This week, the Economist Intelligence Unit released its first-ever Global Food Security Index rankings. The index, commissioned by U.S. chemical giant DuPont, boils down 25 food and economic indicators to a single number for 105 countries. There’s a nifty website that allows you to paddle around in the data.

Among the findings:

  • The United States is the world’s most food-secure country, but its diet ranks 15th in vitamins and minerals.
  • The Democratic Republic of Congo is the least food-secure, followed by Chad, Burundi and Haiti.
  • High food security tends to correlate with diverse diets, the presence of food safety nets and access to financing for farmers.
  • While the world as a whole produces much more food than it consumes, the food supply in wealthy countries averages 1,200 more calories per person per day than in low-income countries.

On its website, DuPont announced the new study with the headline, “DuPont Calls for Common Food Security Metrics.” This reflects a general dissatisfaction in the increasingly business-oriented world of international development with the statistics that drive public policy. Go to any meeting of development types, and you can hear the grumbling about the lack of reliable data. You can’t fix what you can’t measure, people say.

The idea of a food security index isn’t new. The International Food Policy Research Institute puts out an annual Global Hunger Index, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization publishes the State of Food Insecurity in the World, British consulting firm Maplecroft produces a Food Security Risk Index, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture just released its yearly International Food Security Assessment. The authors of the DuPont-Economist study say their index incorporates data on the “nutritional quality and safety of food – elements missing from similar indices.” It also includes subjective measures of things like trade policy, support for research and political stability.

For DuPont, these are not abstract numbers. The world’s third-largest chemical company is also the second-largest seed company and recently became a leader in the global food and nutrition industries, with its acquisition of Danish food additive company Danisco and American soy processor Solae. Its executives know that feeding a hungrier, hotter, more crowded and demanding world is big business indeed.

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Jon Miller

Jonathan Miller is executive director of Homelands Productions, a journalism cooperative specializing in public radio features and documentaries. As a freelance journalist, he has reported from Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe and the U.S. for NPR, BBC, CBC, American Public Media's Marketplace, Monitor Radio, VOA, Radio Netherlands and Radio Deutsche Welle. He also has written for The New Yorker, Condé Nast Traveler, Parents, American Way, The Christian Science Monitor and many other publications. For 13 years, he lived and worked in the Philippines and Peru. 

Jon is currently serving as executive producer of "Food for 9 Billion," a collaborative project of Homelands Productions, the Center for Investigative Reporting, American Public Media's Marketplace, PRI's The World, and PBS NewsHour. He was executive producer of Homelands' award-winning "WORKING" project profiling workers in the global economy (2007-09) and the "Worlds of Difference" series about the responses of traditional societies to rapid cultural change (2002-05).