Food insecurity is a complex condition with four main dimensions: availability, access, utilization and stability. Food insecurity can be chronic or transitory. Chronic food insecurity implies a long-term or persistent inability to meet the minimal nutritional requirements. Transitory food insecurity is the short-term inability to meet required nutritional intake, and implies a capacity for recovery. Cyclical food insecurity, which occurs when there are habitual seasonal variations in the food security situation can be either chronic (if it lasts more than six months), or transitory (if it lasts less than six months).
The true incidence of food insecurity is debatable, as food security is a complex condition for which the appropriate measurement techniques have not yet been refined.
Common indicators used to measure food insecurity include: prevalence of undernourishment in all demographics; children aged <5 years stunted; children aged <5 years underweight; and children aged <5 years wasted. More modern and holisitic approaches also consider indicators such as: political stability and road density.
Hundreds of millions of people in different parts of the world, especially in the low-income countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, still go without the adequate food which would enable them to lead fully productive working lives. Grains form more than half the world's direct food supply in most poor countries. Some rich countries consume less grain directly, but they consume grain at over twice the rate per capita of poor countries indirectly in the form of meat and beverages.
The food shortage problem stems not from a lack of production, but from international market instability. This instability has arisen as a result of the insulation of domestic production from international market, conditions, creating distortions and fluctuations both in price and production levels, with particularly adverse effects on the low-income, commodity-export dependent countries. In the present international situation, most developing nations cannot shape their agricultural policies without reference to international market conditions and prices. Developed countries must begin to shape their agricultural policies not on protectionism, but on an understanding of their implications on international prices and their impact on the low-income countries. This is a central requirement for any meaningful long-term global strategy towards the equalizing of supply and demand, surplus and shortage.
The rate of cereal production is currently increasing at a rate in excess of the rate of population growth. More food is produced per capita at this time than at any time in human history. The agricultural resources are available, the issue is rather the maldistribution of food supplies and the inability of many people to pay for the food. In a survey of 117 developing countries, it was estimated that they could have collectively produced enough food to feed 50% more than their projected population in the year 2000, even at low levels of technology.