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Global food security improves

Food security improved across the globe in the past year despite a drought in parts of the US and political conflict in some countries, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Food Security Index.

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit

Following a slight decline in scores in the 2013 index driven by drought in key growing regions and falling national incomes in some developed countries, food security increased for 70% of the countries in the 2014 Global Food Security Index (GFSI).

As the Food and Agriculture Organisation reported in a separate analysis, the number of people suffering from chronic hunger dropped from 868m to 842m during the past year.

The GFSI, developed by the EIU and sponsored by DuPont, is an annual benchmarking tool – currently in its third year – that compares the state of food security in 109 developed and developing countries across 28 indicators. It examines the core issues of food security – affordability, availability and quality & safety – to create a deeper dialogue on the drivers of, and solutions to, food security.

Improvements in food security during the past year were reflected in lower food consumption as a share of household expenditure, and improving economic conditions globally, particularly as developed economies rebounded from the recession. The lowest-scoring countries, mainly low-income, Sub-Saharan African economies, improved more than the top performers, thereby narrowing the gap in food security – the top 20 countries improved by an average of 1.1 points, while the bottom 20 climbed by 1.7 points since last year. Many poorer countries were also helped by a 2% decline in wheat prices in 2013 and a 14% drop in the price of rice.

Challenges

Challenges remain, particularly for low-income countries, which have significant vulnerabilities to food price fluctuations and food systems with more constraints. Spending on agricultural research and development remains low across the globe, with only the US and Botswana spending more than 4% as a percentage of agricultural GDP. The nutritional quality of food in many countries, including many developed ones, continues to have insufficient availability of dietary animal and vegetal iron, a key micronutrient. Additionally, agricultural import tariffs remain high in many countries – only three have tariff rates under 4% – which contributes to higher domestic food prices.

“Overall food security improved this year but significant risks remain”, said Leo Abruzzese, Global Forecasting Director and Global Director of Public Policy for the Economist Intelligence Unit. “Food prices should continue to fall, although not as much as in recent years, and the El Niño weather event may reduce agricultural output over the next few years, which could weigh on global food security”.

The 2014 Global Food Security Index builds upon the framework of the previous two years by incorporating two new countries – Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates – and two new indicators – food loss and the prevalence of obesity.

Key findings include:

Although political turbulence in Ukraine has begun to impact global food prices, it has yet to have a substantial impact on the structural aspects of global food security. Ukraine itself experienced a decline in food security of 1.6 points from a year ago, driven by more limited access to financing for farmers, higher volatility of agricultural production, greater political stability risk and reduced urban absorption capacity.

Lower spending on food as a share of household consumption in most countries and better food safety net programmes, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and the Middle East & North Africa (MENA), contributed to a notable increase in Affordability. This category recorded the steepest rise among the GFSI sub-indexes, at 2.3 points. Food Availability and Quality & Safety also improved compared with the year before, increasing by 0.2 and 0.5 points, respectively. SSA countries led the way in Quality & Safety, comprising 12 of the 15 countries that improved by more than three points.

Overall scores fell for 28 countries compared with the year before, although year-on-year declines were generally quite small, averaging only 1.1 points. Only five countries – Myanmar (-4.1), Madagascar (-3.1), Romania (-3.0), Egypt (-2.9) and Tunisia (-2.9) – recorded a decline of more than two points, driven primarily by less diversified diets and to a lesser extent by a greater share of household expenditure on food consumption and lower protein quality. Scores were unchanged for five other countries. By contrast, 76 countries experienced an average score increase of 2.0 points.

Although the bottom tier of the index includes many SSA countries, food security improved more in this region than any other. Uganda had the biggest score improvement from 2013, moving up by 5.8 points to 45.6. Of the 11 countries in the index that showed a year-on-year improvement of four points or more, only three – Serbia (+5), Azerbaijan (+4.6) and Slovakia (+4.4) – were not from SSA.

Food security improved in every region in the index, but each had its own weaknesses. Lower scores in the food Quality and Safety indicators pulled down results for Central & South America and in Asia & Pacific, both of which saw reduced diet diversification in their food systems. By contrast, Europe and MENA experienced declines in their scores for Availability, owing to more limited food supplies in both regions, tightening public expenditure on agricultural research and development (R&D) in Europe, and higher volatility of agricultural production in MENA. The affordability of food improved across all regions, following increased global economic prospects.

Whereas lower-income regions, including SSA and Asia & Pacific, scored well in some areas of the index, including nutritional standards and volatility of agricultural production respectively, they tended to perform poorly in areas that are highly correlated with overall food security, such as GDP per capita and food consumption as a share of household expenditure.

Eight out of 12 countries in MENA improved their scores from a year ago, but the gains were restrained by lower real GDP per head, with only Israel and Saudi Arabia registering an increase in income per person. Economic performance in MENA countries, as a group, was held back by war, revolution and continued weakness in the euro zone (a key market for North African and Turkish exporters).

While Central & South America had moderate scores in most indicators, low agricultural import tariffs and good nutritional standards are areas of strength for the region. Volatility of agricultural production is also relatively low, another plus. Low tariffs reflect the socio-political imperative of ensuring sufficient food supply for as much of the population as possible, compared with other regions that favour protectionist policies.


More information: The Global Food Security Index 2014 website has an interactive visualisation of the index results, the underlying excel model and findings and methodology report for this study. The Global Food Security Index 2014 report is available free of charge on the EIU website.

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