Andrea Lundh

Food and agriculture, central to human condition and to the global debate on development and alleviation of poverty are undergoing major rethinking. 

For over five decades, the fight against hunger and towards food security has followed a model almost exclusively based on production efficiency and performance-based selection of crop and cattle. 

In this context, food security indexing has been providing a picture of the global food security situation in a rather simplified comparative fashion. The way food security indices have been designed and operated so far appears outdated because of the methodology espoused and the type of indicators used. 

With the push for repurposing African agriculture for more sustainability, reevaluating vision and methodology in designing food security policies, human development should be at the center of the food security debate. Time has come to craft a new food security index. 

Defining Food Security 

Defining food security is generally broken down into five elements: Availability, affordability, access, destination of use and stability. 

Food insecurity concept is intimately connected to hunger. Though, while hunger refers to an individual or group experience with lack of food and its physical and mental health impact, food security addresses a broader situation linked to a systemic approach of food as a means of ensuring a healthy life in a consistent, affordable and reliable fashion at all levels regardless of economic developments stages or purchasing power. 

It appears that most institutions have been entangled in the immediacy of the food deficit instead of raising awareness for self-reliance, for a sustainable path to food security. 

The recent attention placed on such concepts as sustainability, resilience, the condition of farmers, the value of communities in policy making and climate change awareness is quite noble and positive. However, introducing concepts and values such as sustainability, resilience, may not be simply added as patches to the current platform used by policy makers, bilateral aid agencies, multilateral institutions, donors and other stakeholders. 

The challenge facing the introduction of these new values as a new pillar of the developmental dynamics is that it requires a total rethinking of the entire approach to the current thinking as it stands at present. 

In summary, for over half a century, several crucial elements and objectives have been totally absent from the narrative, from the “manufacturing” of food security indices and from policy making altogether. Among these are: 

  • Assessing community resilience in fighting climate change disruptions, 
  • Valuing community-based solutions in improving food production and self-reliance, 
  • Fighting gender inequality, 
  • Adapting and updating technology to the needs of small-scale’ farms, 
  • Raising awareness as to the need for research, education, training. 

Why Indexing Food Security 

Indexing food security serves the purpose of offering a tool to assess, compare and understand food security in a consistent and somehow harmonized approach. Such index often offers the basis to form opinions, design or evaluate strategies, policies across regions or countries. In the hands of institutions, national aid agencies, donors, such measure becomes an objective base to grant and condition loans or extend financial aids. 

The international developmental scene is populated with a series of food security indices. The most prominent one is the Global Food Security Index (GFSI). 

While the main food security indices have, to a certain extent contributed to a better assessing of the situation, a closer review to the lead Index (GFSI), reveals several shortcomings: These may be summarized as follows: 

  • GFSI seems to be better adapted to reflect the thinking and the situation of OECD countries, falling short for providing an accurate picture when it comes to the Global South and in particular low-income countries. Both methodology and selection of indicators are not necessarily adapted to the reality of low-income countries as in operating indicators linked to safety, labeling or regulatory arsenal. 
  • Use of national data and reporting to the detriment of local, subnational and provincial data on the one hand and transnational data closer to demographic realities (tribes, farming tradition and operations) 
  • Inadequacy of economic indicators as they do not integrate the reality of informal economy in measuring access to food and affordability for instance. 
  • GFSI, has ever since its introduction, neglected crucial indicators when dealing globally with critical measurement components. Among these components: state of farm infrastructure, the role of community in forging farming policy, the economic condition of small farm holders, access to food as households in rural areas, self-reliance, mobility deficit in rural and remote areas, degrees of awareness by farmers of medium to long- term food security; education, training and research on food security matters, deficit in strategy and vision at central government levels., impact of informal economy on food access and affordability. 

Towards a novel approach to food security Indexing

 The thinking at the core of global agricultural policy-making, funding and regulating has been remarkably stable for the past half century. It is built around the following pillars: 

The state of prohibitive hunger level in the world triggered an emergency approach to the issue as opposed to devoting equal efforts and resources to building long term capacity to contribute to food security and self-reliance over time. ▪ Efficiency and productivity as understood in the OECD tool kit formed the basis of the feeding drive. ▪ Environment protection, good governance, gender equality, community-based tools and solutions, etc. have been, until recently, alien to this thinking. 

Funding and aid have followed these pillars. 

Only in the past year or two, a clear, revolutionary approach seems to take hold at various levels be it international financial institutions, donor countries, NGO’s and other global bodies. 

The new approach builds on earlier assessments but recognizes new challenges and priorities. It is often formulated under the concept of “theory of change” by leading research centers and multilateral institutions. It may be summarized as follows: 

  • Hunger remains a major challenge to humanity, 
  • Poverty deprives more than 3 billion people from a healthy diet and affects global health to billions of humans, 
  • Agriculture is a main cause for global greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and biodiversity losses, 
  • In turn, climate change disrupts food system chains from production to procurement. 

As a consequence, repurposing agriculture is emerging as a new priority in support of sustainability in food systems. Several items from this new wave found their way even to the 2022 GFSI formulation.

 While new indicators have been appearing in the GFSI however, the fact that they have been added only in the last 2022 edition warrants a certain caution as to their impact in the overall measurement structure and country ranking. The update is to be commended nonetheless as it contributes to a better understanding of the reality of food security challenges especially in low-income countries. 

A novel approach to food security indexing could be built on the following principles: 

Groupe A: Agronomic Indicators. These include the nature and quality of soil, water, agricultural practices and cultivation techniques towards more sustainable farming, fertilizers and pest and disease managements both from a productivity and sustainability viewpoints, storage, trading, barter and in-kind exchange systems, and measurement tools for crop diversification and its impact on economic returns, diet in self-consumption configurations and soil/crop management.

 Groupe B: Economic indicators. These include the reality of informal economy, the impact of tariffs on local food production, the role of value-added products, diet, health and crop diversification, the impact of currency fluctuations on affordability taking into account the informal sector, the impact of immediate affordability of imported food produces and its impact on suitability, self-reliance and longer-term health, diet, food security, security consequences.

Groupe C: Quality Indicators. These include levels of awareness of national and sub-national self-reliance, the capacity to identify, formulate and implement food security vision and strategy, the level of awareness on health, diet and nutrition., the capacity to deal and adapt to chocks and stresses (both inherent to the farming operation or external as in climate change induced disruptions), the availability of education and capacity building in food security related subjects. 

The pillars of a new Food security index may therefore be the following: 

  1. Availability/access 
  2. Quality / Value; nutrition, diet and health 
  3. Affordability: Price structure, real economic value (informal, barter, in kind payment, etc.) SME investments program and structure, local vs export strategy 
  4. Agri-scientific indicators (types of crop, soil and water management, quality of seeds and access to genetics, technology transfer and updates, training. 
  5. Reliability, sustainability and resilience 6) Food system awareness; research and education, public opinion and advocacy 

Certain NGOs have aspired to reflect these realities while shaping new metrics for a more relevant food security index. This is not an easy task in the African context. Measuring public opinion perceptions or collecting reliable primary sources prove seriously challenging. 

When it comes to good governance, for example, the Mo Ibrahim Governance Index, has to a large extent, managed to overcome these challenges. 

More specifically in terms of indexing food security, the newly formed NGO called Stockholm Initiative for Food Security follows the same path. It recently joined forces and signed a cooperation protocol with the National Academy of Sciences and Technology of Senegal and the Center for Advanced Defense and Security Studies. Their plan is to launch a new food security index covering Africa starting with selected countries through prototyping. 

This blog offers insights into a new food security index project underway by the author under the auspices of the Stockholm Initiative for Food Security, a newly formed NGO in Sweden, and in coordination with several institutions including the London-based Mo Ibrahim Governance Index (The Mo Ibrahim Foundation). All comments may be directed to the author: © Stockholm Initiative for Food Security (2023-2024)

The author is grateful for Agripreneurship Alliance’s valuable and insightful support as part of her Agronomy Masters’ degree at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. The Master Thesis was dedicated to Resilience of Food Systems towards Food Security in Uganda – A case study in Gulu (June 2022).

Andrea Lundh

Stockholm Initiative for Food Security

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Agripreneurship Alliance.  

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