Food security in 75% of African countries at high or extreme risk – Maplecroft global index
'Arab Awakening' countries at increased risk from 2013 food price shock
Despite strong economic growth, food security remains an issue of primary importance for Africa, according to a new study by risk analysis company Maplecroft, which classifies 75% of the continent’s countries at ‘high’ or ‘extreme risk.’
In the light of recent food price spikes, the findings are especially significant for areas of sub-Saharan Africa where poverty, armed conflict, civil unrest, drought, displacement and poor governance can combine to create conditions where a food crisis may take hold.
Africa accounts for 39 of the 59 most at risk countries in Maplecroft’s Food Security Risk Index and hosts nine of the eleven countries in the ‘extreme risk’ category. These include: Somalia and DR Congo (ranked joint 1st in the index), Burundi (4), Chad (5), Ethiopia (6), Eritrea (7), South Sudan (9), Comoros (10) and Sierra Leone (11). The countries of Haiti (3) and Afghanistan (8) complete the category.
The Food Security Risk Index has been developed for governments, NGOs and business to use as a barometer to identify those countries which may be susceptible to famine and societal unrest stemming from food shortages and price fluctuations. Maplecroft reaches its results by evaluating the availability, access and stability of food supplies in 197 countries, as well as the nutritional and health status of populations.
Droughts hit global food prices, raising fears of a food crisis
The fragility of global food security was once again thrown into the spotlight this year after the USA’s worst drought in 50 years drove corn prices to near record highs, while wheat also climbed on the back of a 10% drop in production across the Former Soviet Union. Low crop yields pushed global food prices up 6% in July 2012, sparking fears of a repeat of the 2007/2008 food crisis, which resulted in food riots across several countries, including Bangladesh, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Mexico, Senegal and Yemen.
“Food price forecasts for 2013 provide a worrying picture,” states Maplecroft’s Head of Maps and Indices Helen Hodge. “Although a food crisis has not emerged yet, there is potential for food related upheaval across the most vulnerable regions, including sub-Saharan Africa.”
A September report by Rabobank, a financial specialist in agro-commodities, estimates that prices of food staples could rise by as much as 15% by June 2013, resulting in record highs that will squeeze household incomes in many countries.
Conflict and instability driving food insecurity in Somalia, DR Congo and the Sahel
Food security is a complex issue, which is driven by a number of factors, including armed conflict, which can acutely affect levels of agricultural output and investment. Nowhere is this seen more intensely than in the countries topping the Food Security Risk Index, Somalia and DR Congo (DRC), where sustained violence has had a profound impact on the economic circumstances of their governments and populations.
Ongoing conflict in DR Congo has left huge numbers of civilians unable to secure access to sufficient stable food supplies and the population remains vulnerable to price shocks, as entrenched poverty means a large proportion of household expenditure is spent of food. DRC’s eastern provinces have been subject to armed conflict for more than a decade. According to the UN, as of mid-June, at least 400,000 people were displaced in this region and long-term food security has been put at further risk, as civilians have been forced to flee from their fields during the crucial harvest period.
Maplecroft also highlights the Sahel, which includes the countries of Chad (ranked 5th in the index), Niger (23), Mauritania (38), Mali (42), and Burkina Faso (45), as an important region to watch. Each of these countries has seen substantial increases in risk in the Food Security Risk Index over the last 3 years due to armed conflict, political instability, changing rainfall patterns and locust infections. Risks for the region are forecast to remain high.
The impacts of food inflation in Arab states
Aside from being aggravated by conflict, food security issues can also create civil unrest and political instability when populations are driven to large scale protests by inflationary pressures on staple foods. In 2011 rising food prices were a contributing factor to the protests in Tunisia and Egypt, which led to popular revolutions and inspired the ‘Arab Awakening’ across the Middle East and North African (MENA) region.
Countries with the highest risk across MENA include Yemen (ranked 15th), Syria (16), Iraq (54) and Libya (58) all of which are classified as ‘high risk.’ Egypt (71) and Tunisia (100) are meanwhile categorised as ‘medium risk.’ The region remains at elevated levels of risk from reduced US and Russian crop production, as these countries rely heavily on cereal imports and are therefore vulnerable to market prices.
“The drivers of the ‘Arab Awakening’ were varied and complex and included long standing public anger at high levels of governmental corruption and oppressive tactics against populations and political opposition,” states Maplecroft CEO Alyson Warhurst. “When these factors combine with food insecurity, sparked by rising global prices, it can create an environment for social unrest and regime change. Identifying these markers is a key challenge in the identification of threats to political stability and business continuity.”