Thanks to more comprehensive food programmes and increased government efforts in nutritional monitoring, food security has improved in more than two-thirds of 109 countries across the world since last year.
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) , in its 2015 Global Food Security Index (GFSI) released on Tuesday, said that the gap between the most food-secure and the least food-secure countries have narrowed due to falling grain, sugar and dairy prices amig sustained economic expansion in most regions of the world.
“Middle-income countries are undergoing transformational changes. Upper-middle-income countries have made huge strides in ensuring that food safety-net programmes are comprehensive,” said Lucy Hurst, The EIU’s GFSI project director.
“At the same time, they have invested in agricultural infrastructure improvements, and we now see the benefits.”
The top-scoring countries in the 2015 index are the United States, Singapore, Ireland, Austria, Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, and Germany.
Australia, France and Norway were tied in the ninth position.
Hurst said that over the past year, lower-middle-income countries have made notable progress in becoming less dependent on chronic food aid and in addressing food loss problems that were a result of inefficient supply chains.
This can be seen in tangible outcomes: 805 million people were estimated to be chronically undernourished in 2012-14, down by 4.4 per cent from 842 million in 2011-13, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN).
Food security exists “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”, based on a definition established at the 1996 World Food Summit.
The GFSI is an annual measure of food security across 109 countries, produced by the EIU and sponsored by United States chemical company DuPont.
The index looks at 19 measures of food security across three categories: affordability, availability and quality and safety.
Food is more affordable
The index showed that world food prices dropped 2.8 percent between September and November, 2014 and food became more affordable in 79 out of 109 countries, with Hungary and Botswana seeing the biggest improvements in affordability.
Overall, food security has improved in almost every region of the world over the past year.
The 109-country average score rose 1.2 points to 57.9, with two-thirds of countries, mainly those in the low and lower-middle income groups, making progress from a year earlier, the EIU said.
Among the different regions, the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) made the largest strides in food security.
The 2.4-point increase in the region’s average overall score was driven primarily by gains in affordability and higher GDP per capita in 83 per cent of countries (10 of 12).
In the Asia Pacific region, strong economic fundamentals are driving GDP growth and food security gains, chiefly in developing markets. The scores improved in 73 per cent of countries in the region. As a result, the gap between Asia Pacific and the top scoring regions such as Western Europe is shrinking.
High saving and investment rates, rapid workforce growth, an expanding middle class and a shift from low-productivity agriculture to high-productivity manufacturing are the key drivers of progress in developing and emerging markets in the region, said the report.
Europe – comprising 26 countries in Western European and Central and Eastern Europe – is the only region that worsened in food security, as the scores of 85 per cent of countries fell.
This is due to higher political risk and instability in 11 countries, which offset progress in reducing food loss and improving physical infrastructure for food systems.
The region’s decline in the so-called urban absorption capacity – measure of the extent to which the GDP growth rate outpaces the urbanisation rate, and the corresponding ability to support urban growth—was also a constraint, the EIU said.
When considered as a separate group however, the countries of Western Europe outperform all other regions and are the benchmark for good food security practices in advanced economies.
Looking to the future
The global population is expected to jump from 7.2 billion people in 2013 to 9.6 billion by 2050, and most of that growth will occur in the developing world, according to estimates by the UN.
Food production will have to grow by 70 per cent to meet this demand – especially as incomes also rise in developing countries, said the FAO. At the same time, high rates of urbanisation – the UN projects that the proportion of the world’s population living in urban areas will increase from 54 per cent now to 66 per cent by 2050 – will also have a negative impact on food security.
This could mean that global food commodity prices will start to rise again, especially as oil prices have begun to rise after slumping to a low in January 2015, the EIU said.
Increasing food production capacity to meet the needs of the 2050 world is a massive job that will require significant effort across the food sector, it said.
Governments will need to lead the way with public-private partnerships driving further investment in food infrastructure and additional programmes to guarantee food safety, ensure nutritional standards and increase farmer financing.
More support for agricultural research and development is also needed to provide the necessary innovations that will make it possible to feed the world in the future, the EIU added.
“Overall, countries will continue to benefit from the combination of economic growth and food prices that are at their lowest level since 2010. However, economic growth is necessary, but not sufficient to reduce hunger; policies, the right investments and partnerships are equally important,” Hurst said.