The heads of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank Group (WBG), World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have issued a joint statement on the urgent need to address global food security.
This is the second time that the leaders of these organisations that encompass everything to do with global production and trade have combined to outline what needs to happen globally.
While recognising the positive development of shipping from Ukraine, they highlight the issue of fertiliser supply and cost, particularly in Europe, which they say could “reduce fertiliser application rates for the next crop season, prolonging and deepening the impact of the crisis”.
This relates to the massive problem the EU has because of reliance on gas from Russia, which also creates an energy crisis in Europe heading into winter.
The issue of fertiliser cost and supply dominated last week’s informal meeting of agriculture ministers under the Czech presidency and it will dominate the agenda next week when they have a formal agriculture council meeting.
The statement also refers to the need to have a “continued comprehensive and co-ordinated effort to support efficient production and trade, improve transparency, accelerate innovation and joint planning and invest in food systems transformation”.
Investment in research
While these are all significant issues, the focus on innovation and joint planning is particularly interesting, as it highlights that agricultural research is a “chronically under-invested sector”, despite having “one of the highest returns on public spending”.
This is particularly true in the developing world, where food insecurity is greatest and is evidenced annually in the FAO outlook publication.
There is also a direct relationship here with emissions output from livestock - if it takes many more cows in the developing world to produce the same amount of milk as high-yielding cows in Europe, New Zealand and North America.
The statement also focuses on investment in food systems transformation. A food systems approach underpins Ireland’s 2030 food strategy and no Irish farmer will dispute the stated need to “addressing both infrastructure bottlenecks and input supply bottlenecks (eg, fertilisers and seeds)”.
There is also validity in calling for “effective and sustainable” support for small holder farmers, as they are part of the solution and to localise supply chains.
While the reference is to farmers in poorer regions of the world, there is something of an equivalence in the Irish beef and sheep meat sectors, where small farmers underpin the supply base for our highly successful meat industry.
Food secure and insecure countries
This week also saw the release of the Economist Impact Global Food Security Index (GFSI) for 2022.
This index, which covers 113 countries and has been running for 11 years, measures food security under four parameters - food affordability, availability, quality and safety, plus sustainability and adaption.
Overall, there were eight consecutive years of food security growth, but, since 2019, progress has levelled off.
In the 2022 index, unsurprisingly, it is food affordability that is pulling the index down.
The score for food affordability has dropped from 71.9% in the 2021 report to 69% this year.
With food inflation running high across the world, driven by high fertiliser and energy costs following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this finding isn’t a surprise.
Conflict has impacted negatively on food supply, but on a more positive note, investment in research is increasing after a 10-point decline between 2012 and 2019.
Ireland drops from first to second
Inevitably, the most food secure countries in the world are those with high levels of wealth, though there are what are considered very wealthy countries such as the US and UK, which are further down the list than might be expected because of the uneven distribution of their wealth.
Ireland had topped the index in 2021, but has fallen to second place this year behind Finland (Figure 1).
All of the countries in the top 10 score strongly on all of the parameters, though, as elsewhere, food affordability has declined because of food inflation.
At the other extreme, it is troubling that the six most food insecure countries (Figure 2) score less than half what Ireland and Finland scored.