Food Security and Nutrition Network

Question 5: "Nutrition Security" and the Concept of "Utilization"

Patrick Coonan
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Question 5: "Nutrition Security" and the Concept of "Utilization"

Posted by Patrick Coonan on 20 Aug 2014

During a plenary session at the TOPS/FSN Network Knowledge Sharing Meeting in July 2014, Susan Bradley of Food for Peace (FFP) asked the food security implementers in the room for their thoughts on key questions regarding the updating of the FFP Strategic Plan. This is the fifth question in that series. 

We welcome your thoughts and will be sharing your ideas directly with FFP. You can view the small group report out from the plenary session for this question by skipping to minute 50:00 of this recording.


FFP’s 2006-2010 strategy embraced a definition of Food Security that includes Availability, Access, Utilization and Risk (or Stability). In this definition, “Utilization” is meant to capture all those factors that influence whether food that is available and accessible translates into healthy human nutrition.

Does the concept of Utilization adequately address the issue of “Nutrition Security”? Why/Why not?

Nutrition security requires broad multi-sectoral approaches

Posted by Joan Whelan on 26 Aug 2014

Posted on behalf of Stanley Stalla, FFP Officer, USAID/Burundi:

I believe that it does NOT adequately address nutrition security.  Using experience gleaned here in Burundi, it’s clear that combating malnutrition requires a multi-sector approach that goes beyond utilization.  For example, nutrition greatly depends on population growth (family planning) and on abilities to purchase food (livelihoods).  Our recent Burundi Country Specific Information document - -  gives you an idea of the breadth of activities required to address malnutrition (see pages 5 and 6).

Missing Context

Posted by Gabrielle.Ben on 5 Sep 2014

No. The word utilization is not comprehensive. The piece that is missing is context. Utilization does not take into account environmental, and all health factors. The word needs to be one that is bidirectional.

By and large I agree with the

Posted by Greg Scarborough on 5 Sep 2014

By and large I agree with the previous posts. This is a great question as 'utilization' is often used to capture the 'nutrition' component of food security programs. This is not FFP specifc but more widespread - food security programs are often justified at least partially on nutrition indicators yet the guidance from the donor on FS programs is rarely 'nutrition specific.' Of course, if we want to improve the nutrition indicators the FS program is justified on, most contexts demand nutrition speficic programming and this often gets justified under 'utilization.'  I often need to ask individuals what exactly they mean when they use the term as the way it is defined varies and the way it is understood, even more so. In an IPC training  conducted 2 years ago in DC, the trainers were very specific that in their use of this term for their analyses, utilization specifically referred to the physical utilization of the food- could people cook their food... Did they have fuel, pots etc. Obviously this is a food security concern that needs to be distinguished from a more biological focus on the bodies ability to utilize nutrients, especially for IDP populations. So one major issue is that, despite having a clear definition, the term utilization can mean different things to different people and it is not always clear what is meant. If we want to be intentional and specific about improving nutrition outcomes that are often used to justify targeting in the first place we need more direct and intentional terminology. I would personally prefer redefining 'food security' to have 'utilization' focus on physical utilization of food - however this would clearly be an uphill battle. The increased usage of 'food and nutrition security' and nutrition specific vs nutrition sensitive programming fills this need to be more intentional and descriptive and. Beyond the semantics, 'Nutrition Security' and 'utilization' simply do not capture the same concepts and thus cannot be used interchangeably to talk about the same intentions if our communication is going to be effective. If we do intend to improve' nutrition security,' it can only help for our terms to be more 'nutrition specific' and to stop using 'utilization' as a catch-all for all things nutrition in FS programs.

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