The approaches people have taken to address issues of food insecurity fall into three broad categories:
- Short-term relief—for emergency situations
- Individual and community capacity building — to produce and prepare food and to bring people together and work for change
- System change—influencing policy to build food security
These three different types of strategies are interrelated and often build on one another.
Short Term Relief Strategies
Food banks, soup kitchens, and children’s feeding programs are directed a those who are the most food insecure and provide short-term relief for the immediate issue of hunger.
These strategies are considered “Band-Aids”. They cover up the problem for the short-term, but do little to address the underlying problems that cause food insecurity, such as inadequate income, inequity, and social exclusion.
Individual and Community Capacity Building Strategies
These strategies help improve food security and the sustainability of the food system by building skills and moving people to work together for change.
Skill building is connected to capacity building. The concept of capacity building is described on the next page. Strategies focused on individual capacity building may include programs where individuals develop skills to grow, produce and prepare their own food. Examples include community gardens or community kitchens.
Individuals participating in a community garden develop gardening skills and learn about food. At the same time, they are producing inexpensive food and contributing to a cleaner environment.
Strategies that build individual skills can also help build communities and build capacity to make change at the community level because these programs give people a chance to come together and develop social support networks. By coming together and talking about the issues that affect their food security, people can become excited about making big changes and may organize to work together to address issues that affect their food security. The Food for Thought example on the next page shows how individual skill building can lead to community skill building.
A group in Halifax, NS came together to learn about pricing food and comparing food costs between stores and brands. When they went out and priced food in their community they realized that the grocery store in their neighborhood charged more for the same foods as a store that was farther away in a wealthy neighborhood. They sent letters and spoke to their store manager. In the end the grocery store in their neighborhood changed its pricing practice to be more equal. The store also opened a bulk-food section that offered lower food costs too!
The focus of capacity building is on bringing individuals and/or communities together to identify, define, and figure out how to address their issues. As mentioned, it often grows from individual skill building strategies.
Any approach to truly address food insecurity needs to consider the ‘big picture’ and what can be done to benefit the whole community. Capacity building is most effective when a well-planned, long-term approach is taken. These strategies are most effective when the people in the community are included and involved in identifying solutions.
Capacity building is a process with the goal of implementing policies and systems that support community health and wellness.
Capacity is built gradually and depends on:
- People who want to help and are willing to be involved
- People with skills, knowledge, and abilities related to the key issues
- Support from community institutions and businesses
- Economic and financial resources
One goal of capacity building is mobilizing people to organize through strategies focused on system change.
System Change Strategies
Many of the issues faced by communities or populations can be most effectively addressed through supportive, healthy public policy.
Strategies focused on system change aim to make improvements to policy that will build food security. Examples of system change strategies include forming a food policy group (see page 64), doing participatory food costing (see page 19) and other types of participatory action research on the issue.
Developing healthy public policy requires that the communities affected by the policy be involved. This includes being involved in generating and gathering strong community-based evidence that will support the development of the policy. This is necessary to make the link between public policy and people’s experience. For this reason, capacity building approaches, at many different levels, are an essential element in building food security through public policy (system change strategy).
As communities become involved in public policy and gain an understanding of the public policy process they become better equipped to influence the policies that address issues such as food insecurity. This can help to build food security as well as stronger, healthier communities, more responsive governments, and improved problem solving around various issues faced by communities.
Participatory Food Costing
T he Food Security Projects used participatory research to examine the affordability of nutritious food in Nova Scotia. Participatory approaches aim to support active involvement of the people most involved, affected or potentially affected by an issue.
The data from food costing research can be used to influence policy by providing evidence that many people are not able to afford a nutritious diet.
The participatory food costing conducted in Nova Scotia in 2002 by the Food Security Projects and partners revealed that it costs about $572.90/month to feed a family with two parents and two children a very basic but nutritious diet. This cost is too high for many people living on low incomes like minimum wage or income assistance. This means that they cannot afford to eat a healthy diet and may be unable to meet their basic nutritional needs. The cost is different in each region and it actually costs more in rural parts of the province than it does in urban areas like Halifax, Dartmouth, and Sydney. It also costs more to buy groceries from smaller grocery stores than it does to buy from big grocery stores.
This information can be used to make recommendations for policy change, such as:
- Adjust income assistance personal allowances to reflect the actual cost of a nutritious food basket based on the age of children.
- Adjust minimum wage to reflect the cost of living.
Governments and citizens must work together to build food security by ensuring policies are developed and implemented that address the root causes of food insecurity and hunger.
Participatory research also has other benefits. For example, as a result of this participatory process, Family Resource Centres across Nova Scotia now have the capacity to do participatory food costing in their communities if supports such as childcare and transportation costs are in place.NSNC/AHPRC Food Security Projects, 2004
Using Activity 3.1 start to think about strategies to address food insecurity. Activity 3.2 looks at the pro’s and con’s of these strategies. These activities can be found at the top of the page
facilitators notes 3.1