In sum, “food security for all” is a significant sustainability challenge. Data on health and nutritional status, especially of children under 5 years of age, indicate that a substantial portion of the world’s seven billion people are not currently nutritionally secure. Data on ecosystem health and use of nonrenewable materials indicate that more natural resource-efficient means for producing the additional volumes of food are needed now to be prepared to feed a global population in excess of nine billion people expected to be reached by 2050 (FAO, 2010b).

In order to better understand how sustainable food security could be achieved, the National Research Council’s Science and Technology for Sustainability Program hosted two workshops addressing the sustainability challenges associated with food security for all. The first workshop was titled Measuring Food Insecurity and Assessing the Sustainability of Global Food Systems. A second workshop was titled Exploring Sustainable Solutions for Increasing Global Food Supplies. The workshops were held on February 16-17, 2011 and May 2-4, 2011.

Organized by a committee of experts appointed by the National Research Council, the first workshop involved presentations and discussions with a diverse group of experts who explored the availability and quality of commonly used indicators2 for food security and malnutrition, poverty, and natural resources and agricultural productivity as well as the data sources used. The overarching objective of the first workshop was to contribute to global efforts toward sustainable food security through the improvement of indicators used to assess and monitor progress in improving food and nutritional security and to review projections for increasing agricultural productivity while protecting the long term viability of critical natural resources. The specific objectives were:

  • To help establish the dimensions of the sustainable food security challenge;
  • To review commonly used indicators from the point of view of the data used (quality, frequency, consistency), construction of the metric or indicator and to analyze methodological strengths and weaknesses;
  • To review current uses and misuses of the indicators;
  • To identify options for improving existing processes and developing better data and indicators to meet the needs of users; and
  • To explore possible peer review mechanisms for improving the metrics3 and indicators and assuring the proper use for policies and programs.

The first workshop was organized around the three broad dimensions of sustainable food security: (1) availability, (2) access, and (3) utilization. Within these topics, the workshop aimed to review the existing data (i.e., what we know and what we think we know) to encourage action and identify the knowledge gaps. The workshop was organized around the following topics:

  • Metrics for food insecurity and malnutrition, including both food consumption indicators and outcome indicators
  • Measures of national and global poverty and their use in policy making


2Indicator is defined as “a characteristic that indicates a quality or state of a system (something that indicates something useful to someone based on one or more metrics, observations or both).” Accessed on June 6, 2011.

3Metric is defined as “a quantitative measure or derivation from two or more measures, which may not necessarily indicate something useful to particular observers (a measure of something that does not necessarily indicate something useful).” See Accessed on June 6, 2011.

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