Food security report reveals discrepancies between West and East Europe

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

Getty/BigDuckSix
Getty/BigDuckSix

Related tags: Food security, Food waste, Climate change

Despite the pandemic straining supply chains, causing food shortages and price volatility, Europe’s high-income levels and relatively low rates of inequality mean it is well placed to cope with the types of unexpected economic shocks that can drive food insecurity.

This year’s Global Food Security Index​, compiled by The Economist, includes 14 European countries in the top 20, with Finland, Ireland and Netherlands at the top of the podium.

But internal discrepancies mean that Europe, despite the high rankings of individual countries, misses out on being the region with the world’s best food security environment – that goes to North America.  

The index is based on 59 unique indicators and measures the state of food affordability, availability, quality, safety and natural resources/resilience in 113 countries. 

After improving consistently for seven years from 2012 to 2018, the overall global food security environment deteriorated for the second year in a row in 2020, according to the index.

It warned that intensive farming and global climate change are the main factors eroding food security around the world. It noted global food systems were already under strain prior to the pandemic, with worsening climate conditions hampering productivity. The outbreak of COVID-19 caused further pain, particularly for smaller farmers who saw their planting seasons interrupted while access to the market was curtailed due to lockdowns.

It said there is a clear need to further prioritise food security in national policymaking. The GFSI found only 54 countries have a national food-security strategy in place, while only 31 countries have a dedicated food security agency. Nutritional standards improved in only five countries in 2020. Defined food-security strategies are vital to helping policymakers address the nutritional needs of vulnerable populations, it stated.  

“The global pandemic, and resulting lockdowns, have tested our food system and exposed vulnerabilities,”​ said Pratima Singh, project lead for the Global Food Security Index at The Economist Intelligence Unit. “We need to address the structural inequalities—economic, social and environmental—that were a fundamental feature of the pandemic. Governments and policymakers, NGOs, and the private sector all have a role to play as we aim to recover from the impact of covid-19 on economies and food systems and invest in innovation to strengthen our global food environment.”

‘Food security strategies should not be ignored’

The index described European countries as global leaders in combating food waste (which has dropped for the third year in a row in part thanks to innovative strategies such as the EU’s Farm to For Strategy), and in food quality and food safety.

Europe—and particularly the EU—is a world leader in driving policy commitment to adaptation (the process of adjusting to current or expected climate change and its effects), it said, calling the region “a beacon of regional co-operation and a source of best practices in food security and sustainability​”.

However, it revealed a lack of uniform food security levels between European countries, with the performances of Mediterranean and Central and Eastern Europe countries significantly lower than in Western and Northern Europe.

Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary are the lowest-ranked countries in the EU, getting respectively 44th, 40th and 36th place in the food security standings worldwide.

The index added that although Europe achieves high levels of food security, defined food security strategies and dedicated food security agencies are limited across most countries in the region. Only Finland achieved a perfect score in this area, and food security strategies and dedicated food security agencies ‘should not be neglected’, it stated.  

The index further in noted that high-income countries are not immune from suffering food production shocks owing to unpredictable climate change events in recent years.

This year’s GFSI found that agricultural production has become more volatile in 49 countries than in the period covered by the 2019 index. Norway and Slovakia rank in the bottom ten in terms of production volatility (meaning that they have high levels of volatility). Denmark, Norway and Sweden, in particular, dropped significantly, caused by droughts in Norway and Denmark, and an extreme summer heatwave in Sweden. In 2018, Norway saw its worst crop production levels in over 50 years, while Denmark’s crop harvest fell by 40%. In Sweden, extreme summer weather in 2018 led to the country’s worst crop harvest since the 1950s. Europe is also especially exposed to droughts and flooding, it added.

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