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Global Food Security Relies on Trade

20 December 2013

GLOBAL - On a global scale food supply is sufficient to feed the entire population but its uneven distribution leaves a significant proportion of the world’s population food insecure while others live in abundance of food, writes Chris Harris.

While the global food supply could be increased by using methods such as novel technological solutions, reform of current agricultural practices and reduction of food waste, any substantial improvement in food security will require real efforts for a more equal distribution of global food supply.

According to a new report by Miina Porkka, Matti Kummu, Stefan Siebert and Olli Varis “From Food Insufficiency towards Trade Dependency: A Historical Analysis of Global Food Availability” published by PLOS, within the past 50 years, the world has moved from food insufficiency towards an increasing dependency on food trade.

This has improved food availability, but mainly in regions with a sufficiently strong economy to be a notable player in the trade markets.

The authors say that while a secure food supply has been outsourced in various parts of the globe, a large share of global population is still living with insufficient food supply.

“Food security is not merely a question of food availability but increasingly also a question of access to food,” the report says.

The research team from Aalto University in Finland looked at the development of the food chain and the progress of food supply between 2965 and 2005.

The proportion of the population, who get enough food - more than 2 500 calories a day - has nearly doubled to 61 per cent over the 40 year period.

Those living on a critically low food supply of less than 2 000 calories a day have shrunk from 51 per cent to three per cent.

The researchers found that food availability has improved especially in the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America, China, and Southeast Asia.

Although food availability has increased on the global level, food self-sufficiency has remained relatively low.

The report says: “Food availability has improved considerably while food self-sufficiency has remained relatively low during the entire study period. Trade of food products has, thus, soared in importance in securing an adequate food supply. In many parts of the world, diets are increasingly abundant in calories and animal source foods.”

“In the 1960s and 1970s, insufficient food production in a country amounted to food shortage, but nowadays the production deficit is increasingly balanced through food imports,” said Aalto University researcher Miina Porkka.

The proportion of people living in countries that are significant net importers of food has more than tripled during the period under examination.

The countries of North Africa and the Middle East, for instance, have become increasingly dependent on imported food. In these countries, food availability has increased from low to a very high level, even though domestic food production has remained inadequate.

Brazil, on the other hand, has become one of the world's most important producers of food for export. In the 1960s, food supply in the country was still inadequate, but in the past decades Brazilian food production has grown exponentially and food consumption is now more than sufficient.

The study also examined dietary changes that have taken place in different countries.

The proportion of people consuming large amounts (more than 15 per cent of energy intake) of animal-based nutrition has increased from 33 per cent to more than 50 per cent.

This together with over consumption of calories in many countries is putting an increased pressure on the planet’s limited natural resources. At the same time, however, over a third of the world’s population is still living with insufficient food supply.

The study was conducted by the researchers from Aalto University in Finland and University of Bonn in Germany. The research was financed by Maa- ja vesitekniikan tuki ry., the Academy of Finland and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Chris Harris

Chris Harris

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