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Meeting the Challenge of Measuring Food Insecurity

July 16, 2012

TFI Updates

The only time I ever went hungry was when I was sent to bed without dinner. I often deserved it, too. But millions, if not billions, of people go to sleep every night with sharp pangs of hunger slicing through their stomach. And it is not because they didn’t clean their rooms or do the dishes.

The idea of not having enough food to eat, while foreign to many, is a harsh reality for people all over the world. Food security is a complicated yet important issue to address. To better understand the causes of food security, which can lead to identifying solutions, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), sponsored by DuPont, developed the Global Food Security Index (GFSI). I recently attended the launch event, which was held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on July 10. The event was broadcast around the world and featured speakers from Brussels, Belgium.

The GFSI uses the following definition of food security: “When people at all times have physical, social and economic access to sufficient and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs for a healthy and active life.” The GFSI assesses the food security of 105 countries based on three levels: affordability, availability, and quality and safety. It allows users, whether they are policy makers, scientists, or the general public, to look deep into the causes of food security in a specific country, compare and contrast two countries, look at one factor across several countries, or make cross-regional comparisons. The index also takes into account external factors, such as fluctuating food prices, and can show how they will affect food security scores over time.

An expert panel, including Dr. Rajiv Shah, administer for the United States Agency for International Development, Howard Buffett, farmer and founder of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Gen. Barry McCaffrey of the U.S. Army, Ritu Sharma, co-founder and president of Women Thrive Worldwide, and Dr. Patrick Westhoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute and professor of agricultural and applied economics at the University of Missouri, discussed food security and answered questions from the audience.

Some of the key findings revealed by the GFSI include:
•The US, Denmark, Norway and France have the highest levels of food security.
•Some of the sub-Saharan African countries that had the lowest food security levels are predicted to have some of the fastest growing economics during the next two years.
•The food supply in advanced countries averages 1,200 calories more per person, per day, than in low-income economies.
•Several policy and nutrition related indicators, including access to financing for farmers, the presence of food safety programs, protein quality and diet diversification, are highly correlated with overall food security.
•The most food secure nations score less well for micronutrient availability.

The EIU and DuPont want this index to be reliable and transparent, help leaders understand the issues, and lead to policy changes to help those affected by food insecurity. The index can be found online at http://foodsecurityindex.eiu.com/.
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