WASHINGTON // The United States, Denmark and France are the most food secure countries in the world, according to a new index released yesterday.
The Global Food Security Index, commissioned by Du Pont, a leader in genetically modified food production, assesses 105 countries from every region in the world and ranks them according to a indices-based system developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). It was presented yesterday at simultaneous conferences in Washington and Brussels, with additional presentations in Brazil and South Africa.
The assessment is based on three pillars; affordability, availability and nutritional value.
According to the index, Israel ranks is the most food secure country in the Middle East (22nd in the world), followed by Saudi Arabia (28th in the world). At the other end of the scale, Yemen is the lowest ranked country in the region coming in at number 83 overall. There was no calculation for the UAE.
Rajiv Shah, the head of the US Agency for International Development, called the index "one of the most significant steps forward" in tackling an issue the Obama administration has set as its top global development priority.
The index builds on data from bodies such as the United Nations' food and agriculture organisation, the World Bank and the World Health Organization, but seeks to "stake out" new ground by adding a comprehensive definition of food security that includes nutritional value, according to Leo Abruzzese from the EIU.
"Over the past years it has been clear that nothing shocks the food system more than price volatility," Mr Abruzzese said yesterday in Washington. He cited price shocks brought on by droughts and floods in recent years that the World Bank estimates pushed an estimated 44 million people into deep poverty.
Global food prices have risen twice as fast as inflation over the past decade, and with greater globalisation has come greater exposure to environmental factors. Food riots broke out across the world in 2008-2009, after droughts in Australia and floods in Russia caused prices to increase. Riots broke out again last year in which, it has been argued, high food prices led to the unrest in Tunisia that sparked the Arab Spring.
Ellen Kullman, the Du Pont chief executive officer, said the company had sponsored the index because a lack of a "common language" about food security meant there were no agreed-upon measures. "What gets measured, gets done," she said.
Experts hope the index will provide policymakers with a tool to design solutions to enhance food security, but it yields no easy answers.
Patrick Westhoff, an economist with the University of Missouri, said that while current production is more than enough to meet current demand, simply lowering prices will not ensure that regions affected by starvation will become more food secure. That is because, he said at yesterday's conference in Washington, many of the world's most food insecure are themselves farmers who would suffer should prices drop.
In addition to the rankings, the index also found that rich countries average more than 1,500 calories per person per day more than in poor economies; landlocked countries are not necessarily more food insecure than those with access to the sea; and governments can directly improve food security by providing access to financing for farmers, a strong food safety net and better information about nutrition and diet diversification.