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Differences in food insecurity across rural, peri-urban, and urban areas and gender differences

By Gaia Gallotti

During 2022, FAO has collected enough georeferenced FIES (Food Insecurity Experience Scale) data to compare food insecurity in rural, peri-urban, and urban populations at the global, regional, and subregional levels based on the new Degree of Urbanization (DEBURBA), using population density and size in a globally comparable way to then calculate the prevalence of food insecurity among adults in each group.

The results showed that as the degree of urbanization increases, so does food security: 33.3% of adults living in rural areas are affected by moderate to severe food insecurity, as opposed to 28.8% in peri-urban areas and 26% in urban areas. Severe food insecurity is prevalent in 12.8% of rural areas, 11.6% of peri-urban areas, and 9,4% of urban areas. Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean follow the pattern of worsening food security from urban to rural areas, though in the last three, the differences between peri-urban and rural areas are less clear. In North America and Europe, on the contrary, food insecurity is worse in urban areas.

These differences can be explained by looking at country incomes: in LICs (Low-Income Countries), rural and peri-urban populations suffer from food insecurity more compared to urban populations, while in LMICs (Low-Medium Income Countries) food insecurity is much higher in rural areas but the differences between peri-urban and urban areas are slight. In UMICs (Upper-Middle Income Countries), food insecurity is higher in rural areas and at its lowest in peri-urban areas, while in HICs (High-Income Countries) urban areas are more at risk for food insecurity.

The new FIES data also reveals that food insecurity is more prevalent among adult women: the gender gap widened in 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to women losing more jobs and bearing more responsibilities and caregiving duties, often underpaid or even unpaid; this affected mainly women living in rural areas. In 2021, the gender gap reached 3,8 percentage points, with 28,6% of women being moderately or severely food insecure compared to 24,8% of men. In 2022 the food insecurity gap related to gender has narrowed, possibly reflecting a return of women to economic activities after the pandemic; but still, the percentage of food-insecure adult women was generally higher than that of men.

There were improvements regarding the gender gap in Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, which narrowed slightly for both moderate/severe and severe food insecurity. In Europe, Africa, and Northern America the gap increased for moderate/severe food insecurity and remained the same for severe food insecurity.

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