The Food Sustainability Index: who came out on top?

There is one common thread which links all of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – Food!

The way food is grown affects the environment, the way food is consumed affects peoples’ health, and the distribution and access to food affects access to education.

For this reason, the Food Sustainability Index (FSI) was developed to assess a food systems sustainability across three areas: sustainable agriculture, nutritional challenges, and food loss and waste.

The top overall performers in the FSI were:

  1. France
  2. Japan
  3. Germany
  4. Spain
  5. Sweden
  6. Portugal
  7. Italy
  8. South Korea
  9. Hungary

Countries which ranked the highest generally support agricultural research and development, have implemented food waste/loss policy, and have nutritional educational programs.

Can you guess which countries came out on top across the three pillars?

Food Loss and waste:

… and the winner is…. FRANCE!

France loses just 1.8% of its total food production to wastage annually! In France, supermarkets cannot throw away food which is approaching sell-by dates, but instead must donate it to charities under new legislation. Countries not far behind include Germany, Spain and Italy.

Sustainable Agriculture: 

…and the winner is… ITALY!

Italy has led global efforts to reduce water loss and environmental impacts of water used in agriculture. Italy also performed well in sustainable fisheries – did you know: Italy is the biggest consumer of seafood in the EU! Closely behind Italy in the Sustainable Agriculture category was South Korea, France and Colombia.

Nutritional Challenges:

…and the winner is… Japan!

Japan has the highest life expectancy outcome, zero vitamin A and Iodine deficiency, and the fourth lowest percentage of overweight people. Japan also has the second lowest amount of people per fast food restaurant globally (at 30,345)!

The index also found that countries with a high human development index tend to have more sustainable food systems. This emphasises the need to invest in sustainable agriculture in less developed countries, in order to achieve a wide range of development outcomes.

For more information, and a detailed breakdown of the results, take a look at the following food sustainability index complete report.

Mekong: a confluence of dams, algorithms and food security for 60 million

The 4,350 km long Mekong River ensures food security to over 60 million people across six countries, namely China, Burma/Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Obviously its continued flow is of critical importance in maintaining adequate supplies of food to people in the region.

However, the construction of dams along the Mekong River for hydroelectricity is also an important source of economic development and renewable energy.

“While these dams have the ability to provide clean energy and significantly increase the economic development of the region, they also have the potential to damage food security downstream”.

The area relies on consistent and reliable flooding in the wet season to support the fisheries and flow of nutrients downstream. With dams potentially preventing these floods, the whole food growing livelihood and food source of the millions of people downstream is put at significant risk. Furthermore, the length of the river and the fact it crosses through six countries, adds another level of complexity.

So where do we draw the line between food security, energy security and economic development?

“By analysing data between 1993 and 2012, the scientists developed an algorithm that, if properly applied, can ensure that drought conditions are followed by short floods to allow for optimal conditions and the flow of essential nutrients downstream.”

Well, a team of researchers from Arizona State University have developed an algorithm to determine just that! The algorithm strikes the balance between conserving food and livelihood security, as well as allowing the benefits from hydro-electricity to flow through the region. The algorithm was based on a suite of historical data, used to predict the timings and amplitudes of floods.

Take a read of this fascinating article to find out more.


Australian-funded research helping developing nation farmers

What if there was a way to ensure mangoes are available in Australia year round, Australian crops are better prepared for potential threats, and over 490 million people were lifted from food insecurity in the Asia-Pacific region? This week we look at the two-way benefits of international development agricultural research. 

Australia has two main roles in global food security. Firstly, Australia has a role as the farm to many parts of the world, producing quality foods which are exported globally. But, as the saying goes – give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime – Australia has huge offerings in exporting the aforementioned agricultural knowledge harnessed down under.

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) is an independent government agency that funds partnerships and research programs to assist in food security and poverty reduction.

What we’re trying to do is work with these countries and identify what the barriers are for farmers to become more successful” ACIAR global partnerships general manager Melissa Wood said.

Importantly for Australian farmers and consumers, internationally focused Australian-funded agricultural research helps not only people facing food insecurity, but Australian farmers and consumers too. 

“Australia’s most valuable asset to support food security in our region and the world is our knowledge base in agriculture” (Prasad & Langridge 2013)

In a pure food production and exports sense, Australian farmers feed around 70 million people (accounting for food waste and supply chain losses). When the contributions of Australia’s agricultural research are taken into consideration, Australia contributes to the diets of up to 400 million people worldwide. However, with the population expected to boom to nine billion by 2050, Australia (nor any country) can be the food bowl for Asia or the world. But the knowledge that Australia can supply can improve agricultural systems globally to ensure global food security.

Focusing in on a mango research program run and funded by ACIAR, Melissa Wood said:

 “We work in mangoes in Pakistan and that’s been really successful because it means that mangoes are available out of season in Australia. The other reason why it’s good to work on these crops that also occur in Australia is we learn a lot about the pest and diseases and threats”

The experience in managing the threat in mangoes in Pakistan means that if an incursion or similar issue arises in Australia, farmers have experts at the ready to manage the spread and disruption presented by the disease. One of the many Australian benefits delivered by agricultural research for food security.