Multiple challenges have stood in the face of numerous international efforts to improve food security and end hunger in accordance with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Since the Covid-19 crisis, followed by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and the difficulties posed by climate change, the world economy has experienced a series of economic shocks manifested in supply chain disruptions, the depreciation of local currencies in developing nations, and successive increases in the prices of basic commodities, on top of which are energy, fertilizers, and food, leaving the world facing a potential food crisis that is posing a threat to a significant number of people.
Global Food Security: Concept and Dimensions
Food security has four main dimensions: physical availability of food, which addresses the supply side of food security; economic and physical access to food, which relates to people’s access to food; food utilization, which deals with eating wholesome, balanced food; and, finally, the stability of these three components over time, which refers to their sustainability.
These dimensions do, in fact, line up with the conclusions of the 1996 Rome World Food Summit, which stated that “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
The global food security situation is currently getting worse due to a number of factors. These factors include the Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in decreased production and halted international trade, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, which had an impact on the growth of the Ukrainian economy due to armed operations, and the economic sanctions placed on Russia.
In addition, supply chain disruptions worsened and prices rose, particularly for energy and food, not to mention the shifts in macroeconomic trends, the difficulties of the global economic slowdown, and the unfavorable weather for agricultural markets. Beyond this, high rates of food waste are also observed, which contributes to issues with food scarcity in the long run.
Global Food Prices
These global conditions have been reflected in the local conditions of various countries, resulting in a worldwide increase in food prices. According to the World Bank, between October 2022 and January 2023 for which food price inflation data are available, there has been “high inflation in almost all low- and middle-income countries, with inflation levels above 5 percent in 88.9 percent of low-income countries, 87.8 percent of lower-middle-income countries, and 93 percent of upper-middle-income countries and many experiencing double-digit inflation. In addition, about 87.3 percent of high-income countries are experiencing high food price inflation. The countries affected most are in Africa, North America, Latin America, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia.
The World Bank’s Food Security Update of 9 February 2023 indicated that “the agricultural and cereal price indices closed 2 percent higher than in mid-January, and the export price index closed 5 percent higher. Maize, wheat, and rice prices closed 1 percent, 2 percent, and 5 percent higher, respectively. On a year-on-year basis, maize and rice prices are 9 percent and 16 percent higher, respectively, and wheat prices are 3 percent lower. Maize and wheat prices are 31 percent and 14 percent higher than in January 2021, and rice prices are 2 percent lower”.
Fertilizer prices have decreased 40 percent since hitting record (nominal) highs last spring. This could be attributed to the decline in natural gas prices and the reopening of fertilizer factories in Europe. Despite this decrease, prices remain nearly twice their level of two years ago.
This is in line with the FAO Food Price Index, which reached a peak in March 2022 before averaging a gradual decline that left it higher than in 2021.
Figure 1: FAO Food Price Index
Global Food Security Index
The 2022 Global Food Security Index (GFSI) shows that some countries’ circumstances have improved while the value of the index has decreased for some others. Among the top performers were Finland, Ireland, Norway, France, the Netherlands, Japan, Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Portugal. Syria, Haiti, Yemen, Sierra Leone, Madagascar, Burundi, Nigeria, Venezuela, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were, on the other hand, the countries with the poorest performance. Globally, the 2022 GFSI showed a decline in food conditions after the index’s peak value in 2019. Shocks in 2020 and 2021, such as the covid-19 pandemic and high commodity prices, highlighted this fragility. These shocks worsen the underlying problems that put food security at risk by reducing the food system’s resilience, escalating economic inequality, and upsetting supply chains.
Government commitment to funding agricultural adaptation and sustainability policies was a contributing factor in the GFSI’s decline. Between 2019 and 2022, scores for political commitments to adaptation rose 10 percent on average. In 2022, 89 countries have a current climate strategy in place with specific measures for agriculture or food security, compared to just 74 countries in 2019. Effective policies in this regard included environmentally supportive policies, coordinated risk management, and climate finance flows. In contrast, the GFSI also highlights how poorly nations fare in their soil organic content, which is important for growing high-nutrient foods, and in irrigation infrastructure, which is particularly important to have in place as the climate warms.
The GFSI report indicated that agricultural empowerment policies for women farmers and the adoption of food security strategies contributed to periods of rising index before 2020. Despite a fall in public expenditure on research and development since the index’s inception in 2012, there has been a strong reorientation towards innovation, with big improvements in access to agricultural technology, education and resources, and in commitments to using innovative technology.
Food Security Challenges in Developing Countries
In addition to the consequences of current international events and their implications for food security, a number of countries suffer from child malnutrition as well as the spread of stunting, anemia, obesity, and overweight diseases caused by unhealthy foods, making these countries less resilient to external shocks. The Food and Agriculture Organization reports that almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, up 112 million from 2019.
The report claims that prior advancements that resulted in a reduction of 55 million stunted children have been stymied by the spread of conflicts, worsening climatic conditions, economic shocks, and growing inequalities. Due to their limited financial resources, reliance on the agricultural industry, and suffering from hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition, developing countries are in an increasingly dangerous situation.
Developing countries should work to increase their financial resources through public-private partnerships to invest in agricultural and food systems. To ensure the effectiveness of these partnerships, it is necessary to implement strict governance principles. In order to limit any unintended consequences of reforms on the most vulnerable population, it is also necessary to implement social protection policies and encourage a change in consumer dietary habits. Reforms must also touch on a number of different sectors, including health, the environment, transportation, and energy.