Food security on the upswing

by Eric Schroeder
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Outside a grain store at Ngaresero, Tanzania.
Photo courtesy of Geoff Sayer of Oxfam.
 
Food security is expected to improve through 2027, driven by forecasts for low food prices and rising incomes for 76 low- and middle-income countries that are former or current food-aid recipients, according to “International Food Security Assessment, 2017-2027,” a recent report from the Economic Research Service (ERS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In its report, the ERS projected the percentage of the population studied that is food insecure to fall to 8.9% in 2027 from 17.7% in 2017. In total for the countries studied, the number of food insecure people is forecast to fall by 42%, the ERS said, leaving 372 million food-insecure people in the 76 countries in 2027.

The ERS evaluated the food security for each country by estimating the share of the population unable to reach a caloric target of 2,100 calories per person per day. Food demand is expressed in grain equivalent based on caloric content to allow aggregation across four separate food groups: major grain, other grains, roots and tubers, and all other food.

“Grains comprise the bulk of the diet in most of the study countries,” the ERS said. “Prices of these commodities are projected to remain low over the next decade. Incomes in nearly all the study countries are projected to rise, but lower prices for oil and key minerals slow income growth for exporters of these commodities.”

The ERS said that increasing food grain demand, as well as grain demand for feed and industrial processing, is expected to be met by domestic production and imports.

“Grain production for the 76 study countries is projected to increase 5.9% between 2017 and 2027, mostly from higher yields,” the ERS said. “The majority of the countries are projected to have declining or stagnant growth in grain area as many countries are approaching the limit of area expansion. Growing areas of land devoted to urban uses or with degraded soil make yield increases ever more crucial.

“Regions differ in their reliance on the international market for food supplies. The Latin America/Caribbean and North Africa regions depend on imports for more than 50% of their grain supplies, either because of domestic shortfalls or because land and water resources are instead used in higher value export crops; those export revenues may then be used to import food grains commercially. With increasing incomes, consumers tend to diversify their diets from staples toward higher value foods such as meats, dairy, and high-value fruits and vegetables. Historically, commercial import growth has outpaced production growth and this trend is expected to continue.”

Asia

All regions are projected to see noticeable improvements in food security over the coming decade, the ERS said. The biggest improvement, though, is forecast for Asia, where the food-insecure population is forecast to fall 66%, to 4.6% in 2027 from 13.5% in 2017.

At 315.2 million, the Asia region had the most food-insecure people in 2017. But, because of its size, the region had the second lowest share of population food insecure, at 13.5%. Food insecurity is projected to improve in all countries in the region except Yemen due to above-average income growth in most countries, the ERS said.

The Asia region had the second largest food gap — 10.8 million tonnes of grain in 2017. The gap measures the amount of food necessary to allow all income groups to reach the caloric target.

“Asian grain production increased from 492 million tonnes in 2016 to an estimated 514 million tonnes in 2017, mostly from record grain production in India, which accounts for about half of regional grain production,” the ERS noted. “Favorable weather conditions have also increased grain production in Cambodia, Nepal, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. Vietnam and Indonesia, on the other hand, saw weather-related production declines. Asian grain production is projected to continue growing over the next decade, rising to 547 million tonnes by 2027, driven primarily by higher yields.”

Sub-saharan Africa

The highest share of food-insecure people resides in Sub-Saharan Africa, with 31.7% of the population (301 million people) food insecure in 2017, according to the ERS. Projections call for a sharp improvement in the region over the next decade, but to still remain the region with the highest share of food-insecure people, at 19.5%, in 2027.

The ERS projected a 22% decrease in the number of food-insecure people in Sub-Saharan Africa over the next decade and a 38% reduction in the share of people who are food insecure, resulting in 235 million food-insecure people by 2027. The 22% reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa is nearly half the 42% reduction for all 76 countries included in the study over the next 10 years, according to the ERS.

“This is partly because population growth is much faster in (Sub-Saharan Africa) than in the other regions (27% over the 10-year period versus 11% in Asia),” the ERS noted. “As a result, the number of food-insecure people continues to rise even as the share of the population food insecure falls.”

The ERS said grain production in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to increase 9% through 2027, to 133 million tonnes in 2027 from 122 million tonnes in 2017.

“This production growth is faster than the 76-country average,” the ERS said. “However, projected growth in grain production lags growth in grain demand (including grain for nonfood uses). The imports required to meet (Sub-Saharan Africa) demand will grow 7% over 2017-27, to 85 million tonnes.”

Latin America and Caribbean

Food security in the Latin America and Caribbean region is expected to continue a 20-year trend of strong improvements, the ERS noted in its report. The percentage of the population that is food insecure is forecast to fall to 8.3% in 2027 from 14.8% in 2017, resulting in a reduction in the number of food-insecure people to 15.4 million from 24.7 million.

“The (Latin America and Caribbean) region has been relying more on imports to guarantee sufficient grain supplies for food and other uses,” the ERS said. “In 2016, commercial grain exports were estimated to make up 54% of (Latin America and Caribbean) grain supplies. Domestic production in the 11 countries is projected to stay virtually unchanged over the next 10 years. While Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti and Honduras are expected to see production increases, the other six countries are projected to see grain production stagnate or decline. Increasing production of higher value products, in which many of these countries have a comparative advantage (e.g., tropical produce), often leads to higher exports of cash crops that boost export earnings to help pay for grain imports.”

The ERS identified Haiti as the country in the region with the most serious food insecurity problem, with almost half of the country’s population unable to reach the caloric target of 2,100 calories per capita per day.

North Africa

North Africa, which includes Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, is considered the most food secure of all the regions in the ERS study. Of the 4.6 million people included in the study, only 2.5% of the population are considered food insecure, a percentage that is forecast to fall further to 1.3% in 2027, according to the ERS. The food gap for those consuming below the caloric target also is the lowest among all regions, at 208 calories per capita per day in 2017, a figure that is forecast to decline to 187 calories by 2027.

According to the ERS, the North Africa region is susceptible to variable weather and crop production levels, and over the past few decades policies have been established to promote agricultural production and reinvestment in infrastructure, particularly irrigation technology. Domestic grain production is expected to stagnate over the coming decade, the ERS said.

“As North African countries pursue growth in domestic grain production, the increased need for irrigation has made water scarcity the region’s most urgent challenge,” the ERS said. “This has led the institutions in charge of regulating water to adopt widespread modernization of irrigation systems. As a result, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia now have large crop areas under pressurized irrigation, which affords 90% efficiency versus 60% in the old gravitation system. But there is much room for improvement by further conversion to drip irrigation, improved soil and water management, a change in cropping patterns, and further crop intensification.”

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