Food security, nutrition, and food aid


Watch this short clip from the film ‘The time after tsunami’.

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At the end of this part of the case study you will have an overview of the definition of food security, and some examples of how the Sphere handbook can be used to address malnutrition plans for food aid.

Question 1

Are the nutritional needs of the population being met in this situation?


It is not clear, but it is likely that the nutritional needs are not being met in this situation. The main form of livelihood appears to be fishing, and the fishermen have lost their boats and nets. The women are saying they are hungry. The first standard in the general nutrition support section of the food security, nutrition and food aid chapter in the Sphere handbook is:

General nutrition support standard 1: all groups

‘The nutritional needs of the population are met.’

General nutrition support standard 1: all groups (p.137)

There is no standard on exactly how much food people should be given, but there is a guidance note on nutritional requirements.

Guidance note 1: Nutritional requirements

‘Nutritional requirements: the following estimates for average population requirements should be used, with the figures adjusted for each population as described in Appendix 7.

  • 2,100 kcals per person per day
  • 10-12% of total energy provided by protein
  • 17% of total energy provided by fat
  • adequate micronutrient intake through fresh or fortified foods.

It should be noted that these are the requirements for food aid provision only if the population is entirely dependent on food aid to meet its nutritional requirements. In situations where people can meet some of their nutritional needs themselves, food aid provision should be adjusted accordingly, based on the assessment. For planning food rations, see Food aid planning standard 1 on page 157.’

Guidance note 1: Nutritional requirements (p.138)

Appendix 7 of the food security, nutrition and food aid section in the handbook is a table on nutrition requirements, which can be used for planning purposes in the initial stages of a disaster. This is food aid if the population is entirely dependent on food aid to meet its nutritional requirements. 2,100 Kcals /day is a mean population requirement.

Question 2

Woman cooking outside
What is the definition of food security?


D: All people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food for a healthy and active life.

The Sphere handbook uses the common definition of food security, as stated in the World Food Summit Plan of Action, 1996. The food does not only need to be available, but it should also be accessible – people need to be able to afford it and it should be safe and nutritious food.

Question 3

Men with fishing boat

As can be seen in the film, the main form of livelihood in this area is fishing.

What should be done to increase the population’s food security? Spend a few minutes considering this issue, and then enter your responses in the text box below.

You could think in particular about:

  • the context for the situation
  • access to inputs (for example, nets and boats)
  • access to services (for example, market)
  • the relevant Sphere standards
  • primary production
  • participation

When you have entered your responses, click on the ‘Discussion’ button below for some possible answers.


There needs to be an understanding of the situation. For example, how viable is the fishing? What access is there to necessary inputs and services (such as nets, boats and market)?

Any inputs should be delivered in time, locally acceptable and conform to the appropriate quality norms. For example, here in the film we hear that the fishermen prefer catamaran boats, so are these boats better than smaller boats?

Inputs (such as boats and fishing nets) should be purchased locally whenever possible, unless this would adversely affect local producers, markers or consumers.

There are four food security standards in the Sphere handbook; one standard is:

Food security standard 2: primary production

‘primary production mechanisms are protected and supported’

Food security standard 2: primary production (p.124)

There are several guidance notes on primary production, reminding us that all the food security responses should be relevant to the situation. For example, there is no point in giving seeds if there is no land for planting, or if the seeds are not adaptable to local conditions and resistance to disease.

The indicators are signals that show that the standard is being attained, and have to be used in context. For example, there is an indicator on the type of inputs that could be provided.

Key indicator 3: Inputs

‘Where possible, a range of inputs is provided in order to give producers more flexibility in managing production, processing and distribution and in reducing the risks.’

Key indicator 3: Inputs (p.124)

The response will be more appropriate and effective if the affected population are involved in decided the type of support need to restore their livelihoods and strengthening their food security.

Common standard 1: participation

‘The disaster-affected population actively participates in the assessment, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the assistance programme.’

Common standard 1: participation (p.28)

Question 4

Watch this short film clip.

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What would you do to improve this chaotic food distribution? Tick as many boxes as you think are correct.


All of the above!

Food aid management standard 3: distribution

‘The method of food distribution is responsive, transparent, equitable and appropriate to local conditions.’

Food aid management standard 3: distribution (p.168)

In the film we can observe that there does not seem to be any system for the food distribution. It looks like the fittest would get the most, as they would be the ones to get to the distributors. The vulnerable, such as the elderly, the disabled, or unaccompanied children may be completely neglected. In this case in India, the lower caste groups (Dalits) may be neglected. The indicators emphasize the need to assess, target and distribute and monitor food aid, so those in need receive appropriate assistance.

Key indicator 1: Identifying recipients

‘Recipients of food aid are identified and targeted on the basis of need, by means of an assessment carried out through consultation with stakeholders, including community groups.’

Key indicator 1: Identifying recipients (p.168)

The guidance notes help to apply this standard and put the indicator into context. See for example guidance note 1 for this standard.

Guidance note 1: Targeting

‘Targeting: food aid should be targeted to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in the community, without discrimination on the basis of gender, disability, religious or ethnic background etc. The selection of distribution agents should be based on their impartiality, capacity and accountability. Distribution agents may include local elders, locally elected relief committees, local institutions, local NGOs or government or international NGOs.’

Guidance note 1: Targeting (p.169)


Here are the headings from the conceptual framework showing the causes of malnutrition. Without using the Sphere handbook, put these headings in the appropriate place to make the conceptual framework.

This framework is useful to help analyse the causes of malnutrition and so plan and implement an appropriate response. Malnutrition may not only be a result of lack of food; there are other factors such as insufficient services and unhealthy environment. A lack of health care can exacerbate malnutrition.