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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.

Food Security Risk Index

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.”

User comments

  1. Andy Pratt says:

    Thank you for publishing this page but it is very alarming. I am concerned that the UK government is far too complacent about UK food security. However regarding this information, I found that the new Food security Risk Index reports that one factor behing insecurity in (eg) Africa is that international companies are buying up land in poorer countries I believe to produce crops for the EU biofuel market. A lot of these companies are British or will be selling to the UK. Can I ask please what the UK Government is doing to reduce this problem? It’s crazy and it’s wrong. And surely the long term solution for UK fuel needs is not to find another wonder fuel (fracking, biofuels etc) but to need less fuel in the fiirst place? That is sustainability, surely! I would be pleased to hear a view on this from DEFRA. Thank you

    • Department for Transport says:


      The Government agrees that biofuel production should not adversely affect food prices and availability, or local people’s access to land and other natural resources in developing countries. We have also endorsed work being done by the UN and World Bank Group to develop principles of responsible agricultural investment (PRAI). These include the need for investors to respect land and resource rights of local people, and strengthen rather than weaken food security and for investments to be socially and environmentally sustainable.

      As part of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, the European Commission must monitor and report every two years on the impact of biofuel policy and increased demand for biofuel on social sustainability. This will include reporting on the availability of foodstuffs at affordable prices, in particular for people living in developing countries. The reports must address issues of land use rights, and they must also state whether the raw material for EU biofuels has complied with Conventions of the International Labour Organisation. If necessary the Commission must propose corrective action.

      In addition, we take the issue of indirect land use change (ILUC) seriously and have called on the European Commission to develop detailed options to address it, based on full impact assessments. ILUC occurs where biofuel production in one location leads to the displacement of food production, requiring more land to be brought into production elsewhere in the world. The Department for Transport has recently published research on the scale of such land use change as a result of biofuel demand, which we have shared with the European Commission. We expect them to come forward with a proposal shortly on how to address it.

      It is worth noting that under the Government’s Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, which is the principal mechanism for increasing biofuel use, less than 0.1% of UK biofuel has been reported as coming from Africa since the obligation came into force in 2008.


      You made the point about the importance of reducing fuel use. The Department of Transport is investing £400 million to promote the uptake of Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle technologies including £300m to be used to fund grants of 25% towards the cost of an ultra low carbon vehicle, up to a value of £5000. The Government is also proposing a national high speed rail network with the aim of providing an alternative to domestic aviation and taking an increasing share of road travel demand between our largest cities, while also boosting employment, economic growth and regeneration

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