Challenges to feeding the seven billion and beyond – Part 4: Global Food Security Index

The 2016 Global Food Security Index reports most countries made modest improvements in the past five years. Long-term threats need to be addressed to sustain this progress.

Food security is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity. The world population is projected to increase from its current seven billion to nine billion people by 2050. The vast majority of this population growth will occur in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, regions that are burdened by poverty issues, population growth, climate change and subsistence agriculture. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, one in eight people in these regions remain chronically undernourished.

The Global Food Security Index (GFSI) is an annual benchmarking model developed by the New York-based Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) with the sponsorship from DuPont. It is based on three core categories or drivers of food security: affordability, availability, and food quality and safety. The scores for the three categories were derived by taking into consideration 28 separate indicators. The overall GFSI score (0-100, where 100 was the most food secure) was calculated as a weighted average of the three category scores. Food security was defined by the FAO as the state in which “people at all times have physical, social and economic access to sufficient and nutritious food that meet their dietary needs for a healthy and active lifestyle.”

The overall GFSI score and rankings of 33 selected countries that represented all six major regions are presented in the table below. Please refer to the 2016 GFSI Edition for all 113 countries included in the study.

A majority of countries improved their food security scores in 2016 compared to 2012. In these countries, the overall economic growth, record crop production and weak energy prices contributed to improvements in food affordability and availability in the near term. However, in sub-Saharan African and south Asian countries, shortages in agricultural infrastructure, credit and food safety nets, climate change and political turmoil posed short- and long-term threats to sustaining the progress achieved in food security. Other key findings include the following.

  • As the world’s largest producer, exporter and donor of food, the U.S. is the top performer in food security. The U.S. will play a significant role in meeting the challenges of feeding the nine billion in 2050 through continued exports, fostering strategic partnerships and democratic ideals in emerging countries, and serve as a source of technological innovation and financial capital.
  • The country GFSI score and gross domestic product (GDP) are highly correlated (X,Y = 0.78)
  • Several countries in the sub-Saharan African and south Asian region continue to be in the bottom of the GFSI table. Even though they have progressed in food security, the improvements still lag behind countries in other regions. Some of the low to middle income countries in these two regions with faster growing economies, however, are poised to make solid progress in the foreseeable future. They may provide the best opportunities for outside interventions through public/private partnerships, aid agencies, non-governmental organizations, cooperatives and large food companies for a coordinated effort to improve long-term food security.
  • In the sub-Saharan African and south Asian regions, agricultural poverty alleviation programs are critical to protect the small-holder farmers. Even though India has a mid-range GFSI score, it is known for extensive food safety net programs compared to some other countries. However, the national coverage is still not adequate to make a difference in the GFSI score.
  • Risks from climate change, population growth and potential spikes in imported food prices pose greater threats to the most food insecure, as poorer countries are the least able to deal with these factors.
  • Some countries in the Gulf Council (Qatar and Saudi Arabia) do not contribute substantially to food production, yet are food secure. These high income countries with small populations are able to make food very affordable to their people.
  • Political instability aggravates food insecurity. Dysfunctional democracies are lower down in the GFSI rankings. Countries that are experiencing armed conflict, corruption and civil unrest are struggling to improve the food security score.

The GFSI score with its built-in food security drivers and yearly updates can serve as a useful guide for local policy makers and aid agencies to assess progress and make strategic investments for food security.

Overall GFSI score and rankings of 33 selected countries in 2016 compared to 2012
Country Region*Global Food Security Index (GFSI)**GDP US$ 2016
 2016 Score Rank 2012 Score Rank
United States NA 86.6 1 85.5 1 56,040
Netherlands Euro 82.6 4 86.7 5 49,190
Australia A&P 82.6 4 81.1 14 45,220
France Euro 82.5 6 86.8 4 42,059
Canada NA 81.9 8 83.4 8 46,029
United Kingdom Euro 81.9 8 79 20 41,957
New Zealand A&P 81.1 11 82.7 11 37,402
Israel ME&NA 78.9 17 77.7 22 34,444
Qatar GC 77.5 20 76.5 24 143,910
Japan A&P 75.9 22 77.9 20 39,362
South Korea A&P 73.3 28 77.8 21 38,270
Saudi Arabia GC 71.1 32 68.7 28 53,149
Argentina C&SA 68.3 37 64 32 22,459
Mexico NA 68.1 39 67.7 30 19,049
Brazil C&SA 67.6 41 67.6 31 16,209
China A&P 65.5 42 62.5 38 14,813
Turkey ME&NE 63.5 45 63.7 36 21,067
South Africa SSA 62.9 47 61.7 40 13,481
Russia Euro 62.3 48 68.3 29 24,160
Vietnam A&P 57.1 57 50.4 55 6,338
Egypt ME&NE 57.1 57 51.6 52 11,613
Sri Lanka A&P 54.8 65 47.4 62 11,884
India A&P 49.4 75 45 66 6,746
Kenya SSA 42.7 83 37.6 77 3,431
Nigeria SSA 39.4 90 34.8 80 6,432
Bangladesh A&P 36.8 95 34.6 81 3,840
Syria ME&NE 36.3 96 42 70 4,684
Ethiopia SSA 34.7 98 26.4 100 1,835
Sudan SSA 34.7 98 27.6 96 4,418
Haiti SSA 29.4 108 24.5 102 1,869
Niger SSA 29 110 29 91 1,114
Chad SSA 28.6 111 20.2 104 2,872
Sierra Leonne SSA 26.1 112 28.7 94 1,909
Burundi SSA 24 113 22.9 103 979

Source: Economist Intelligent Unit (EIU) Report. Visit 2016 GFSI Edition to view all countries.
* NA = North America; Euro = Europe; A&P = Asia and Pacific; SSA = Sub-Saharan Africa; ME&NA = Middle East/North Africa; C&SA = Central and South America; GC = Gulf Cooperation Council.
** Based on the GFSI score, the 113 countries were classified into four food security groups, the top 25 percent scores (72.4-86.6) placed in the "Best Environment," the next 25 percent (57.1-72.3) as "Good Environment," the next 25 percent (41.6-57.1) as "Moderate Environment" and the bottom 25 percent (24.1-41.5) as "Needs Improvement."

This is the fourth segment of a series of articles published previously on the “Challenges to feeding the seven billion and beyond” topic. Part 5 will provide additional insights from the 2016 Global Food Security Index.

Other articles in series:

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