4.3.1. Overview of Food availability and the value chain approach


Availability is defined by USAID as “[s]ufficient quantities of appropriate, necessary types of food from domestic production, commercial imports or donors other than USAID are consistently available to the individuals or are within reasonable proximity to them or are within their reach.”[1] Poor food availability frequently causes malnutrition when households cannot get access to adequate caloric intake or a sufficiently diverse range of food.  Food availability remains a problem for many households, and there are signs that food availability may worsen in the future:  the 2009 OECD-FAO Agriculture Outlook estimates that global food production will need to increase by 70% by 2050 compared with average 2005-2007 levels to keep up with growing consumption.[2] There are multiple factors that contribute to poor food availability, including low yields, lack of functioning markets that can distribute food from surplus to deficit areas, high post-harvest losses, and the market-distorting impacts of food aid.

Identifying Food Availability Challenges

Food availability is usually examined at a macro level, often looking at food stocks, imports and market prices. There are multiple tools and resources to identify food availability challenges. 

Critical Issues to Consider in Addressing Food Availability with a Value Chain Approach

The issues of value chain selection, geographic targeting, participant targeting, price impacts and the business enabling environment are important to consider when working to improve availability: 

  • Food diversity and value chain selection: While the availability of minimum levels of staple foods is essential to proper nutrition, a diversity of food (e.g. fruits and vegetables, livestock and livestock products) is essential for a healthy diet. The value chain selection process must consider the availability of the various foodstuffs necessary for a healthy diet when addressing food availability.
  • Geographic selection:  Significantly increasing aggregate food production is more feasible in areas of strong agro-ecological potential with high yield gaps (the difference between actual and attainable yields). Thus, to have the greatest impact upon food availability, projects may choose to target these high-potential areas. When such areas are already producing food surpluses, it is generally assumed that increased production will automatically flow to food deficit areas. This depends, however, on the existence of markets that effectively reallocate food; a scenario that is not always reality.
  • Farmer targeting: Farmers with medium-scale and large-scale holdings and better access to support markets (including particularly input and financial markets) are much more likely to produce staple food surpluses that will be sold into the market than are small-scale and subsistence farmers. Just two to three percent of smallholder farmers in Eastern and Southern Africa, for instance, sell over half of all maize produced by the smallholder sector, while 60% or more of smallholders sell no maize at all in a single year.[3] This divergence is growing as the average farm size in the developing world steadily shrinks. Yet despite these trends, if the produce of surplus farmers does not flow to poorer or rural consumers then the impact on food availability of the food insecure may be negligible. Thus the design of projects will need to take into account the efficiency of existing food markets and the types of clients who are most likely to participate in programming.
  • Price impacts and producer incentives: Understanding the price impacts of greater food availability on the incentives of producers and consumers is important when designing programs. Improving food availability through increased productivity can lower food prices, thus improving food access for net food consumers while still increasing farmer incomes through increased volumes. In countries with high numbers of food insecure populations governments are extremely sensitive to escalating food prices and will take measures to ensure adequate supply at the national level. Programs must be aware that if governments perceive food surplus or deficit due to significant changes in staple food prices or excess or constrained supply, they will make policy decisions that can lead to increased price volatility. These typically unpredictable policies include trade bans to prevent food exports or imports, releasing food security stocks to bring prices down or buying up surplus to avoid price drops. The result is reduced incentives for farmer and trader investment and blocks to regional markets that could efficiently distribute food from surplus to deficit areas and stabilize prices.[4] The optimal strategy is to promote broad based economic growth that results in reduced costs of production and provides opportunities in non-farm sectors to those farmers who cannot compete in the commercial sector.[5]
  • Business enabling environment: The business enabling environment (BEE) plays a key role in shaping food availability, through such factors as the existence and quality of rural infrastructure (e.g., roads, storage), trade and tariff policies, harmonized grades and standards, and transparent land tenure systems. In countries with high food insecurity governments make policy decisions based on perceived surpluses or deficits that result in highly volatile prices. If they perceive a deficient they will often impose trade bans to prevent food exports, release federal food stocks to bring down prices or buy up surplus to avoid price decreases. These typically unpredictable actions weaken incentives to invest, and prevent regional markets from efficiently distributing food from surplus to deficit areas and stabilizing prices.[6] Particularly in staple grain value chains, government intervention is common and has significant impact:  an input subsidy program in Malawi has created major increases in the availability of maize, while an unpredictable policy environment in Kenya has created significant disruptions in the maize market there.[7] All value chain analyses performed to address food availability should include a careful investigation of the contributions of the BEE. In some cases, the most appropriate policy is not related to increased food production but to lowering barriers to entry for commercial food imports.  

Applying the Value Chain Approach to Food Availability

There are a number of strategies for applying the value chain approach to improve food availability


  1. USAID Policy Determination:  Definition of Food Security, 1992, 3.
  2. OECD-FAO, Agricultural Outlook:  2009-2018, 2009, 11.  
  3. Jayne et al, Patterns and Trends in Food Staples Markets in Eastern and Southern Africa:  Toward the Identification of Priority Investments and Strategies for Developing Markets and Promoting Smallholder Productivity Growth, 2010, 11
  4. Jayne and Tschirley, Food Price Spikes and Strategic Interactions between the Public and Private Sectors: Market Failures or Governance Failures?, 2010
  5. Jayne and Tschirley, Poverty Reduction and Food Security Despite High Food Price Volatility Reduction and Food Security Despite High Food Price Volatility, May 2011
  6. Jayne and Tschirley, Food Price Spikes and Strategic Interactions between the Public and Private Sectors: Market Failures or Governance Failures?, 2010
  7. Jayne et al, Patterns and Trends in Food Staples Markets in Eastern and Southern Africa:  Toward the Identification of Priority Investments and Strategies for Developing Markets and Promoting Smallholder Productivity Growth, 2010