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Pandemic, climate change lead to overall decline in food security worldwide.

Fran O'Leary, Wisconsin Agriculturist Editor

March 4, 2021

4 Min Read
Close up of soybeans in field
STRENGTHENING AGRICULTURE: The 2020 Global Food Security Index shows that strengthening agriculture in the face of tough challenges like climate change and resource-related risks is more important than ever.Harlen Persinger

The Economist Intelligence Unit last week released the ninth Global Food Security Index, sponsored by Corteva Agriscience.

The GFSI 2020 considers food security in the context of income and economic inequality, gender inequality, and environmental and natural resources inequality. The index calls attention to systemic gaps and how COVID-19 worsened their impact on food systems. GFSI findings show that global food security has decreased for the second year in a row.

Food security challenges

“Food security is in decline worldwide,” says Anne Alonzo, senior vice president and chief sustainability officer for Corteva Agriscience. “In addition to the pandemic, wildfires have burned thousands of hectres, acres. Now more than ever, we need to spotlight food security.”

In 2020, the GFSI measured the drivers of food security through affordability, availability, quality and safety, and natural resources and resilience in the region.

According to GFSI, North America is the top-performing region overall. The U.S. is ranked 11th and Canada is ranked 12th. In 2019, the U.S. was ranked third, while Canada was in eighth place. According to the report, the region experienced improvement in food availability, while its performance in the food affordability category declined due to rising food prices primarily caused by the pandemic. In contrast, the EIU report notes that levels of food loss and waste in the North American region are higher than in other regions. Waste per capita is estimated to be 30% to 40%. 

The regional report also highlights that both countries have good infrastructure that supports effective food distribution and preservation in each country, although performance in the expenditure on agricultural research and development category has been on a steady decline since 2012. Both Canada and the U.S. have been noted to be performing below both countries’ potential, with opportunity to increase financial and technical resources to boost innovation in the sector.

“Although there is still plenty of work to do, we are still encouraged by North America’s leadership in food security,” says Tim Glenn, chief commercial officer of Corteva Agriscience. “Agriculture sits at the heart of food security, and technology solutions are key to helping farmers produce more food sustainability.”

Fourth category added

This year, the GFSI formally includes “Natural Resources and Resilience” as a fourth main category, marking significant shift in methodology and demonstrating  food systems’ resiliency against climate change. This category includes food import dependency, disaster risk management and projected population growth. The 2020 index also measures gender inequality and inequality-adjusted income for the first time in its nine-year history. Inclusion of these metrics in 2020 influenced the overall decline in scores and changes in rankings.

The 2020 GFSI shows that strengthening agriculture in the face of tough challenges like climate change and resource-related risks is more important than ever.

Since its first year in 2012, the GFSI has grown to include 113 countries.

“For seven years we saw steady improvement,” explains Pratima Singh, EIU senior public policy consultant. “In 2019, we saw a bit of a dip in the index. In 2020, we saw a drop in food security. Sixty-two out of 113 countries saw a decline in food security.”

Singh explained that affordability of food is the main driver behind the drop.

“Quality and safety dipped a little, as did natural resources and resilience,” she says, “while availability of food improved slightly.”

The top-scoring countries in the 2020 GFSI were Finland, No.1; Ireland, No. 2; and the Netherlands, No. 3. All three countries were ranked as very good. The three lowest-scoring countries were Zambia, No. 111; Sudan, No. 112; and Yemen, No. 113. All three countries were ranked as weak.

North America and Europe have maintained the lead as the top two regions over the years, Singh notes.

Countries lack safety nets

“Only 55 countries out of 113 countries, less than half, have safety net programs,” Singh says. “This was exacerbated by the pandemic.”

Singh reported that 36 countries out of 113 in the GFSI do not have a national plan.

“The GFSI finds that currently only 54 countries have a national food security strategy in place demonstrating that there is a lot of room for improvement,” she says. “Policymakers should continue to prioritize food security.”

According to the GFSI, 49 countries experienced higher volatility in ag production in 2019 and 2020.

“This is primarily due to climate-related factors like droughts and extreme weather,” Singh says. “Some high-income countries like Sweden and Australia experienced climate volatility.”

According to the report, 72 of the 113 countries have a national climate change strategy that covers agricultural adaptation.

“Thirty-four countries lack any such plan, including countries at high risk of climate impacts,” Singh explains. “Increasing investment in ag research needs to continue.”

The GFSI is an ongoing research tool that is used to highlight countries’ food security efforts.

“Governments use the index as a policy check and a diagnostic tool for investment,” Singh says. “The private sector uses the index as a launchpad to explore strategic decision-making. The index enables stakeholders to identify strengths and gaps in a country’s performance.”

About the Author(s)

Fran O'Leary

Wisconsin Agriculturist Editor

Even though Fran was born and raised on a farm in Illinois, she has spent most of her life in Wisconsin. She moved to the state when she was 18 years old and later graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

Fran has 25 years of experience writing, editing and taking pictures. Before becoming editor of the Wisconsin Agriculturist in 2003, she worked at Johnson Hill Press in Fort Atkinson as a writer and editor of farm business publications and at the Janesville Gazette in Janesville as farm editor and feature writer. Later, she signed on as a public relations associate at Bader Rutter in Brookfield, and served as managing editor and farm editor at The Reporter, a daily newspaper in Fond du Lac.

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