Interdisciplinary Inquiry


Food insecurity - how do the world's countries compare?

In the last 10 years, global food prices have risen twice as fast as inflation, according to the World Bank. An estimated 44 million people crossed the poverty line during the food price spikes of 2008, as riots occurred around the globe. Food insecurity is upon us again, as prices continue to rise sharply.

A recent article cites extreme weather events, higher prices for oil and other agricultural "inputs," changing diets, and competing demands on crops and land as contributors to food insecurity. With the global population set to hit 9 billion by 2050, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says food production will have to increase by 50% to 70% to meet demand.

To aid understanding, and help us cope with the next food shock, the Economist Intelligence Unit has designed an index and research tool covering food insecurity in 105 countries. The Global Food Security Index considers the core issues of affordability, availability, and quality across a set of 105 countries. The index is a dynamic quantitative and qualitative scoring model, constructed from 25 unique indicators, that measures these drivers of food security across both developing and developed countries. (You can view the methodology and sources used for this index on their website.)

The top-ranking countries are not surprising. Richer nations, such as the U.S. and France, have more supplies, spend more on research, have better food logistics systems, and therefore spend less per head. On average, OECD households spend about 20% of income on food, while the most insecure countries in Sub-Saharan Africa spend more than 50% (and sometimes up to 70%). However, the most food secure nations often score poorly for micronutrient availability. Germany, for example, ranks 10th overall but 43rd for micronutrients.

Like other rich countries, the U.S. enjoys a calorie surplus. On average, Americans have access to 3,600 calories a day--well above the recommended 2,300. The poorest, such as Haiti and Burundi, on average have 100 calories less than minimum-- though for the very poorest, it’s worst than that. The Democratic Republic of Congo has a per-person food supply of 1,605 calories, or 43% below requirement.The importance of food is hard to overestimate. Lack of nutrition raises health care costs, depletes economic growth, and is strongly correlated with civil unrest, poor institutions, and human rights abuses, the report says. But the good news is that government action, safety net programs, and agricultural investment bring proven results. In other words, there is nothing inevitable about hunger: shortages and shocks can be planned for, and smoothed out. The EIU says it hopes the index will provide "an early warning system" for future problems.

Several of the sub-Saharan African countries that finished in the bottom third of the index, including Mozambique, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Nigeria, will be among the world's faster growing economies during the next two years. Although still poor in absolute terms, rising incomes suggest that these countries may be in a position to address food insecurity more forcefully in coming years.
Posted at 12:38 PM

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