Warwick Business School professor Alyson Warhurst is keen to see the world’s public and private sectors working together to help populations whose food security is under threat.
Warhurst is founding director of social enterprise and advisory firm Maplecroft, which publishes a world Food Security Risk Index (FSRI).
The index quantifies the risk to stable supply of basic food in 148 countries. Key indicators used to compile the index include food availability in a country, accessibility of food and stability of supply, as well as the current nutritional and health status of the population.
The concept of food security was originally developed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): “FSRI provides a multifaceted approach to food security analysis by assessing the range of key elements in country risk,” says Warhurst.
Of the five countries whose food security is most at risk, four are in Africa: Angola, Mozambique, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to Warhurst, the highest-risk countries are characterized by poor governance.
In oil-rich Angola, for example, a 27-year civil war has made millions homeless, brought food supplies to a standstill and destroyed the country’s infrastructure.
Three people from the Togo football team were recently killed in a shooting at an African Cup of Nations football match there.
Similar problems of conflict, displaced people and collapsing infrastructure beset Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the defining factor for Mozambique is its “vulnerability to weather-related natural hazards”.
Following Haiti’s disastrous earthquake, the Caribbean island is the second-most at risk country in the world for food security.
Warhurst says Haiti’s extreme poverty – the country relies on aid for 48 per cent of its food – alongside its long-lasting socio-political instability are the main reasons.
The world’s two biggest emerging economies tell different stories: India is in the “high risk” category in Maplecroft’s FSRI, while China falls under “medium risk”.
Warhurst says a reduction in India’s water resources, caused by deforestation and an uneven monsoon in July 2009, is the main problem.
Two-thirds of India’s 1.1 billion inhabitants rely on farming as their main income source, but 21 per cent less land was under cultivation in August 2009 than in the preceding year.
“The resulting reduction in crop yields is likely to inject inflationary pressure into the economy,” says Warhurst.
India will face a serious food crisis if it is hit by another drought come next monsoon season, which could affect food prices worldwide: “If Asian governments impose export restrictions on food in 2010 to safeguard their food security, it could conceivably trigger panic buying which would in turn squeeze supplies and raise food prices even more across the world,” she says.
China, in contrast, is better placed to cope manage its food security than India. Though 80 per cent of the country’s population still relies on farming, food self-sufficiency and avoiding fluctuations in supply and price have long been the Chinese government’s priorities.
But China’s trend of buying large tranches of arable land in Africa in recent years raises concerns from Warhurst.
“According to the World Food Program, the main causes of hunger are natural hazards, war, poverty… Each cause could potentially be exacerbated by land grabbing,” she says.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)’s “Code of Conduct” has outlined rules for foreign investors seeking to acquire overseas land.
The code is set up to ensure transparency in negotiations, respect for customer and common land rights, and to monitor the affect of land acquisition on environmental sustainability.
The systems developed nations use to help world food distribution have many flaws, according to Warhurst: “Currently, U.S policy on food aid states that money allocated to food aid must be spent on food grown in the US, that at least half the food must be packed in the US and most of it must be transported in US ships.
“In 2009, US food aid shipped to 10 different Sub-Saharan African countries costs 34 per cent more than food bought locally and regionally,” she continues.
Warhurst suggests the using cheaper ways to transport the food to its destination: “It will allow more money to be spent on aid and less on logistics,” she says.