Skip to main content

Can we improve global food security? A socio-economic and political perspective


Ensuring global food security for a growing population remains a major challenge. This is especially true against the background of increasing food prices paired with growing income levels and changing demand patterns in the developing world. At the same time, climate change and the occurrence of more frequent and extreme natural disasters increase the vulnerability of rural farm households, negatively affecting agricultural production. Given the many dimensions of food security, no simple solution can be found. Promoting productivity of farming and increasing the efficiency of the food marketing system are effective measures contributing to rural development in developing countries. Policy reforms in agriculture and beyond help to reduce distortions and change consumers’ awareness with respect to food waste and resource use inefficiencies related to human diets. What is new in this context is the increasing link of agriculture with other sectors such as the energy and the financial markets. This calls for further research as additional pressure is being put on the global food system.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. Overweight is defined as Body Mass Index (BMI) ≥ 25 kg/m2 and obesity as BMI ≥ 30 kg/m2.

  2. NCDs comprise mainly cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic lung diseases (WHO 2011).

  3. One global hectare (gha) represents a biologically productive ha with world average productivity.

  4. The differences between realized and achievable productivities are the so-called “yield gaps” but see Sumberg (2012)

  5. The European Union adopted the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) in 2009 including a 10 % target for the use of renewable energy in road transport fuels by 2020.

  6. Financialization refers to the “increasing importance of financial markets, financial motives, financial institutions, and financial elites” in the management of natural resources (with reference to a definition by Epstein 2002).


  • Anderson, K. (2009). Asia’s role in stabilizing food and agricultural prices. Paper presented at the Asian development bank institute’s annual conference on Asia’s contribution to global economic development and stability, 5 Dec. 2008, Tokyo.

  • Ash, C., Jasny, B. R., Malakoff, D. A., & Sugden, A. M. (2010). Feeding the future. Science, 327(5967), 797.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • BBC (2005a). Millions will flee degradation. BBC news, available at

  • BBC (2005b), Malawi issues food crisis appeal. BBC news, available at

  • BMELV. (2013). Preisvolatilität und Spekulation auf den Märkten für Agrarrohstoffe. Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV), Berlin: German Federal Ministry of Food.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boko, M., Niang, I., Nyong, A., Vogel, C., Githeko, A., Medany, M., Osman-Elasha, B., Tabo, R., & Yanda, P. (2007). Africa. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. In M. L. Parry, O. F. Canziani, J. P. Palutikof, P. J. van der Linden, & C. E. Hanson (Eds.), Contribution of working group II to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change (pp. 433–467). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bruinsma, J. (2009). The resource outlook to 2050: by how much do land, water use and crop yields need to increase by 2050? Paper presented at the Export meeting on how to feed the world in 2050. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chambers, R., & Conway, G. (1992). Sustainable Rural Livelihoods: practical concepts for the 21st century. IDS Discussion Paper 296. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies.

  • CBD. (2010). Global biodiversity outlook (GBO-3). Secretariat of the convention on biological. Montréal: Diversity.

    Google Scholar 

  • Conway, G. (2012). One billion hungry: can we feed the world? Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Conway, G. (1997). The doubly green revolution: food for all in the twenty-first century. London: Penguin.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cornell Chronicle (2012). Rust-Tracker’ to monitor deadly wind-borne wheat fungus. Accessed at (18.11.2013)

  • Cotula, L., Vermeulen, S., Leonard, R., & Keenly, J. (2009). Land grab or development opportunity? Agricultural investment and international land transactions in Africa. IIED, FAO and IFAD

  • Da Silva, J. G. (2013). Food losses mean hunger. The Think.Eat.Save.Reduce your footprint- campaign of the Save Food Initiative, is a partnership between UNEP, FAO and Messe Düsseldorf. Accessed at (08.11.2013).

  • Deininger, K., & Feder, G. (2009). Land registration, governance, and development: Evidence and implications for policy. World Bank Res. Obs. 24, 233 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  • Devereux, S. (2001). Sen’s entitlement approach: critiques and counter-critiques. Oxford Development Studies, 29(3), 2001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Epstein, G. (2002). Financialization, Rentier Interest, and Central Bank Policy. Paper prepared for PERI Conference on “Financialization of the World Economy”, Dec. 7–8, 2001, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

  • EU. (2010). European Commission forecasts average crop production for 2010 in the EU despite extreme weather. Press release IP/10/1027, European Commission, Brussels. Available at (accessed on 18.11.2013).

  • FAO. (2013a). The state of food and agriculture. Food and agriculture organization of the united. Rome: Nations.

    Google Scholar 

  • FAO. (2013b). Food wastage footprint. Impacts on natural resources. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    Google Scholar 

  • FAO. (2012). The state of world fisheries and aquaculture 2012. FAO fisheries and aquaculture department. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    Google Scholar 

  • FAO. (2011). Mapping supply and demand for animal-source foods to 2030. FAO animal production and health, Working paper 2. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    Google Scholar 

  • FAO. (2009a). Global agriculture towards 2050. High-Level Experts Forum, How to Feed the World 2050. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    Google Scholar 

  • FAO. (2009b). How to feed the world in 2050. High-level experts forum. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    Google Scholar 

  • FAO. (2006). Food security. Policy Brief, Issue 2, June. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization.

    Google Scholar 

  • FAO, WFP & IFAD. (2012). The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012. Economic growth is necessary but not sufficient to accelerate reduction of hunger and malnutrition. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    Google Scholar 

  • Godfray, H. C. J., Beddington, J. R., Crute, I. R., Haddad, L., Lawrence, D., Muir, J. F., Pretty, J., Robinson, S., Thomas, S. M., & Toulmin, C. (2010). Food security: the challenge of feeding 9 Billion people. Science, 327(5967), 812–818.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Gómez, M. I., Barrett, C. B., Buck, L. E., De Groote, H., Ferris, S., Gao, O., McCullough, E., Miller, D. D., Outhred, H., Pell, A. V., Reardon, T. A., Retnanestri, M., Ruben, R., Struebi, P., Swinnen, J., Touesnard, M. A., Weinberger, K., Keatinge, D., Milstein, M. B., & Yang, R.-Y. (2010). Principles for developing country food value chains. Science, 332, 1154–1155.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grote, U., & Winter, E. M. (2013). Vorsicht: Investments in Ökosystemleistungen, Handelsblatt Business Briefing (Nachhaltige Investments), 11.01.2013, No.1.

  • Grote, U., & Warner, K. (2010). Environmental change and forced migration: evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa. The International Journal of Global Warming, 2(1), 17–47.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grote, U., Craswell, E., & Vlek, P.L.G. (2005). Nutrient Flows in International Trade: Ecology and Policy Issues. Environmental Science & Policy, Volume 8, Issue 5, Elsevier Publ., October 2005, pp.439–451.

  • Hazell, P. B. R. (2009). The Asian Green Revolution. IFPRI Discussion Paper 00911. Washington: International Food Policy Research Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  • House of Commons. (2013). Global food security. First Report of Session 2013-14 (Vol. I). London: International Development Committee.

    Google Scholar 

  • IFPRI, Concern Worldwide, & Welthungerhilfe. (2012). 2012 Global Hunger Index: The Challenge of Hunger: Ensuring Sustainable Food Security Under Law, Water, and Energy Stresses. Washington, D.C.: Bonn, Dublin.

  • Ivanic, M., Martin, W., & Zaman, H. (2011). Estimating theshort-run poverty impacts of the 2010–11 surge in food prices. Policy Research Working Paper 5633. World Bank, Development Research Group,Washington, DC.

  • Jin, S., & Jayne, T. S. (2013). LandRental markets in Kenya: implications for efficiency, equity, household income, and poverty. Land Economics 89(2), 246–271.

    Google Scholar 

  • Köllner, T. (2008). Trading on scarcity: ecological progress and financial market innovations. Paper for the 9th International Sustainability Leadership Symposium 2008 “Capitalising on Natural Resources: New Dynamics in Financial Markets”, 10/11 September 2008, Swiss Re Centre for Global Dialogue, Rüschlikon/Zürich, Switzerland.

  • Lagi, M., Bertand, K. Z., & Bar-Yam, Y. (2011). The food crises and political instability in North Africa and the Middle East. Cornell University Library, Ithaca. Accessed at on 20.11.2013.

  • The Land Matrix Global Observatory. International Land Coalition (ILC), Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). Available at (accessed in Nov. 2013)

  • McClain-Nhlapo, C. (2004). Implementing a human rights approach to food security. 2020 Africa Conference, Policy Brief 13, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C.

  • Meyers, W. H., & Meyer, S. (2008). Causes and Implications of the Food Price Surge (Background paper for World Economic Situation and Prospects 2009). New York: United Nations.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mitchell, D. (2008). A Note on Rising Food Prices. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper Series No.4682, World Bank, Washington D.C.

  • Montpellier Panel (2013). Sustainable Intensification: A New Paradigm for African Agriculture. Montpellier Panel Report.

  • Nellemann, C., MacDevette, M., Manders, T., Eickhout, B., Svihus, B., Prins, A. G., & Kaltenborn, B. P. (2009). The environmental food crisis–The environment’s role in averting future food crises. A UNEP rapid response assessment. Nairobi: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

    Google Scholar 

  • Nelson, G. C., Rosegrant, M. W., Koo, J., Robertson, R., Sulser, T., Zhu, T., Ringler, C., Msangi, S., Palazzo, A., Batka, M., Magalhaes, M., Valmonte-Santos, R., Ewing, M., & Lee, D. (2009). Climate change: Impact on agriculture and costs of adaptation. Food policy report. Washington: International Food Policy Research Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ngokkuen, C., & Grote, U. (2012). Challenges and opportunities for protecting geographical indications in Thailand. Asia-Pacific Development Journal, 19(2), 93–123.

    Google Scholar 

  • OECD. (2006). Agricultural market impacts of future growth in the production of Biofuels. Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

    Google Scholar 

  • Parry, M., Evans, A., Rosegrant, M.W., & Wheeler, T. (2009). Climate change and hunger: responding to the challenge. World Food Programme, International Food Policy Research Institute, New York University Center on International Cooperation, Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, and Walker Institute at University of Reading, Rome, Washington, D.C., New York, London, and Reading, UK.

  • Rosegrant, M. W., Ringler, C., & Zhu, T. (2009). Water for agriculture: Maintaining food security under growing scarcity. Annual Review of Environmental Resources, 34, 205–222.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rosegrant, M. W., Ewing, M., Msangi, S., & Zhu, T. (2008). Bioenergy and global food situation until 2020/2050. Berlin: Bericht für den Wissenschaftlichen Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveränderungen (WBGU).

    Google Scholar 

  • Royal Society of London. (2009). Reaping the benefits: Science and the sustainable. London: Intensification of Global Agriculture.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ruel, M. T., Garrett, J. L., Hawkes, C., & Cohen, M. J. (2010). The food, fuel, and financial crises affect the urban and rural poor disproportionately: A review of the evidence. The Journal of Nutrition, 140, 170–176.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sen, A. (1981). Poverty and famines: An essay on entitlements and deprivation. Oxford: Clarendon.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stoeckel, A. (2008). High food prices: Causes, implications and solutions. Canberra: Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sumberg, J. (2012). Mind the (yield) gap(s). Food Security, 4, 509–518.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sutherland, W. J., Clout, M., Côté, I. M., Daszak, P., Depledge, M. H., Fellman, L., & Fleishman, E. W. (2010). A horizon scan of global conservation issues for 2010. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 25(1), 1–7.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Tokgoz, S., Zhang, W., Msangi, S., & Bhandary, P. (2012). Biofuels and the future of food: Competition and complementarities. Agriculture, 2, 414–435.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • UN (2013). World population prospects: The 2012 revision, highlights and advance tables. Working Paper No. ESA/P/WP.228, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York.

  • UNAIDS (2006) ‘Report on the global AIDS epidemic’, chapter 4: The impact of AIDS on people and societies—See more at:

  • UNCTAD. (2009). World investment report 2009: Transnational corporation, agricultural production and development. Geneva: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

    Google Scholar 

  • UNESCO (2013). Water pollution is on the rise globally (Facts and Figures). World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (accessed on 20.11.2013).

  • UN-Habitat. (2010). State of the World’s Cities 2010/2011: Bridging the Urban Divide. Nairobi: United Nations Human Settlements Programme.

    Google Scholar 

  • UNISDR. (2012). Disaster Statistics. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. Available at Accessed on 20 Oct 2013.

  • Victora, C. G., Adair, L., Fall, C., Hallal, P. C., Martorell, R., Richter, L., Singh Sachdev, H., & Maternal and Child Nutrition Study Group. (2008). Maternal and Child Undernutrition: Consequences for Adult Health and Human Capital. The Lancet, 371(9609), 340–357.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Von Braun, J. (2013). Welternährung im globalen Wandel. Bonn: Center for Development Research.

    Google Scholar 

  • Von Braun, J., & Tadesse, G. (2012), Global food price volatility and spikes: An overview of costs, causes, and solutions, ZEF-Discussion Papers on Development Policy No. 161, Center for Development Research, Bonn.

  • von Grebmer, K., Headey, D., Olofinbiyi, T., Wiesmann, D., Fritschel, H., Yin, S., Yohannes, Y., Foley, C., von Oppeln, C., Iseli, B., Béné, C. & Haddad, L.(2013). 2013 Global Hunger Index — The Challenge of Hunger: Building Resilience to Achieve Food and Nutrition Security. “Global Hunger Index Scores by Severity” map. Bonn, Germany: Welthungerhilfe; Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute; Dublin, Ireland: Concern Worldwide.

  • Wheeler, T., & von Braun, J. (2013). Climate change impacts on global food security. Science, 341(6145), 508–513.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • World Bank. (2008). World development report: Agriculture for development. World Bank: Washington D.C.

    Google Scholar 

  • World Bank. (2007). Population issues in the 21st century: the role of the World Bank. Washington, D.C: Health, Nutrition, and Population Discussion Paper 40583.

    Google Scholar 

  • World Food Summit. (1996). Declaration on World Food Security, Rome.

  • WHO. (2013a). Nutrition: micronutrient deficiencies. World Health Organization, Geneva. Available at in September 2013.

  • WHO. (2013b). Global Health Observatory: Underweight in children. World Health Organization, Geneva. Available at in September 2013.

  • WHO. (2013c). Obesity and overweight. Fact sheet No.311, World Health Organization, Geneva. Available at in September 2013.

  • WHO. (2011). Global status report on noncommunicable diseases 2010. Geneva: World Health Organization.

    Google Scholar 

  • WHO/UNAIDS/UNICEF. (2011). ‘Global HIV/AIDS Response: Epidemic update and health sector progress towards Universal Access 2011’–See more at:

  • WWF. (2012). Living planet report 2012. Biodiversity, biocapacity and better choices. Geneva: World Wildlife Fund.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ulrike Grote.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Grote, U. Can we improve global food security? A socio-economic and political perspective. Food Sec. 6, 187–200 (2014).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: