Food Security – Types and Classifications

2013 Crisis in Horn of Africa[6]
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About 700 million people in 76 low-and middle-income countries are food insecure, and the situation could grow worse in the poorest countries.[1]

What is food security?
Food security is the ability of all people at all times to access enough food for an active and healthy life. Three conditions must be fulfilled to ensure food security: food must be available, each person must have access to it, and the food utilized must fulfill nutritional requirements:[2]

  • Availability. Global food security requires sufficient food production to provide the world’s people with the amount of food they need to lead active and healthy lives. On a national level, food can be produced domestically or imported. Domestic production depends on the size of the area harvested and the yields achieved and is heavily influenced by weather, especially where irrigation is nonexistent. Imports depend on a country’s ability to finance them and are determined by export earnings and international food prices. Domestic production and import activity are affected by domestic policies and international prices.
  • Access. Access to food is mainly determined by household income. Lack of access is therefore closely linked with poverty. Where incomes are insufficient, transfer or food assistance programs (such as feeding programs or food subsidies) are a means to ensuring access to food.
  • Utilization. Adequate food utilization is a key component of food security. Access to safe water, good sanitation, and basic health care make a difference in nutritional well-being as they have an impact on the body’s ability to utilize consumed foods. Inadequate knowledge of basic nutritional facts may also prevent the best use of available food.

When a food security crisis becomes a famine

While many countries worldwide face food security crises, with large numbers of people hungry and unable to find enough food, only rarely do the conditions meet the humanitarian community’s formal criteria for a famine. A famine can be declared only when certain measures of mortality, malnutrition and hunger are met. They are:[3]

  • at least 20 per cent of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope;
  • acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 per cent; and
  • the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.

Integrated Food Security Phase Classification

Ambiguities in current usage of the term “famine” have had tragic implications for response and accountability in a number of recent food crises. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), also known as IPC scale, is a tool for improving food security analysis and decision-making. It is a standardised scale that integrates food security, nutrition and livelihood information into a statement about the nature and severity of a crisis and implications for strategic response. The following table includes a summary of the IPC scale:[4] [5]



Generally Food Secure More than 80% of households can meet basic food needs without atypical coping strategies
Borderline Food Insecure For at least 20 percent of households, food consumption is reduced but minimally adequate without having to engage in irreversible coping strategies. These households cannot fully meet livelihoods protection needs.
Acute Food and Livelihood Crisis At least 20 percent of households have significant food consumption gaps OR are marginally able to meet minimum food needs only with irreversible coping strategies such as liquidating livelihood assets. Levels of acute malnutrition are high and above normal.
Humanitarian Emergency At least 20 percent of households face extreme food consumption gaps, resulting in very high levels of acute malnutrition and excess mortality; OR HH households face an extreme loss of livelihood assets that will likely lead to food consumption gaps. extreme loss of livelihood assets that will likely lead to food consumption gaps.
Famine/Humanitarian Catastrophe At least 20 percent of households face a complete lack of food and/or other basic needs and starvation, death, and destitution are evident; and acute malnutrition prevalence exceeds 30% ; and mortality rates exceed 2/10000/day




  1. USDA – Global Food Security – Overview:
  2. USDA – Global Food Security – Questions and Answers:
  3. United Nations – When a food security crisis becomes a famine:
  4. Integrated Food Security Phase Classification – Technical Manual:
  5. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC):
  6. Image source: [Accessed: January 25, 2014]