Food security risk index assesses availability and stability of food supplies
A new evaluation of the risks posed to the food security of people in 196 countries finds that sub-Saharan Africa dominates the ‘extreme risk’ category: Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo have the lowest food security rating in the world, while other countries in the drought stricken Horn of Africa are also at ‘extreme risk’, with the crisis heightened by man-made factors.
The new Food Security Risk Index (FSRI) has been published by risk analysts Maplecroft, and is based on the key elements of food security set out by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The index is calculated using 12 indicators, measuring the availability, access and stability of food supplies across all countries, as well as the nutritional and health status of populations.
Countries at extreme risk
Of the 12 countries categorised as ‘extreme risk’, ten are in sub-Saharan Africa, an area particularly vulnerable to food insecurity: the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) (1), Somalia (1), Burundi (3), Eritrea (4), Angola (5), Chad (6), Ethiopia (7), Liberia (9), Comoros (11) and Sudan (12). Haiti (7) and Afghanistan (9) are the only two countries categorised as ‘extreme risk’ outside of sub-Saharan Africa.
Maplecroft identifies a combination of critical factors that is intensifying the food crisis in the Horn of Africa:
- low capacity to combat the effects of extreme weather events such as drought;
- prevalence of poverty;
- failing infrastructure, undermining both food production and emergency food distribution capacity.
Conflict also contributes to food insecurity as it displaces people from normal social networks and livelihoods. The on-going violence in eastern DR Congo, for example, is largely responsible for its precarious food security situation.
Maplecroft CEO, Alyson Warhurst warns of the potential impact of food crises:
“Food insecurity can not only cause humanitarian disasters; we have also seen it emerge as a contributing factor to societal unrest. As global demand for food grows due to rising populations, food security will take on increasing importance for governments and it needs to be on the risk agenda of multinational corporations.”
Low food stocks, natural disasters and human factors
Despite a slight easing of global food prices, the World Bank has warned that global food stocks remain at “alarmingly low” levels, resulting in volatile commodity prices and widely fluctuating domestic food prices:
“Global prices of food in July 2011 remain significantly higher than their levels in July 2010 and close to the 2008 peak levels, with the World Bank Food Price Index increasing by 33 percent in the last year. Prices for the period April to July 2011 have declined slightly from their peak in February, although prices remain volatile for specific commodities such as rice, maize, and wheat. Prospects for the overall supply of food have improved since April 2011, but several sources of uncertainty remain. Global stocks still remain alarmingly low. For example, the stocks-to-use ratio for maize currently stands at 13 percent, the lowest since the early 1970s. At these low stock levels, even small shortfalls in yields can have amplified effects on prices.”
A series of climate-related natural disasters in cereal producing countries over 2010 and 2011 contributed to global food price rises. The severe drought and wildfires in Russia in 2010 destroyed 20% of its wheat crop, which constituted a 1.6% reduction in global wheat production and resulted in an export ban that was only lifted in July 2011. Floods in Pakistan, Australia and China also added to market pressures.
Maplecroft states that human factors – including speculation in commodity markets and increased use of biofuels – are compounding the impact of natural hazards on global food security, with severe effects on the most vulnerable populations.
Grabbing land for biofuels
As well as driving up commodity prices, increased use of biofuels has led to a ‘land grab’ in Africa. Private energy companies based in the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden are reported to have secured contracts for land in high risk African countries for the production of biofuels.
Alyson Warhurst suggests that large-scale land acquisitions in developing countries nonetheless present opportunities as well as risks, with the potential to benefit the rural poor by generating employment in the sector, by developing rural infrastructure, as well as by contributing to poverty reduction:
“Responsible investment can lead to development and play an important role in expanding access to sufficient and stable food supplies. The transfer of technological advances and expertise in agronomy may also help to improve the capacity of the agricultural systems of developing countries to increase production of food crops for both domestic consumption and export markets.”
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