The US has, for the first time, dropped from the top spot in the annual Global Food Security Index — compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit — as concerns about agricultural research spending and government policy trends may make the world’s top food exporter a less-certain place to get a meal.
Ireland is the world’s most “food-secure” nation, improving its food affordability, availability, quality, and safety, while the US has stagnated, according to the sixth annual edition of the index.
Worldwide, food security fell for the first time in five years, largely because of increases in the number of refugees, weather disasters, and a decline in global political stability.
The examination, commissioned by Dupont, this year added metrics based on climate and natural-resource risks. Adjusting for those factors, the US fell to fourth place, with Austria and France moving ahead.
“Food security is in reverse,” said Robert Powell, a senior consultant with the Economist Intelligence Unit in New York.
“If we’re aiming for zero hunger, we’re going in the wrong direction.”
The number of people suffering from hunger rose by about 38m to 815m in 2016, the UN said last month.
Climate change is seen as a driver of increasing weather volatility which is contributing to famines in developing nations.
This year, adverse weather combined with conflict was tied to famine and severe food shortages in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen.
Ireland has outspent the US in relative terms on public R&D on agriculture over the past five years, increasing farming’s share of GDP even as its economy has grown, according to the OECD.
US funding as a share of GDP has declined over that same period.
That, combined with concerns about US governance — “the United States’ hostile policy towards immigration and trade has dampened the foreign policy outlook”, states the report — allowed Ireland to take the top spot.
“Ireland has roared back marvellously from the banking crisis, and their agriculture research and development has increased,” said Mr Powell.
In the US, “we haven’t seen that level of public-sector investment,” he added.