Linkages between Food Systems and Food Security


Neha Sikarwar1, Jyoti Gogia2

1Research Scholar, Department of Economics, Dayalbagh Educational Institute (Deemed to be University). Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. (Presently Research Account Manager, Fortrade, London, UK).

2Professor, Department of Economics, Dayalbagh Educational Institute,

(Deemed to be University) Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.

*Corresponding Author Email:,



The rapidly growing population is closely linked to food security issues, as itincreases the demand for food and other things. Despite having enough production of food, it seems difficult to accomplish globally set targets of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition. The importance of food systems cannot be ignored while addressing the problem of food security as it is the foundation of global health. Comprehensive and integrated food systems can deliver sufficient and nutritious food for all within the sustainability parameters. The present paper highlights the interlinkages between various dimensions of food systems and food security. The analytical and interactive framework represents a substantial abstraction of a complicated reality and offers both - a theoretical and practical set of instruments for understanding complex food systems and their outcomes.


KEYWORDS: Food systems, Food security, Linkages, Hunger, Malnutrition.




Almost one-tenth of the world population (811 million) confronted hunger in 2020. The number has increased rapidly due to the pandemic. Further, it is projected that the number will remain at 660 million in 2030. It makes the achievement of sustainable development goals for zero hunger and removing all forms of malnutrition more challenging1. Food security is a fundamental requirement to enhance well-being2.


Food systems and food security are interlinked with each other, and they are two crucial paradigms that are related to human development; however, these two aspects are often addressed separately.



Rapid growth in population, level of income, and urbanization are a few factors that are responsible for increasing the demand for food and its prices. Globally, the focus is being given to the threats and challenges of food security. In the process, an appropriate food system framework is also being considered as a way to reduce hunger and malnutrition. The major elements of food security (availability, accessibility, utilization, and stability) are affected by various activities of food systems. However, these activities are influenced by various borderline conditions and drivers. The food system is not only linked with the quantity of food for people but also with the qualitative dimensions (nutritional value) of food3. Consumers’ desire to have food with low nutrient density and high caloric density is often responsible for malnutrition. Thus, to get a better understanding of food (in) security dimensions; the interlinkages within food systems and its interaction with food security aspects must be well realized.



The information required for the study was collected through primary as well as secondary data sources. The primary information was collected through the survey method with the help of need-based self-designed questionnaires/schedules, which cover all the aspects of food systems and food security. The 400 respondents from Uttar Pradesh have been selected on the basis of multi-stage stratified random sampling. An extensive literature review was done to establish interlinkages between food systems and food security variables.


In system dynamic modelling, a causal loop diagram is an approach that benefits in visualizing the interrelationship between multiple variables. It conceptualizes the linkages between the complex and intertwined variables and illuminates their critical leverage system through visual representation (Dhirasasna& Sahin, 2019). The variables in a causal loop diagram are connected through arrows (®) with an indicated polarity (+ or -), in order to communicate their interconnections and behaviour, respectively. The influence of the drivers on the variable of concern is unweighted and unambiguous; nevertheless, the direction of effect is revealed in the analysis. Moreover, the cause-effect relationships are presented in a circular form of feedback loops, i.e., self-reinforcing behaviour or positive feedback loop () and self-balancing behaviour or negative feedback loop (A picture containing diagram

Description automatically generated) (ML, 2019). All the Causal Loop Diagrams in the present research have been developed by using Vensimmodelling software.



Food Systems:

The food system has been experiencing a major transformation4.The most applicable notion conceivesthe food systems as a series of activities from the farm to the fork5. The food systems havefundamentally been classified into three broad categories: food production, food distribution, and food consumption. These activities are subject to cross-scale interactions with severalelementsthat deliberately or inadvertently influencethe foodsystems and their outcome by altering their activities6.


Efficient food systems are competent enough to reduce the incidence of hunger and improvewell-being; however, these interactions oftenresult in uncertain and obscure consequences thatundermine overall food and healthoutcomes. Therefore, policy development for achieving food and nutritional security entails a more profound and base-level understanding of food systems7.

Figure1summarizes the relationship between food systems’ actors along the entire food value chain and its potentialoutcomes in the presence of various boundary conditions and factors that are predominantly affecting the food systems. The food systems also include policy ecosystem and cultural standards. The framework is useful in identifying the issues essential for realizing the desiredoutcome i.e., food and nutritional securityalong with the other consequences.


The growth of any nation will remain unsustainable if it fails to ensure good health, food, and nutritional security for all8. Nations are encountering an increasing demand for food and nutritional requirements. This pressure may increase in the coming years due to increasing population, socio-economic burdens, rapid urbanization, growing wealth, changing consumption patterns, and ever-shrinking natural resources9. The vision of food and nutritional security cannot be realized without acknowledging the fundamental intervention of food systems activities.


Food production

The agricultural system is the sub-system of the entire food system. The fundamental objective of the food and agriculture industry is to supply a sufficient quantity of quality food to fulfill the nutritional requirements of people. Agriculture development is required not only to achieve the goal of food security but also to provide income to most of the rural poor. Agriculturehas gradually improved worldwide; the food supply chains have expanded to cover the physical distance from farmers to consumers. Still, we are far away from establishing a world free from hunger and malnutrition. "The world produces more than oneand a half times enough food to feed everyone on the planet",10but food insecurity has stagnantly persisted as a massive challenge before policymakers and agriculture scientists. Thus, producing food and ensuring food and nutritional security are two different notions that involve intruding elements.


Food production essentially relies on the ecological and resource conditions of the regions. Agricultural production, including crops and livestock production, is the result of farmers’ interaction with natural resources, agricultural practices, government policies, trade conditions, people’sconcerns, and climatic conditions. Factors may be responsible for crop reduction if they are not properly managed. In the process of food production, overall crop output is subject to land and crop productivity. which relies on agricultural inputs, like -high and improved-quality seeds, irrigation facilities, fertilizers, soil quality, labour, and other farm inputs. The agriculture sector is becoming capital-intensive, and if farmers have limited resources at their disposal and are not able to access the required resources, then it will ultimately depreciate the farm yield11. Farmers’ economic status and efficient credit facilities decide the level of investments in agriculture. Climate change has caused dreadful long-term alterations in global weather conditions, which enormously impact agricultural yields. It may lead to significant crop losses at all stages of the food chain. Due to crop losses and declining crop yields, there has been food inflation.


Moreover, increased carbon dioxide level due to climate change has impacted the nutritional content (i.e., protein, iron, and zinc) of staples12. Thus, adverse climatic conditions may worsen the situation of food security in any nation. Furthermore, food production is significantly affected by government policies. The approach of the government towards agriculture may affect the quantity, quality, and direction of agriculture and livestock production in a country. For example, emphasis on research and development in this direction may enhance the quantity and quality of yield, and on the other hand, promoting export-oriented crops may reduce the domestic availability of food and make the food industry internationally competitive.



Fig. 1. Linkages between thefood systems and food security

Source: Self-structured


Food distribution:

The food distribution sub-system encompasses the combinations of complex activities performed by various economic agents viz. food distributors, food brokers, and food service providers. It includes processing, packaging, transportation, storage, and marketing of food products. It is also related to the purchasing power of households, culture and tradition, food practices, and public food distribution. Food distribution is the connecting channel for the food travelled from farm to fork. Therefore, it is equally essential and has a massive impact on the accessibility, acceptability, and nutritional quality of food13. The prominent issue related to the distribution dimension is food access. Government initiates various policies and programmes to make nutritious and culturally acceptable food available to people inseveral ways because inaccessibility is one of the reasons to make people food insecure. Food production only ensures the availability of food in general, but distribution makes food accessible to all.


Food distribution is a serious concern for ensuring food security. How to make food available to those who need that without any losses and wastage is an important aspect. Earlier, food items were grown for local consumption, but with time, to enhance the availability of diversified food for all, the distribution aspect has become a significant issue14.


Food goes through a distribution channel before reaching the end consumers and it is affected by various elements. Producers aim to maintain the quality of food products and make food available to final consumers through cost-effective channels. Long distances, transport regulations, incompetent infrastructure, high handling charges, and attractive packaging and processing make food prices go higher and make food unaffordable for many consumers. Political factors, like - national laws and regulations at the macro level and institutional rules at the micro level are crucial in defining the agenda of policymaking and its implications. Trade regulations and contingencies for food shortages exceedingly restrict the variety and stock of food available for public disbursement. Thus, food distribution is a significant arrangement in the food supply chain which is influenced by many factors that are often overlooked15.



Fig. 2. Interlinkages among the various components of foodsystems

Source: Self-structured


Food consumption:

Food security is not all about matching the supply of food to its demand and enhancing the accessibility for people to purchase food for themselves. Rather it has a wide spectrum because it is linked to the health and well-being of people. Providing food in sufficient quantity is not enough but how people consume the provided food is equally important. The health and well-being of people are key elements of consideration when we talk about the challenges of food systems. Micronutrient deficiencies, obesity, stunting, and wasting are some of the probable outcomes of food insecurity. Unhealthy diets are responsible for various health issues. It is required to direct people’s dietary patterns for the sake of improving their nutritional status.


Food consumption is often conceived as a personal affair, though it is modulated by various social and demographic boundary conditions. Food consumption behaviour and patterns reveal the food choices and preferences of people. Moreover, age, lifestyle, fashion, tastes, attitudes, values, ethnicity, and economic conditions, along with social reputation, describe the consumption pattern of every individual. The consumption patterns include food diets, and it is also linked to food transitions and losses and wastage.


The population of the globe is projected to grow by about two billionbetween 2017 and 2050, thereby creating morestress on the agriculture system of the nations16. Due to increasing income and wealth, globalization, and urbanization; people have been getting awide range of food options. Consumption of non-grain products (animal-based products, fruits, and vegetables) has been replacing the starchy staple fooddue to the increment in income level of people. It is significant to mention that a higher level of income does not ensure food security because it is not necessarily associated with a balanced diet. People may increase the consumption of processed and fast food with the increased income level17. People with high purchasing power are expected to consume more high-quality fruits and vegetables. Food items like red and treated meat, and highly processed and packaged meals with high levels of sugar, salt, saturated fats, and trans-fats compose a significant portion of their diets. Such transformations provide a misleading picture of food security because these kinds ofdiets are deficient in micronutrients and vitamins that are necessary for good health7. On the contrary, poor households with income constraints usually procure low-cost, basic staples by spending a large part of their average household income on them. In poor households, traditional foods such as legumes, seasonal fruits, leafy vegetables, and forest foods are consumed to fill some nutrient gaps, while other fresh fruits and vegetables remain costly and inaccessible to them18.


Food consumption and globalization seem to be considerably related. Food imports are increasing with time. Consumption of processed food has increased with globalization. Many transnational food corporations are taking entry into different countries. Globalization enhances the availability of distinct food. However, it does not guarantee equitable accessibility. Sometimes, ithasa negative impact on the diets and nutrition of many. Healthier food items such as fresh fruits and vegetables are generally costlier than highly processed packaged meals7. Cheap availability of unhealthy food due to rapid development also results in overweight/obesity and non-communicable diseases19.


Most of theworld's population (68 percent) is projected to inhabit urban areas by 205020. This may raise concernsabout dietary diversification and inequitable access to food. Urban food basket is expected to be more diversified due to the easy availability of a variety of food items. At the same time, people are also shifting towards consuming moreprocessed and fast food, as it involves lower female labour participation and lesser cooking time However, it creates health risks such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc. Obesity and overweight represent a misleading image of food abundance and consumption while undernourishment persists in the form of insufficient and nutrient-poor diet. Therefore, energy-rich but nutrient-poor diets are one of the main risk drivers for the global burden of diseases21.


Food and nutrition security:

Food security is a complex, multidimensional aspect22. Access to healthy and nutritious food is the principal concept of food security. Fundamentally, it includes a culturally appropriate and adequate supply of food that contains all the vital nutrients required by the body. Food security has four interlinked components- availability, accessibility, utilization, and stability23.


Food availability:

Food availability refers to eliminatingthe shortfall of quality food supply according to its requirements. This can be done through increased domestic production or by importing food items. It can also be done through the creation of adequate food stocks or by accepting food aid. A country’s population determines the demand for food, and it is needed to increase the food supply tothe population. Providing an adequate food supply is a big challenge, especially when the population is constantly growing, and the natural resources are limited. Domestic food production is the outcome of inputs, technology, weather conditions, and infrastructure, whereas imports of food items depend on world food prices, credit availability, and the capacity of a nation to import. If the food is available locally, thenmost of the households can havefood without hardships24, otherwise, transportation and proper distribution will have to play a key role in making food available to remote areas, where the production of food is quite difficult. Food trade not only supportsincreasingthe domestic food supply for combating food shortages, but also it helps in providing diversified food.


The livestock sector also plays a significant role in increasingfood availability along with the agriculture sector, but it is generally overlooked. The crop–livestock integrated food system provides solutions to the constraints faced by the agriculture sector alone.


Food management is required to enhancefood availability. It has been observed that a significant portion of the food produced is being lost or wasted at various levels. It creates a gap between food production and final consumption, and it also reduces food availability in real terms. Food lost or wasted is ethically wrong because this makes millions of people go to bed hungry and many get inadequate quantities of food with no or limited choices.


Food accessibility:

Producing sufficient food in a territory is not a guarantee that everybody in the country will have enough food to eat. Food accessibility is another important dimension of food security, which is based on the income, expenditure, and buying ability of households. It reflects whether the households have sufficient resources to produce or buy an adequate quantity of nutritious food or not. Household food accessibility is the ability to obtain food through one or a combination of ways. These can be home production or existing food stock, food aid, or food purchases. Various physical, economic, social, and technological factors affect household food accessibility such ashousehold income and food budget, food prices, individual dietary preferences, market proximity, equitable distribution, market infrastructure, access to credit, etc. Some shocks adversely affect food accessibility, like-unemployment or underemployment, low levels of income, rising food prices, and non-availability of food in a particular region.


The ability of a household to procure nutritive food in sufficient quantity is largely determined by its socio-economic status. Accessibility varies directly with the level of income, which is affected by the number of earners and dependents in the family, the physical and mental health of earners, and their educational and occupational status. Affordability and size of food expenditure to total expenditureexplainthe quantity and quality of food that a household can purchase for consumptionpurposes.


Food prices are inversely related toaccessibility, and they depend upon the demand for and supply of food items. The population dynamics of a country largely determine the demand for food. The rising population may lead to a rise in food prices by boosting demand. Increased food prices bring food insecurity to the economically weaker section of society.


In rural areas, agriculture and livestock rearing is a primary activity. A significant number of marginal and small farmers have limited accessibility of food, due to low levels of income and economic resources. Failure to obtain food thus increases the frequency of hunger and discomfort25 and it further hampers the productivity level. Sometimes, less budget for food forces people to consume less nutritious food, thereby making them food insecure without hunger.


For the vulnerable section of society, government schemes like public distribution, food stamps, and subsidies are helpful enough to raise their level of food accessibility. Targeted and adaptive food safety nets are the crucial elements of the government policy framework; however, there is a big question mark on the fairness and transparency of these programs.


Gender inequality strongly persists, in general, in the case of labour market opportunities, income, ownership and access to resources, credit facilities, family decisions, etc. Several studies have shown that women are particularly at risk of food insecurity due to the discriminating behaviour of society26. Additionally, the possibility of unequal distribution of food among the family members, based on gender, may also increase food insecurity in women.


Food utilization:

Food security does not limit itself merely to the quantity of food available for consumption, rather it focuses on the quality of food. The concept of food utilization is considerably more than just having a healthy and balanced diet; rather it refers to healthy practices and a clean environment which allows the individuals to utilize the food that they eat and absorb the nutrients and convert them into energy. Food utilization includes various elements like food storage, processing, health and sanitation, and adequate nutrition knowledge, which motivates towards having the quality of food. Food utilization is related to dietary diversity, food preparation knowledge, and practices to the nutritional needs of individuals. It is also linked with the prevention of contamination while handling and preparing food. It ensures adequate food and nutritional status27 and the absence of malnourishment in the family whichprevents millions from reaching their full intellectual and productive potential28.


While considering the various factors affecting the utilization dimension of food security, it is required to understand its linkages with other prominent yet determining factors. Growth in agriculture and the level of income do not certainly ensure an improved level of nutrition as both can increase the quantity of food but not necessarily the quality of food. Apart from that, food selection, preparation, and consumption practices also affect the nutritional level of households. The nutritional value of food might be affected from the point of harvesting of crops till the food is consumed. Water and sanitation conditions and health services also create a huge impact on food utilization29. Improved health status increases labour productivity and level of income, which further facilitates spending on a safe and nutritious diet that maintains health status in return. Thus, an enhancement/worsening of the health status can lead to a virtuous/vicious cycle. Therefore, food safety and hygiene are crucial while envisioning comprehensive food security; otherwise, such overlooked aspects weaken food security and create negative repercussions30.

Food stability

Food is a daily requirement. Adequate supply for a couple of days but inadequate supply periodically may lead to food insecurity. The instability of food and nutrition occurs when households are hit by adverse food shocks. These food shocks can occur at any of the three stages of food security viz. availability, accessibility, and utilization. Natural or manmade disasters may create a hurdle to the stable supply of food. Disruption in earnings, price rise, market disturbances, fewer credit facilities, etc. may reduce stable accessibility of food. Changes in diet preferences, food trends, availability of fast foods, employing less time for food preparation, and lack of water and sanitation facilities are some factors that may significantly impact the stable utilization of food.


The persistence of these shocks for a longer span and the ability of households to recover from them is called resilience, i.e., it verifies whether the household can recover easily or be pushed into the malicious poverty traps from which recovery is either exhausting or even impossible.


Apart from these, numerous unpredictable variables in the food systems affect the overall food stability, like food import capacity, per capita food production, food supply variability, peace and harmony with political stability, and the absence of violence and terrorism. To maintain a stable food supply, efficient safety nets with transparent food distribution must prevail for the inclusion of an impoverished and deprived section of society.



Fig. 3. Interlinkages among various dimensions offood security

Source: Self-structured



Sustainable food systems help to address the challenge of food and nutrition security in a managed way. The food systems and food and nutrition security have significant levels of interconnectedness with distinct agents. The food systems include several procedures and practices that transform the raw materials into foods and their nutrients, tohave health outcomes that enhance well-being. The misrepresentations of food systems are not only reflected in terms of hunger, undernutrition, and underweight but also obesity, overnutrition, and overweight. The sustainable food systems suggest that people not only need more food, but they also need access to the right kind of food. The food environment is highly responsible for the attainment of a healthy diet by all, and the food systems comprise all the activities, people, and establishments that affect the food environment (Fig. 4).



Fig. 4 Impact of food systems and food environment on diets

Source: (Meerman, 2015)



The food systems include a range of elements, including the environment, individuals, inputs, processes, infrastructures, institutions, and activities related to food production, distribution, preparation, and consumption. The results of these actions define the nutritional and health outcomes of the food systems along with socioeconomic outcomes and environmental sustainability7. The whole process also includes the variables that often go unseen but are crucial. It is established in the present study that faulty and unhealthy food systems are majorly responsible for the prevailing level of food and nutrition insecurity. Therefore, there is a need to speed up and strengthen the flexibility of the adaptive capacity of the food system31.



The authors declare no conflict of interest.



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Received on 05.06.2023         Modified on 09.08.2023

Accepted on 05.10.2023      ©AandV Publications All right reserved

Res.  J. Humanities and Social Sciences. 2023; 14(4):179-186.

DOI: 10.52711/2321-5828.2023.00037