Published each year by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the Global Food Security Index (GFSI) evaluates the affordability, availability, and quality and safety of food and food systems across 113 countries.
This year it found that global food security has taken a hit for the first time in five years, fuelled by worsening political instability, rising migration and a fall in public-sector investment.
The downturn comes after four successive years of gains. “The downturn was geographically disbursed, and is particularly discouraging given the global commitment to eliminate hunger by 2030, the Sustainable Development Goal,” said the EIU.
EIU: Industry must deliver on food innovation
It’s therefore time for industry to act, said the EIU. “The private sector must combine to provide the finance and innovations required to ensure future food supplies are sufficient to meet the needs of the growing global population,” it concluded.
Krysta Harden is vice president of public policy and chief sustainability officer at DuPont, which has sponsored the index since it was created in 2012. She told FoodNavigator that being involved in the GFSI helps "drive DuPont’s innovation".
Such challenges include less land for production, population growth and drought.
“We know that the world’s population is growing, and to meet new demands we must push the envelope by producing innovative products that allow for more sustainable foods and a more sustainable agriculture system."
The index that shines a spotlight on issues that directly impact farmers’ productivity and livelihood, Harden said, such as financing, infrastructure spending, and agricultural import tariffs, and helps all stakeholders, including DuPont, to better address critical areas of need for farmers.
“By 2050, a 50% boost in agricultural production will be needed to satisfy the world’s 10 billion people, and increased consumption of fruits, vegetables and meat will necessitate shifts in agricultural outputs, taxing already strained natural resources.”
Source: 'The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges', FAO, 2017.
The report’s editor, Katherine Stewart, reiterated that a multi-stakeholder effort was needed, including private sector players. “[The] combination of mass migrations and loss of available land inevitably has a deleterious impact on food security. Local welfare systems struggle to cope. And, as a result, the GFSI stresses the importance of governments, the private sector, non-profit organisations and other stakeholders to come together in order to mitigate and adapt to these risks.”
EU loses points for cutting agricultural R&D
Four European countries in the top ten – France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands – saw their scores fall this year because their governments have cut
public spending on agricultural R&D. Although the private sector has increased investment in agriculture in most high-income countries over the past few years, there is still a big gap in funding, it said.
This year the index had a new category, Natural Resources and Resilience, which quantifies climate-related and natural resource risks to food security. It highlights the extent to which both developed and developing countries are vulnerable to climate risks.
European countries features in the top six most resilient nations - Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, Slovakia, France and Hungary - but the world's most vulnerable was also European - The Netherlands.
Despite its wealth, Singapore scored “especially badly”, said the EIU, because it is low-lying and heavily dependent on food imports.
Ireland trumps US for global top spot
The US fell from the top spot for the first time in the global ranking's history, overtaken by Ireland which was found to be the most food-secure nation on the planet thanks to its economic rebound after the financial crisis of 2008 to 2010. A high level of public investment in research and development – an area that has been in decline in the US – also increased its food security.
Ireland won a perfect score of 100 for nutritional standards, presence of food safety net programmes, access to financing for farmers and proportion of population under global poverty line.
Brexit ‘an extreme risk’
Meanwhile, Brexit poses “an extreme risk” to the UK’s food security, the report authors say. According to the EIU’s own predictions, personal incomes will fall by 6% by the end of 2018 which will impact food affordability. At the same time, imports are more expensive due to the weak sterling – “a major concern given that the UK is becoming increasingly reliant on foreign food imports”.
“About one-quarter of the country’s food is imported from the EU and the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) accounted for over half of British farmers’ incomes in 2015. These generous subsidies will no longer exist once Brexit occurs.
“Though food self-sufficiency is an unrealistic goal, budgeting to account for the loss of CAP funding and attempting to maintain favourable trade relationships with the EU and other major agricultural exporters will be key to ensuring that the country is well fed.”