There is good and bad news about food security within the Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest Global Food Security Index.”
On the good side, 70% of countries became more food secure last year. There are now fewer very hungry people in the world. The Index shows a fall in chronic hunger from 868 million people last year to 842 million people now–a decline of 3%. And, the long-term trend is down. The number of undernourished has dropped 17% since 1990, mainly because of economic growth in poorer countries.
The bad news should be obvious. There are still 842 million going hungry. Many countries still have persistent food availability, affordability and safety issues, which are the Economist Intelligence Unit’s three criteria determining food security. Though sub-Saharan African countries, which come bottom of the rankings, have closed the gap on the developed world, they’ve done it only from a low base. “Food security, particularly food affordability, in most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa is undermined by low average incomes, widespread poverty and a heavy reliance on costly food imports,” the report says.
The Index scores countries across the three categories using indicators like the percentage of household income that goes into food purchases and the quality of agricultural infrastructure. Uganda, Togo, Serbia, Malawi, and Benin had the greatest improvements last year. Myanmar, Madagascar, Romania, Egypt, and Tunisia had the greatest declines.
Overall, the U.S. tops the list (unsurprisingly, given the U.S. obesity crisis and high rates of food waste, it’s number one for availability and affordability) followed by Austria, the Netherlands, Norway, and Singapore. Generally, the North American region scores best, with Europe not far behind. The Middle East and North Africa, Central and South America and the Asia and Pacific regions come next (though if Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and South Korea were considered separately, they would come second overall).
Affordability is one of the best ways to see the differences between the most and least secure nations. U.S. households spend just 6.7% of income on food. The worst performers spend at least 50%. Rwandans, for example, shell out an incredible 71.7% of income to feed themselves.
Despite general improvements in food security since food riots shook the globe in 2008 and 2011, many countries are still far behind the developed world. Without investment in infrastructure and farm productivity, it’ll be decades before they catch up.