Food, Global Health 4 min

What public policies against food insecurity? A sociologist's view

The sociologist Antoine Bernard de Raymond analyses the causes of recent food crises and the evolution of food security governance bodies at the global and national levels. His work is based on collective surveys involving sociologists, political scientists, lawyers and historians. An interview in three questions.

Published on 13 October 2022

illustration What public policies against food insecurity? A sociologist's view
© INRAE Jean-Marie Bossennec

What has your work on global food insecurity consisted of?

While there is a consensus on the goal of feeding the world, there is no consensus on the actions to be taken

Antoine Bernard de Raymond: I started studying the problem of hunger in the world following the financial crisis of 2007-2008. The food price spike, due in part to the subprime crisis and restrictions on agricultural exports, made previously food secure populations more vulnerable, especially the urban middle classes in countries of the global South and North. This situation put the issue of food security back on the international agenda. As food riots erupted in many countries, foresight exercises multiplied, the G8 countries pledged in 2009 to invest heavily in agriculture, and the Committee on World Food Security (CFS, 1) was reformed and now includes civil society and farmers. But while there is a consensus on the goal of feeding the world, there is no consensus on the actions to be taken.

The global governance of food appears more divided and fragile than before

This is what we studied (ANR SAGE project, 2014-2018, 2) through a collective survey that led us to follow the evolution of the issue in different institutions: international organisations, NGOs, local and national authorities. Our results, gathered in a book (3), show the expansion and fragmentation of the field of global governance of food security, with very different visions. Three main positions can be distinguished. The “global food security” position advocates an increase in productivity, through a new green revolution, particularly in Africa. A second position, “sustainable food”, which is more NGO-driven, supports a structural transformation of diets and a better distribution of resources. The third position, "food and nutritional security", focuses on improving the health of populations, hygiene and access to drinking water. In any case, the multiplication of multi-actor platforms with shifting alliances has favoured the massive entry of multinational agribusiness companies into the debate. As a result, the global governance of food appears more divided and fragile than before.

How has this international approach informed your work in the French context?

Antoine Bernard de Raymond: Our study has led to a number of insights. Firstly, in terms of public food policies, our case studies in different countries have shown that the legal framework can be a powerful lever for action. For example, in 2003 Brazil developed a "zero hunger" strategy, based on "guaranteed rights" enshrined in its constitution since 1988. A series of measures have allowed for a significant reduction in food insecurity, including family allowances, subsidies to family farmers, public food purchases and free school meals.

The transformation of diets emerges as a major issue for moving towards global food security

In France, the idea of a structural national policy, such as a "Social Security for Food", was put forward in 2019 by the collective "Ingénieurs sans frontières" (ISF, 4). It will give rise to an experiment in the Gironde department in which we are participating as researchers (5). The aim is to set up a citizens' convention leading to proposals for financing such a generous but very ambitious system. The idea would be to create a subsidised "food basket", as is the case for medicines. Such a universal system could be more powerful than current food policies, which target individual practices and are ultimately aimed at rather privileged populations. Moreover, it adopts a preventive approach, unlike food aid which intervenes once food insecurity has set in. Finally, such incentive baskets would be a real lever for making diets evolve. This transformation of diets and their rebalancing (6) emerges as a major issue for moving towards global food security. This is the second position described above, as opposed to the "neo-productivist" position, which is contradicted by the fact that the food crises of 2007-2008 occurred in a context where world agricultural production was abundant and sufficient. In the Gironde experiment, the role of research is to participate in the organisation of the participatory process and to analyse its progress and results.

Is food insecurity well estimated in France?

The COVID-19 crisis was telling

Antoine Bernard de Raymond: Better insight has been gained from our international work. There is an invisible food insecurity in the Global North, which becomes apparent in times of crisis. In this respect, the Covid 19 crisis was telling: some households on the verge of precariousness and part of the student population fell into food insecurity. This led us to look for a more accurate and lasting methodology for monitoring food insecurity in France. Our project, in partnership with CREDOC (7), aims to combine statistical and ethnographic surveys. The former will be carried out on representative samples and will collect data on household purchases, not limiting themselves to the food budget but covering all household items, as we know that the food budget often serves as an adjustment variable. The ethnographic surveys will provide an insight into the functioning of households, by spending time with people. This approach will mobilise field sociologists. This evaluation methodology should give a more accurate view of the food vulnerability of the French, which escapes the current methods based on the figures of food aid associations, which only show the visible part of the iceberg.


  1. CFS, intergovernmental body created in 1974 within the FAO.
  2. The ANR SAGE project (Food security: the globalisation of a public problem) mobilised an international team of 10 researchers: sociologists, political scientists, economists.
  3. Un monde sans faim : gouverner la sécurité alimentaire /Managing editors Antoine Bernard de Raymond, Delphine Thivet. – Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2021 – Collection académique.
  4. ISF, Ingénieurs sans frontières, is a federation of French engineering associations created in 1982 at the Ecole des Ponts ParisTech.
  5. This participative democracy experiment is coordinated by the Acclimat’Action network (, in partnership with the Gironde Departmental Council. 
  6. See the Agrimonde Terra study, and infographic (in French)
  7. CREDOC: Research Centre for the Study and Observation of Living Conditions,  (in French)


Pascale Molliertranslated by Alessandra Riva


Antoine Bernard de RaymondUSC1441 BSE Bordeaux sciences économiques



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