Food security and food sustainability: reformulating the debate

T. Lang, David Barling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

167 Citations (Scopus)


The notion of food security has an important history as a key concept for 20th-century policymakers. Two overarching perspectives on food security are identified. One centred on raising production as the core answer to under-consumption and hunger. The other is an emerging perspective, more social and ecological, accepting the need to address a complex array of problems, not just production. The first is primarily agricultural-focused; the latter a food systems approach. From its inception in post-World War 2 international reconstruction, the UN and governments have given tackling hunger a high profile, via a changing package of policy measures. Within a few decades, the production-oriented approach or paradigm was being questioned by the emerging paradigm with its more complex, multi-focused notion of the challenges ahead. When oil and agricultural commodity prices spiked in 2007–8, the complex agenda was marginalised by a renewed international focus on primary production and the needs of low-income countries. Against this background, the paper explores the diversity of perspectives on what is meant by food security, concluding that the core 21st-century task is to create a sustainable food system. This requires a more coherent policy framework than currently exists, a goal thwarted by competing solutions vying for policy attention and policy failure thus far to integrate the complex range of evidence from social as well as environmental and economic sources into an integrated policy response
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-326
Number of pages13
JournalThe Geographical Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


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