The Global Food Security Index (2013 edition)

Today I came across the Global Food Security Index, prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Their 2013 results were put out in July, and make quite an interesting read. The index gives countries an overall score (and ranking) for food security, based on three key issues of affordability, availability and quality-&-safety. A total of eighteen factors feed into that score. From the home page, clicking through to look in detail at any country gives you an interactive chart which you can adjust to reflect the factors that interest you and see how that country compares to all the others in the index. You can also download the spreadsheet with all the values, and the press release that covers the main findings.

Some key results I found interesting: first, overall, global food security hasn’t changed much from last year to this year. I would sort of expect that, really – most of our food systems don’t change fast. I’d be interested to see if there was a long term trend.

Second, I note that despite the economic troubles in Europe due to the global financial crisis and the ill-advised austerity measures that followed, the most affected countries still remain largely in the top 20% of the Index. When we think of countries that are doing it tough thanks to the GFC, we’re still not thinking of countries that are doing it all that tough on the global scale. At least as far as food security.

Third, it’s always interesting to realise how privileged you can be when working on issues of food security in a country which is already up near the top. Australia ranks 15th of 107 countries with an overall score of 80.1 out of 100. Tellingly, despite all kinds of political claims about the cost of living, Australia’s affordability of food is fifth-best out of all 107 countries indexed. That’s not just how much we spend, it includes factors such as GDP, import tariffs, poverty levels and farmer finance availability – but even looking just at our spending only 19.7% of our income goes towards food. About the same as Austria and Brazil. Greece is about 30%, and it’s still fairly highly ranked worldwide. We don’t have any corruption that stops people getting food, nor threats of political violence, and our quality and safety of food and water (and the processes for those) is high enough that just about everyone can take it for granted.

In fact, of all the eighteen factors, there’s only one where Australia scores below the global average, and one where we score at the global average. We score exactly at the global average for urban absorption capacity – our country’s ability to absorb the stresses of urbanisation and still provide food security – and we score well below the global average for volatility of agricultural production. It shouldn’t be any surprise to anyone that this “land of droughts and flooding rains” has volatile production. It does mean we need to remain aware of how that affects our food security. It also means that public expenditure on agricultural R&D, a factor we score a mere and teensy 4 percent above the global average in, is rather crucial as it’s one of only a few ways we can affect our volatility.

As a student urban farmer, I’m paying careful attention to the bit about the urban absorption capacity. The stat reflects whether our governments have the money and resources to provide food security despite increasing urbanisation and loss of rural population, with the direct implication that this will be through urban farming. It doesn’t reflect whether they are actually doing so. Being exactly at the global average seems to imply that there is no major reason that we *can’t* make a good job of urban farming in this country, that the resources are available enough, but that when people resist it on the usual grounds of “is change really necessary?”, there will be enough merit in that argument to slow the process down. It also implies that our rate of urbanisation / loss of rural skill-and-population is high enough to challenge the resources we can throw at fixing the problem. Which all seems to me like more reasons to keep working on it.

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