Research Article: Food security and food self-sufficiency around the world: A typology of countries

Date Published: March 7, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Agnieszka Baer-Nawrocka, Arkadiusz Sadowski, Asim Zia.


The particularities of agriculture, as a sector which ensures food supply, result from many factors, including the multilateral interaction between the environment and human activity. The extent of human intervention in the food production process is usually measured with the amount of capital expenditure. Therefore, the food production potential and the resulting food security depend on both natural and economic factors. This paper identifies the current status of food security in different countries around the world, considering both aspects (physical and economic availability) combined together. The variables published by FAO were used together with a variable estimated based on the author’s own methodology to identify 8 groups of countries characterized by economic development level, net trade in agricultural products, and selected variables related to agriculture and food situation. As shown by this study, the degree to which food security is ensured with domestic supply varies strongly across the globe. Domestic production provides a foundation for food security in wealthy countries, usually located in areas with favorable conditions for agriculture (including North America, Australia, New Zealand, Kazakhstan) and in countries which, though characterized by a relatively small area of arable land per capita, demonstrate high production intensity (mainly European countries). International trade largely contributes to food security in Middle East and North African countries as well as in selected South American countries which are net importers of food products. The most problematic food situation continues to affect Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia.

Partial Text

Providing food to more than seven billion people living on the planet is among the key challenges for today’s world and one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) [1–4]. Since the dawn of humanity, people have been making continuous efforts to remain food secure, and the capacity to feed the population has long drawn intense interest from the scientists. Many studies have evaluated that problem, e.g. [5–11]. However, food security entered the socio-economic dictionary only in the 1970s [12]. Since then, it has been systematically revised, as reflected in the number of existing definitions, e.g. [13–16]. The initial approaches to food security focused on food stocks which allowed to survive famine. As the level of overall human development was rising, another reason for food insecurity was found to be the insufficient purchasing power of poorer population segments. Finally, health qualities and nutrient content of food became a matter of concern for food security. These three aspects, i.e. physical and economic availability and food safety and quality, as well as the stability of all these dimensions over time, are addressed in the most commonly used definition, as provided for in The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2001 report [17]. In the literature, food security is usually considered at three levels: the farm level, the national level and the international level. All of these dimensions are interconnected, and therefore form a set of targets which are often difficult to extract. As emphasized by Srinivasan [18] and Dawe [19], in addition to price and disposable income, food security at household level is also largely affected by: the rural population’s level of and access to education (especially as regards women and poor); child healthcare; food education; consultancy on how to manage farms and set up kitchen gardens. At national level, food security is generally assessed based on actual average energy intake per capita in relation to the needs which are determined in accordance with minimum recommended nutrition standards. Usually, food balance sheets are used for that purpose [20]. The selection of a national food security strategy depends on production resources and on the systemic and institutional condition of the political, economic and social life of a country. In that context, there are three main types of agri-food policy solutions aimed at food security. Specifically, this means efforts taken to ensure [21]: food self-reliance, food self-sufficiency and food sovereignty. While the assumption of the first strategy is to produce and export goods in which the country has a comparative advantage (which provides many opportunities, including the generation of financial resources and imports of other agricultural products), the two other are based on enhancing the domestic production of basic agricultural products, though the country has no comparative advantage in it. As emphasized by Pieterse et al. [21] what matters in food sovereignty is not only the right to food but also the right to produce food. That concept focuses on the role of family farming, organic production methods and a fair distribution of productive inputs. The strategy based on food self-sufficiency (which limits the role of imports to food products) became increasingly important during the last economic crisis. At that time, many countries found it to be one of key priorities for their agri-food policies.

This study revealed considerable territorial differences in agricultural production capacity. Similar conclusions were drawn by Porka et al. [42]. Based on a dynamic analysis, they discovered that the share of the world’s population living in countries with the highest production volume did not change significantly in 1962–2005, and was ca. 25% throughout that period. It follows from our analyses that most “global granaries” are wealthy countries which also experience favorable natural conditions. Considering the essence of agriculture -which boils down to the interaction between nature and human activity—the combination of both of these characteristics justifies the surplus capacity of these countries. Indeed, they enjoy agro-climate conditions, productive resources and high technology levels which favor the production of food. As emphasized by Chavas [52], these factors (in addition to price levels) are the key determinants of food production. At the same time, Bureau and Swinnen [53] note that wealthy northern countries, including the European Union, have considerably hampered the agricultural development of poor southern countries over the last decades, mainly by employing protectionist practices as a part of their trade policies. Export subsidies were the most important measures taken in that respect. But because of pressures from the WTO, recent reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy have mitigated the resulting distortion of the agri-food market. This is important for one more reason: as demonstrated by many researchers, including Tscharntke et al. [54], when considered globally, food insecurity is more a problem of food distribution than food production.

The purpose of this study was to determine the differences in both food security and food self-sufficiency across countries around the world. The typology was intended to support the objective defined in this paper which was to identify:




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.