2017-18 Challenge

2017-2018 CHALLENGE

“Imagine all the food mankind has produced over the past 8,000 years. Now consider that we need to produce that same amount again — but in just the next 40 years if we are to feed our growing and hungry world.”
– Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, and Daniel Servitje, CEO of Grupo Bimbo1

2017-2018 Challenge Booklet with Reading List

Addressing Food Security

This year, the GII challenge focuses on the issue of food security. Approximately one third of the world suffers from malnutrition,2 while 11 percent suffer from undernourishment(3). Constrained agricultural and food production resources, rapid population growth, and overconsumption all stand as major issues underlying these statistics. As acknowledged by the United Nations (UN), food security is one of the greatest threats facing the world today.(4)

Not only is food security an immense challenge in scope, as it reaches every corner of our world, but it is also highly complex. Food must be available, accessible, and nutritious in order for the world’s population to be food secure. Indeed, the challenges associated with ensuring food security are multi-faceted and wide-ranging. It is an issue which intersects with almost every other aspect of a society, economy and environment.

What is food security?

Food security is a term that refers to the consistent availability and accessibility of safe and nutritious food. As such, a person is considered food secure when they are consistently able to access safe and nutritious food. Notably, there is great variance between countries and organizational approaches to measuring food security. Whereas some countries measure security based on undernourishment, others focus on access to food or other indicators.5

It is important to recognize that the issue of food security is greater than solely ensuring that food is made available to areas that need it. Even if food is made available to a population in need, factors such as gender, socioeconomic standing, and geographic location play a substantial role in determining whether those in need of food will be able to access the available supply. In order to understand the complexity and depth of this issue, these community-specific determinants must be considered alongside broader factors such as economic growth, international trade flows, and political dynamics in a given population.

Why is food security a problem?

Inadequate food security has dire consequences for healthcare and socioeconomic development. There are four major aspects of the issue of food security outlined below. Although this list is by no means exhaustive it provides an introduction to the complexities of this challenge:


Malnutrition refers to when a person experiences deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in the intake of dietary energy and nutrients. Malnutrition affects one third of the global population in both developed and developing countries, and is a significant aspect of the food security challenge.6

The negative effects of malnutrition start at infancy. Malnutrition of both a pregnant mother and an early-stage infant lead to half of all deaths of children under 5 years old and is a major cause of irreversible stunted physical and mental development.7 This stunted development drastically impacts the lives of affected children and their families and is a systemic driver of inequality. Stunted development is primarily experienced by those from heavily disadvantaged socioeconomic background, and this impairment to proper development creates major inequalities of opportunity from the moment a child is born. For this reason, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has said that ”



nequality is baked into the brains of 25 percent of all children before the age of five” due to stunted development caused by malnutrition, and that “the only way we can realistically say there is equality of opportunity is if we bring stunting down to zero”. 8 The macro-economic toll of stunted childhood development is also substantial, with economists estimating that it can reduce a country’s Gross Domestic Product by as much as 12 percent.9

The burden of inadequate food security across all ages similarly poses a major socioeconomic burden in terms of lost economic productivity and healthcare costs. Estimates place the global cost of malnutrition at upwards of USD 3.5 trillion, with health-related drivers of cost coming from increased risk of contracting infectious diseases due to undernutrition, physical and mental impairments caused by a persistent nutrition deficiencies, and increased risk of developing cancer, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease due to overconsumption and obesity.10


It is important to consider overconsumption and undernourishment as connected issues, as they are commonly present in the same community or household.11 According to the UN Environment Programme, the occurrence of “dual burden households” in which undernourished and overweight or obese individuals are both present, is a growing phenomenon in both developed and developing countries.12
This seemingly paradoxical phenomenon is attributable to the fact that, in many cases, overconsumption of unhealthy dietary elements is the result of socioeconomic inequalities as healthy, local options are unaffordable or inaccessible. These same socioeconomic determinants of overconsumption are also linked to undernourishment.13

Rapid Population Growth

The Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that population growth will lead to a doubling of global demand for food by 2050.14

This rapid near-term growth in demand for food requires developing forward-looking solutions to food security, particularly when one considers that the increased demand for food will not be distributed evenly across the globe. There is a strong correlation between high levels of food insecurity and high fertility rates.15

This means that the groups of people currently struggling with the greatest burden in terms of securing appropriate levels of food and nutrition will disproportionately face future challenges related to food security.

Food insecurity has also been linked to increased likelihood of violent conflict and political instability, particularly in regard to communal violence focused around scarce resources or sudden increases in food prices.16

As such, rapid population growth is also important to consider under the lens of conflict based on food insecurity.

Constrained Agricultural and Food Production Resources

Meeting the need for food security, particularly in areas with rapid population growth, can place significant strains on agricultural capacity and other means of food production.

This issue takes different forms depending on the social, economic and geographic aspects of food production in a particular region. For example, in areas that are heavily reliant on farming for food production, increased demand for food can place a burden on water and land supply and be detrimental to crop quality due to over-farming. This becomes particularly challenging in areas with rapid population growth, as the land and other resources needed to increase farming activity are also needed to house and otherwise support the growing population.

Another example comes in the form of coastal areas reliant upon local fishing for a significant portion of food production. In these areas, increased food demand can lead to over-fishing with negative consequences for the long-term sustainability of fish stock in the area.

These are only two examples of how attempting to meet the challenge of improving food security is problematized by resource constraints. As such, comprehensively understanding the issue of food security requires understanding the context-specific relationship between resource constraints and food security.

Addressing the issue of food security

There are a number of strategies to consider while addressing food security. Innovative methods to increase agricultural productivity in developing areas can play a vital role in ensuring that these areas are able to meet increased demand for food while maintaining the livelihood of people employed in the agricultural sector. Interventions focused on agricultural productivity may be based around embracing technological advancements, facilitating access to financing and business support for small agricultural operations, and integrating genetically modified crops into existing agricultural operations.17

Solutions can also be based around the improvement of distribution logistics, policy or program-based interventions based around education or food governance reform, and market-based initiatives designed to improve food security. Solutions need to be tailored to their specific contexts and should consider socio-political factors that may accelerate or inhibit their adoption.

Trends driving this issue globally also present possible areas for intervention. For example, the impact of climate change on food production and the rapid rate of urbanization in developing countries are two issues with large implications for food security that will need to be addressed moving forward.

Finally, there are crosscutting issues that are important to consider when designing any intervention. It is essential to situate any intervention within the scope of preexisting sociopolitical structures and initiatives designed to address food security. Similarly, designing any intervention must take into account the “last mile” of addressing food security. The “last mile” of food security in this sense refers to the behavioural aspects of individual and collective decision-making that may stop those who need food from accessing it.

Challenge guidelines and questions to consider

GII students are challenged to develop innovative technical, policy, education and/or socioeconomic development interventions to improve food security. Students are required to focus their interventions on one community of their choice located in either India or Canada. However, all GII students should consider the potential to scale their solution outside their chosen community.
Support material, including detailed case studies, problem-solving frameworks, access to University of Toronto library resources, and guidance from University of Toronto student mentors and monthly expert speakers, will be provided throughout the GII program year.

GII students should consider the following questions in forming a solution and choosing a geographic area of focus:

  1. What is the state of food security Canada and India?
  2. What are the impacts of food security in both countries? What are the differences and similarities between how food security impacts these countries?
  3. What are the obstacles to ensuring food security? Are they political, economic, geographic, and/or cultural?
  4. What efforts, if any, are currently being made to address this problem?
  5. Who are the key stakeholders to consider in designing your solution?
  6. How will you implement your solution?
  7. How will you know if your solution is successful?
  8. Can your solution scale up?


Paul Polman and Daniel Servitje, “Speech at the Rio+20 Conference”, June 2012.


Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients. Julie Gould, “Nutrition: A world of insecurity”, Nature 544, 27 April 2017, online: <http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v544/n7651_supp/full/544S6a.html>.


Undernourishment means that a person is not able to acquire enough food to meet the daily minimum dietary energy requirements, over a period of one year. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “ The FAO Hunger Map”, online: <http://www.fao.org/hunger/en/>.


Food security is recognized by the United Nations (UN) as a global priority for action, as noted in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The UN SDG Number 2 aims to ensure year-round access to sufficient quantities of food for everyone on the planet by 2030. While the world has made significant progress towards ensuring universal access to food over the past thirty years, it appears unlikely that the UN SDG will be met.
United Nations, “Sustainable Development Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”, online: <http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/hunger/>.
Richard Hodson, “Food Security”, Nature 544, 26 April 2017, online: <http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v544/n7651_supp/full/544S5a.html>.


The World Bank, “Prevalence of undernourishment”, World Bank Data, online: <http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SN.ITK.DEFC.ZS?page=2>.


Julie Gould, “Nutrition: A world of insecurity”, Nature 544, 27 April 2017, online: <http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v544/n7651_supp/full/544S6a.html>.


UNICEF, “Undernutrition contributes to nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 and is widespread in Asia and Africa”, UNICEF Data: Monitoring the Situation of Women and Children, June 2017, online: <https://data.unicef.org/topic/nutrition/malnutrition/>.


Jim Yong Kim, as quoted in Sarah Boseley, “World Bank to name and shame countries that fail to prevent stunting in children”, The Guardian, 30 September 2016, online: <https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/sep/30/world-bank-name-and-shame-countries-fail-stunted-children>.


1000 Days, “Stunting”, online: <https://thousanddays.org/the-issue/stunting/>.


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Understanding the True Cost of Malnutrition”, 16 July 2014, online: <http://www.fao.org/zhc/detail-events/en/c/238389/>.


World Health Organization, “What is malnutrition?”, Online Q&A, 8 July 2016, online: <http://www.who.int/features/qa/malnutrition/en/>.


United Nations Environment Programme, “The Critical Role of Global Food Consumption Patterns in Achieving Sustainable Food Systems and Food for All”, UNEP Discussion Paper, 2012, online: <http://www.fao.org/sustainable-food-value-chains/library/details/en/c/265952/>.


United Nations Environment Programme, “The Critical Role of Global Food Consumption Patterns in Achieving Sustainable Food Systems and Food for All”, UNEP Discussion Paper, 2012, online: <http://www.fao.org/sustainable-food-value-chains/library/details/en/c/265952/>.


Population Action International, “Why Population Matters to Food Security”, online: < https://pai.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/PAI-1293-FOOD_compressed.pdf>.


Population Action International, “Why Population Matters to Food Security”, online: < https://pai.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/PAI-1293-FOOD_compressed.pdf>.


Henk-Jan Brinkman and Cullen S. Hendrix, “Food Insecurity and Violent Conflict: Causes, Consequences and Addressing the Challenges”, World Food Programme Occasional Paper Number 24, July 2011. Online: <http://documents.wfp.org/stellent/groups/public/documents/newsroom/wfp238358.pdf?_ga=2.264575183.1152831328.1502655590-1149203710.1502655590>.


For example, see: Matin Qaim and Shahzad Kouser, “Genetically Modified Crops and Food Security”, PLoS One, 5 June 2013, online: <http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0064879>.

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