According to the latest joint report by the FAO, IFAD and WFP on the State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI 2013), though the number of people suffering from hunger is slowly decreasing, the first goal of the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), namely the eradication of hunger throughout the world, is far from being achieved. According to these estimates, in 2011-2013, 842 million people worldwide, nearly one in eight people, suffered from chronic hunger. This figure is down from the 868 million undernourished people in 2010-12.
In view of the efforts and progress yet to be accomplished, political stability and effective governance as well as long-term commitments to food security with proactive public policies will be key to reducing hunger and malnutrition.
But food security is a complex issue; it is easier to understand its various dimensions when it is presented through a series of indicators. Consequently, this new report, of which we have published extracts below1
, is dedicated this year to the presentation and analysis of a set of indicators that provide information on the four dimensions of food security: food availability, economic and physical access to food, the utilisation of food and stability over time. These indicators take into account not only the exogenous risks (climatic and epizootic) but also market risks such as extreme price volatility and its impact on global food security.
Developing indicators and transparent and appropriate evaluation tools is indeed essential to sustainable food security and the emergence of global governance for agriculture and food security. However, the biggest challenge lies in the ability of an indicator to jointly assess the economic efficiency and optimization of food security, two interrelated dimensions. It is in this context that our think tank has created a rating agency: the momagri Agency. One of its missions is to provide decision makers and stakeholders in the agricultural sector with indicators that address the issues at the heart of international concerns.
momagri Editorial Board
Measuring different dimensions of food security
The preceding section discussed food security in terms of the prevalence of undernourishment indicator, which is a measure of dietary energy deprivation. As a standalone indicator, the prevalence of undernourishment indicator is not able to capture the complexity and multidimensionality of food security, as defined by the 2009 Declaration of the World Summit on Food Security: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
Based on this definition, four food security dimensions can be identified: food availability, economic and physical access to food, food utilization and stability (vulnerability and shocks) over time. Each food security dimension is described by specific indicators. Measuring the complexity of food security is part of a broader debate that currently takes place in the preparation process of the post-2015 development agenda.
Food security and its four dimensions
Stability: exposure to short-term risks may endanger long-term progress
Two types of indicator have been identified to measure the extent and exposure to risk. Key indicators for exposure to risk include the area equipped for irrigation, which provides a measure of the extent of exposure to climatic shocks such as droughts, and the share of food imports in total merchandise exports, which captures the adequacy of foreign exchange reserves to pay for food imports. A second group of indicators captures risks or shocks that directly affect food security, such as swings in food and input prices, production and supply. The suite of indicators covers a number of stability measures, including an indicator of political instability available from the World Bank.
A thorough and comprehensive review of stability measures is not possible here because of space constraints.
The content that follows takes a limited and more focused look at two important aspects of stability, namely those that pertain to food supply and food price stability.
The recent vagaries of international food markets have moved vulnerability to food insecurity to the forefront of the food policy debate. However, newly available data on changes in consumer prices for food suggest that the changes in prices on international commodity markets may have had less impact on consumer prices than initially expected. Where world price shocks induced high domestic volatility, food producers risked losing the inputs and capital they had invested. The low capacity of small-scale producers, such as smallholder farmers, to cope with large swings in input and output prices makes them risk-averse, lowers their propensity to adopt and invest in new technologies and ultimately results in lower overall production.
Together with swings in prices, food supplies have seen larger-than-normal variability in recent years. However, there is also evidence that production variability is lower than price variability, and that consumption variability is smaller than both production and price variability. Among the main regions, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean have experienced the widest fluctuation in food supply since 1990, while variability has been smaller in Asia. Variability in food production per capita was greatest in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.
The vulnerability dimension of food security is increasingly cast in the context of climate change. The number of extreme events such as droughts, floods and hurricanes has increased in recent years, as has the unpredictability of weather patterns, leading to substantial losses in production and lower incomesin vulnerable areas. Changeable weather patterns have played a part in increasing food price levels and variability. Smallholder farmers, pastoralists and poor consumers have been particularly badly affected by these sudden changes.
Climate change may play an even more prominent role in the coming decades. Mitigating its impacts and preserving natural resources will be major objectives, especially in connection with the management of land, water, soil nutrients and genetic resources. Improved management of natural resources should focus on reducing variability in agricultural outputs and increasing resilience to shocks and long-term climate change.
The pressing need to improve natural resources management extends well beyond agriculture. Forests and trees outside forests play a large part in protecting soil and water resources. They promote soil fertility, regulate climate and provide habitat for wild pollinators and the predators of agricultural pests. They can help stabilize agricultural output and provide protection from extreme weather events.
According to FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010, 48 percent of the world’s forests (330 million hectares) are managed specifically to address soil and water conservation objectives. They not only provide a wide range of nutritious foods on a regular basis, but they also help protect access to food in the form of dietary supplements during times of poor yields, natural calamities and economic hardships.
1 Follow this link to read the full report http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3434e/i3434e.pdf