Coming to terms with vulnerability: a critique of the food security definition

Dilley, M. and Boudreau, T.E. (2001) Coming to terms with vulnerability: a critique of the food security definition. Food Policy, 26 (3). pp. 229-247.

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This paper seeks to improve the practice of vulnerability assessment for food security purposes by addressing long-standing issues that have hampered the development of both theory and methods. In food security contexts, vulnerability is usually defined in relation to an outcome, such as hunger, food insecurity or famine. This precludes employing the concept for the more specific task of evaluating the susceptibility of a population to explicitly-identified exogenous events or shocks that could lead to these outcomes. This lack of specificity has clouded interpretation of causal factors of food insecurity and famine. Alternatively, in a widely-applied framework for disaster risk assessment, the concept of vulnerability serves the more specific purpose of identifying characteristics of population groups or other elements that make them more or less susceptible to experiencing damage when exposed to particular hazards or shocks. Risks of negative outcomes are created by the combination of hazards and vulnerability, and vulnerability is defined by its relation to hazards rather than directly in relation to the outcomes themselves. The result has been an easier and more transparent translation of concepts into practice. That this latter formulation can also be applied in the food security context is illustrated through an analysis of food security risks in Tanzania. The analysis identifies economic alternatives households can exercise to meet their minimum annual food requirements. Exogenous threats or shocks that can suppress or eliminate particular alternatives exercised by different groups are identified as a means of assessing households' vulnerability and consequently their risks of becoming food insecure, or falling below the minimum threshold.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: The authors wish to acknowledge the following individuals who generously shared their time and expertise by contributing comments, criticisms and dissenting viewpoints on earlier drafts of this paper.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Food security; Famine; Vulnerability; Risk
Author Affiliation: University of Wisconsin, 432 North Lake Street, Madison, WI 53706, USA
Subjects: Social Sciences > Agricultural Economics
Postharvest Management > Food Technology
Divisions: General
Depositing User: Mr Balakrishna Garadasu
Date Deposited: 26 Feb 2013 03:38
Last Modified: 26 Feb 2013 03:38
Official URL:

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