National Food Security - what is it & what does it mean for me
Food security has emerged as one of the most significant challenges facing countries worldwide. It is no longer just an issue confined to underdeveloped or emerging economies - food insecurity affects people in every country, whether the nation is rich or poor. In response to this growing problem, various organizations and governments are developing strategies to fight hunger and malnutrition.
What is Food Security?
Before we can understand the current state of food security worldwide, we need to know what food security is. At its most basic level, food security is the availability of food that is sufficient, safe and nutritious. It also refers to people having adequate access to food through effective systems and infrastructure. This means that there is a reliable and continuous flow of food to feed the population year-round, without interruption. Food security is not only about the availability of food but also the accessibility and affordability of food. Food security is a complex and multifaceted concept that can apply to individuals, groups, communities, countries and even the world as a whole. It is also one of the most pressing global challenges of the 21st century.
Global Scoring and Rating of National Food Security
It is not possible to provide an exact percentage of the world’s population that is food secure, but we can score and rate countries based on their ability to provide food to its citizens. The Food Security Score and Rating System provides an indication of each nations' food insecurity and a scorecard of progress made in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. It aims to provide a detailed picture of the extent and nature of the food insecurity problem globally, as well as the effectiveness of response efforts. The system is based on a five-point scale for ranking the food security status of a country, ranging from “very low food security” to “high food security”. This scale is also applicable to subnational units, such as a river basin, a city, district or a village.
The Food Security Score and Rating System takes into account four dimensions of food security:
Availability: This refers to the physical availability of food within a country, including domestic production and imports.
Affordability: This dimension considers the ability of individuals and households to access food at prices they can afford.
Quality and Safety: This dimension measures the safety and nutritional quality of the food supply within a country.
Resilience: This dimension reflects a country's ability to withstand and recover from shocks to the food system, such as natural disasters or political instability.
These dimensions are evaluated using a combination of quantitative and qualitative data sources, including national statistics, surveys, and expert assessments.
Overall, a country's food security score and rating is calculated based on how well it performs across each of these dimensions. A high score indicates strong food security, while a low score indicates vulnerabilities in one or more of these dimensions.
Not all countries are currently included, but for reference, the UK is 9th in the list, the US 13th, India 68th, and Haiti 112th (out of 113).
The 2022 data, charts and reports are all available here.
Why is Food Security Important?
Food security is important because it is essential for human survival. If there was no food available for an extended period, we would see mass starvation and the potential death of millions of people.
No access to food even for just a few days is also critical in terms of social stability - a significant breakdown in the food supply chain could result in empty supermarket shelves, with the consequence being panic, chaos and rioting.
With these concerns in mind, the United Nations created the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which focuses on reducing the number of people who are food insecure by half, increasing the productivity of agricultural systems, and improving the sustainability of food production systems.
There is also concern that agricultural practices are contributing to climate change and that current production methods are unsustainable. It is estimated that, due to the growing population, the world will require 50% more food by 2050 but any attempts to minimise the impact of food production on climate change could result in a reduction in agricultural output. This is a challenge which if not handled cautiously could leave millions unable to access food.
Shortage of Food in Developed Countries
Even in the richest countries people could still face a shortage of food. In the UK, for example, there are rapidly increasing numbers of people who are dependent on food banks to feed their families. In fact according to a study by the Independent Food Aid Network it is estimated that there were over 2,000 independent food banks operating in the UK in 2020, providing food assistance to an estimated 1.9 million people. Whilst this isn't suggesting a national shortage, it does reflect a distinct affordability challenge that needs to be addressed. In addition, the UK imports almost 50% of its food, which means that it is dependent on global trade continuing to facilitate easy access to other nations' food supply. Food shortages in foreign countries could have a knock-on consequence in the UK, with rapidly rising food prices and shortages resulting in rationing and panic.
The UK also has its own local food production issues relating to the increase in farm input costs (such as diesel fuel and fertilizer costs) and lack of availability of labour. This labour crisis has been exacerbated by recent events that have reduced the quantity of migrant labour available, who have been relied upon for many years to help with harvests, packing, production and distribution of food.
A reduction in locally produced food reduces the UK's self-reliance, which is essential in difficult times (such as escalating warfare, famines and droughts and supply chain disruptions).
The UK has only two weeks' worth of food in its supply chain - what looks like years' worth of food in all the supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurants, takeaways, caterers and warehouses is actually comparatively little when comparing with the needs of feeding 65 million men, women and children. If panic buying occurs, if even a small proportion of people purchase more than they need (or usually purchase) it can result in a catastrophic national shortage that even in the best case would probably take a number of weeks to resolve.
But how much food does the average householder store at home? Could they cover a two-week period of empty supermarket shelves without starving? Unfortunately, current research indicates that many millions of households do not carry adequate food reserves, with a significant proportion holding less than three days' worth of food in their cupboards, fridges and freezers.
Developed nations have grown accustomed to a surplus availability of affordable food. This has resulted in a lack of concern amongst policy makers - there is the sense that businesses, global trade and free-market mechanisms are robust enough, and no national emergency food reserves are needed. There is, however, the sense that we are moving into uncharted territory and perhaps it might be wise for nations, an indeed citizens, to not assume that all will be smooth sailing.
In order to insulate yourself from any food supply shock, we encourage UK households to hold enough food to cover at least two weeks - this will guarantee that a national crisis will not risk the health or wellbeing.