Food Security

Food security: are we too complacent?

Dr Paul Burnside

Principal Potash Analyst


Dr Huw McKay

Vice President, Market Analysis & Economics

For most of settled human history, our species lived a precarious existence from one harvest to the next.

That changed with the “Green Revolution” of the 1960s, which saw the massive, predominantly aid-financed, implementation of advanced agricultural practices (e.g. mechanisation, irrigation, chemical fertiliser application, and use of high-yielding and pest-and-rust-resistant seeds) in the developing world. Its result was a spectacular boost in agricultural productivity over the ensuing decades – a boost that helped improved everyday life immeasurably for billions of people across East Asia1, Central and South America, South Asia and Africa.

The daily supply of calories per person has increased 34% in Mexico, 30% in South America and around 23% and 30% in India and Africa respectively. In China, it has more than doubled, albeit from a lower base2.The Engel coefficients of developing countries – the proportion of household income that is spent on food – have been in steady decline in recent decades as a result3. And yet, addressing an audience at the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in April of 2019, Cornell professor Chris Barrett sounded the alarm bell on food security. He labelled it “the defining global challenge of the century”4.

But according to the USDA’s International Food Security Assessment (IFSA), while food insecurity is far from resolved, its incidence is declining: the proportion of people identified as food insecure in its sample of at-risk countries has fallen from 29% to 21% since 2000 and is projected to be just 10% by 20285. So, why does Barrett believe that “the prospect of failing to meet the food security challenge is nothing short of an existential crisis?”

Food security refers to people’s physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life6. The three pillars of food security then are:

1. the ability to produce enough of the desired food;
2. the provision of appropriate infrastructure to distribute and store that food, and
3. its affordability to the consumer.

Lifting people out of poverty through effective development policies that assist participation in global supply chains, investing in logistics infrastructure and resolving conflicting zones can all contribute to improved food security.