“The right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access (emphasis added) at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement” (General Comment 12). For those producing their own food, accessibility includes an adequate resource base and the appropriate tools and resources to engage in food production.

Accessibility also includes the physical ability to provide the labor needed to farm. For those not engaged in their own food production, accessibility means the ability to earn enough to participate in the retail market for food. Accessibility can also be made available through a form of social security provided by family members for those too old or weak to earn a living or produce their own food. For some accessibility involves obtaining food from aid agencies.

Famine can arise in the midst of a surfeit of food as was true in Bengal in 1943, Ethiopia in 1974, and India in 2001. “Fundamentally, the roots of the problem of hunger and malnutrition are not lack of food but lack of access (emphasis in the original) to available food, inter alia because of poverty, by large segments of the world’s population” (General Comment 12). Hunger is a problem of markets—food and/or land—and the lack of market access.

Adequacy involves issues of quantity, quality, and cultural acceptability. Food needs to be available and accessible in a sufficient quantity to alleviate hunger. The quality of the food must be able to meet the appropriate nutritional requirements for full physical and mental development of each individual. Caloric sufficiency alone may alleviate hunger but still leave the individual susceptible to malnutrition. In addition, the food must be free from contamination by either physical, chemical, or biological contaminants that would adversely affect those eating it. The food made available by either market or non-market sources must be “acceptable within a given culture” (General Comment 12).

General Comment 12 says food security implies “food being accessible for both present and future generations.” One component of food security involves the holding of adequate reserves, at the household, community, state, and international levels to ensure food availability, given the vagaries of weather and other production-related problems. Adequate reserves, properly managed, reduce the need for food embargoes as was seen during the sudden increase in food prices in 2008.