IDM077-Food Security and Development

Module Provider: School of Agriculture, Policy and Development
Number of credits: 10 [5 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Autumn term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2020/1

Module Convenor: Dr Alex Arnall


Type of module:

Summary module description:

Basic food security remains a problem for millions of people in the developing world. Examine theoretical and methodological approaches to understanding food (in)security in the context of development. In addition to vulnerability and cause (e.g. climate change, health, population, trade, conflict), focus on how people and institutions manage risk in an uncertain world, e.g. by aid and humanitarian transfer, building  adaptive capacity into food systems, and integrated disaster risk reduction in development initiatives. Covering a wide geographical, historical, and thematic scope, using case examples, readings, discussion, and exercises, address current issues and discover tools central to understanding, assessing, and combating food insecurity. Understanding food systems in a post-covid-19 context is particularly important and will help those interested in learning about practice, policy and new ideas


This module engages with the challenge of why basic food security is still a problem for millions of people in the developing world. Food security concerns the complex means by which people seek to maintain livelihoods. The study of food security requires an appreciation not only of food production, but also of the means by which households and communities obtain necessary resources, including employment, trade, social networks, and in some cases use of aid resources. When food security is threatened, communities and households have multiple strategies to protect themselves. This module examines both theoretical and methodological approaches to understanding food (in) security in the context of development. Although we will address vulnerability and cause (e.g. climate change, population, trade, conflict etc.), we will focus on how people and institutions (including agencies and government) manage risk in an uncertain world, and ultimately how they adapt. For example, issues of aid and humanitarian transfer, building adaptive capacity into food systems and integrated disaster risk reduction in development initiatives. The module will covering a wide geographical, historical, and thematic scope, with case examples, readings, discussions and exercises will address current issues and tools central to understanding, assessing and combating food insecurity.

Assessable learning outcomes:

At the end of the module, students should be able to:

- Discuss historical development of approaches to food insecurity

- Identify components of food security and mechanisms that support equitable and sustainable access to food

- Understand malnutrition and how to identify who is vulnerable

- Describe coping strategies and livelihood examples, as well as failures in global food systems that lea d to famine, and appreciate the political dimensions in this process

- Recognise indicators and describe use in tools and Early Warning Systems

- Explain international aid system/humanitarian transfer and identify effective programming

- Apply knowledge to disaster risk reduction and adaptive governance (longer term development thinking about how to support food security)

Additional outcomes:

Students will develop communication, writing and critical analysis skills through class participation, reading of materials and preparation of an essay, as well as have reviewed case study examples. In addition, skills to understand the role of practical tools, methods and frameworks for assessing food insecurity.

Outline content:

Part 1: Key debates about food security and development

1) Introduction class

2) Historical perspective to food security - covers main theoretical understandings (environmental determinism, neo-Malthusian explanations, modernisation) that have shaped contemporary critiques of production and sufficiency - will also engage with geopolitics, markets and political ecology – the main question we will explore is should we increase produ ction to solve food insecurity?

3) Access, entitlement and food security - how these ideas influence household availability to food resources, the sustainable livelihoods approach to household food insecurity, and current debates for policy, rights and diversity of different actors, understanding differential vulnerability – the main question this week will be to focus on whether difficulties in accessing available or good quality food is the main problem?

4) Livelihoods, vulnerability of food systems and adaptive governance - covers contemporary holistic understandings of food security problems, implications for policy and institutional delivery and vulnerability of food systems – the question will focus on the challenge of scale, how this shapes the problem and its management.

5) Nutrition, health and food - what does it mean to lack food (health, malnutrition and disease, welfare, institutional systems for carin g, malaria, HIV/AIDS) and how can we assess who needs food for better targeting?

Part 2: Exploring food security, development and practice

6) Aid and influence - covers traditional approaches to aid, how to re-think humanitarian assistance, role of cash transfers, service delivery, empowerment and equality, adaptive capacity, redesigning policy frameworks

7) Political aspects of famine - historical constructs and the re thinking famine frameworks, practical tools, managing perceptions and cultural sensitivities, role of fragile states and conflict/complex emergencies and refugees.

8) Sudden impact disasters and food security - an introduction, the role of disaster risk reduction and mainstreaming within national development strategies, international food crises

9) The Household Economy Approach – practical session exploring how to assess household targeting (NGO Evi dence for Development)

10) Vulnerability Assessments for food security programming (NGO Oxfam)

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

Lectures are taught using a diverse set of developing country case studies from around the world to illustrate practice, use of video clips; group discussions on readings and media; practical sessions with outside organisations. Additional individual study and class preparation (using blackboard site) is required and participation during class discussion is expected.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 20
Guided independent study: 80
Total hours by term 100
Total hours for module 100

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 100

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

  • Short essay (2000 words maximum) based on a choice of three questions given out in the first class (these will be based on each of the key debates introduced in classes 2-4). The short essay is worth 60% and must be submitted online via Blackboard in November.

  • Write up of practical (1000 words maximum), with guidance available in advance online and explained in the practical session (based on the insights of using a Household Economy Approach). The write up is worth 40% and must be submitted online via Blackboard in December. Both assignments are outlined in the first introduction class, detailed in the module outline document made available in the first module class and specific submission dates given online.

Formative assessment methods:

Students are encouraged to discuss their understanding of the essay topics and planned approach or essay outline, and of the critical reading assignment with the module convenor – time will set aside during class to explain the assessments. There will also be opportunity for student to rehearse their ideas during class discussions.

Penalties for late submission:
Penalties for late submission on this module are in accordance with the University policy. Please refer to page 5 of the Postgraduate Guide to Assessment for further information:

Assessment requirements for a pass:

Reassessment arrangements:
A new research question for written reassessment will be provided by the module convenor.

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):
1) Required text books:
2) Specialist equipment or materials:
3) Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear:
4) Printing and binding:
5) Computers and devices with a particular specification:
6) Travel, accommodation and subsistence:

Last updated: 27 July 2020


Things to do now