importance of considering food security at the individual level. The notion of vulnerability to food insecurity becomes more complex the more disaggregated our analysis is (Kanbur and Haddad 1994). Likewise, a gender and age disaggregated approach to food insecurity implies that we consider food insecurity in a broader context than just calories, including micronutrient deficiencies (e.g., Vitamin A, iodine and iron), which can have serious functional consequences for pregnant and lactating women and young children. When household resources are only just adequate, intra-household allocation decisions may protect some members of the household, those that have a more powerful voice or contribute more to earnings, at the expense of others (Barrett and Sahn 2001). The analytical requirements for researching intra-household arrangements are great (Alderman, Haddad, and Hoddinott 1997), and so too are the challenges of intra-household policy interventions. Thus, one of the research issues that arises is the need to explore modalities of improved targeting to food insecure individuals, without disrupting valuable intra-household reciprocity arrangements.

While individual level food security is our ultimate concern, the broader issues of how exchange entitlement failures at the household level lead to food insecurity is also relevant to our concern with the poor’s constraints. While the nature of these entitlement failures differ for urban and rural areas, there seems little doubt that the threat of covariate shocks due to crop failure, drought, pest infestations, livestock disease, etc., are particularly acute for farmers and rural households. This again focuses our attention on the role of the state in addressing these food security risks through a wide variety of actions, such as infrastructure development and policies that lower transaction costs in financial and input markets, as well as informal social insurance's capacity to cope with covariate food security risks. We also need to explore the particular vulnerabilities of urban households to food security risks, for example, that result from their limited access to social insurance networks (Maxwell et al 2000).

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