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What is the Global Food Security Index?
The Global Food Security Index ranks 105 countries according to their access to affordable, available and quality food.  The index was launched in 2012 by The Economist – Intelligence Unit (EIU) with sponsorship from the DuPont Corporation. The index is a dynamic quantitative and qualitative scoring model, constructed from 25 unique indicators which measure drivers of food security across both developing and developed countries.

Food security is defined as the state in which people at all times have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs for a healthy and active life based on the definition established at the 1996 World Food Summit. The overall goal of the study is to assess which countries are most and least vulnerable to food insecurity through the categories of Affordability, Availability, and Quality and Safety.

Beginning in October 2012, the EIU began updating the index on a quarterly basis to adjust for the impact of fluctuating food prices. This food price adjustment factor is applied to each country’s Affordability score and is based on changes in income growth and global and domestic food prices. Over time, countries’ scores improve if food prices fall, and deteriorate if prices rise. The country-specific adjustments and their goal of translating fluctuations in global food prices to the national level result in different levels of score changes for each country, with vulnerable countries hurt the most by rising prices.

All scores are normalized on a scale of 0-100 where 100=most favorable. There are scores based on three categories: 1. Affordability, 2. Availability, and 3. Quality and Safety.

As of the first quarter of 2013, the top three scores and the bottom three scores in each category are as follows:

Affordability

Top three countries: USA (95.2), Australia (92.4), Switzerland (91.5)

Bottom three countries: Madagascar (20.4), DR Congo (17.4), Chad (14.4)

Availability

Top three countries: Denmark (92.4), Norway (91.8), France (88.3)

Bottom three countries: Niger (25.0), Haiti (22.4), Chad (21.7)

Quality & Safety

Top three countries: France (90.2), Israel (90.2), USA (89.3)

Bottom three countries: Togo (22.7), Ethiopia (20.0), DR Congo (16.1)

In a report titled ‘The Global Food Security Index 2012: An assessment of food affordability, availability and quality’, the EIU found that there is a positive correlation between countries with good food security and their related policies. Example policies include improving access to financing for local farmers, developing food safety net programs like school feeding programs, investing in agricultural technology, research & development, and promoting nutrition awareness.

Other key findings from the report :

  • The U.S., Denmark, Norway and France are the most food-secure countries in the world.
  • The food supply in advanced countries averages 1,200 calories more per person per day than in low-income economies.
  • Most food secure nations score less well for micronutrient availability.
  • 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.
  • China experienced the least volatility of agricultural production during the last 20 years, and three North African countries—Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria—among the most.
  • Landlocked countries fared nearly as well as those with a coastline.

– Maria Caluag

Source: Global Food Security Index
Photo: UN Earth News

The Social Costs of High Food Prices

The failure of wages to keep pace with rising food prices is putting a strain on families and communities worldwide, according to a report titled ‘Squeezed’ by OxFam and the International Development Studies. The food price spike of 2011 alone increased the numbers of people living in poverty by an estimated 44 million. The study focused on rural and urban consumers in 10 developing countries: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Zambia, Bolivia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam.

Leaders continue to disregard the specific impacts the food system has on low income households. The authors of the report write, “Many people are earning more, but this is often illusory: wage rises rarely match rises in the cost of living. People have to cope in time-honoured ways by cutting back, substituting, shopping around, and growing and gathering more. The impacts are felt in homes, relationships, communities and work places, changing the way people think about themselves and others.” More often households are being forced to resort to riskier ways of getting income, for example, gold mining in Burkina Faso; sex work in Kenya; and jungle fishing in Bangladesh, despite the risks posed by tigers and pirates. The numbers of migrants has also increased as people must travel to find work. And the stress to food insecurity often leads to increased levels of domestic violence, and alcohol and drug abuse.

The types of food that people consume represent the single best indicator of their well-being. The research from this report uncovered a familiar hierarchy of hardship whereby the poorest people eat too little and lose out on vital nutrients. Even some better-off urban communities are struggling to afford basics, and have begun eating less diverse diets and substituting foods. Latest estimates suggest one in eight of the world’s population suffer from undernourishment and that nearly one in five face food “inadequacy”.

The rising costs of fuel, rent, and agricultural inputs make it more difficult for people to become farmers, despite the need to produce cheaper food. Without relatively large land assets, capital and the capacity to store produce and hedge their cultivation decisions, contemporary farming in the 10 developing countries surveyed will remain very difficult. Furthermore, agriculture is less appealing for young people to enter into due to of unpredictable returns, high input costs, and high costs of living. Education is perceived as a ticket off the farm, and agricultural aspirations are rare.

Societies, too, are changing in response to the food price crisis. Customary cooperative labor arrangements are being replaced with wage labor. The urgent need for cash takes priority over collective social life and values. The high price of essentials translates into a decline in public social life, with families becoming more inwardly focused and people less willing or able to socialize or help each other.

The report recommends that national social protection policies aim to provide routine protection for the poorest and most vulnerable communities, with the understanding that it is too late to start developing schemes when a price spike occurs. Policymakers should design social assistance policies aimed at protecting against spikes in the form of temporary cash or food transfers, or by providing subsidies that are automatically triggered by price rises. And economic leaders should adjust to real changes in needs by linking social protection to inflation.

– Maria Caluag

Sources: Guardian, OxFam-IDS
Photo: Politico