Irrigation water floods a plowed field in Tipton, California. Photograph by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ireland Tops U.S. as the Country Best Able to Feed Its People

By Alan BjergaAlan Bjerga, Cindy HoffmanCindy Hoffman and Cedric SamCedric Sam

The U.S. for the first time dropped from the top spot in a global ranking of how well countries can feed their own people, 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 U.S. has stagnated, according to a copy of the sixth annual Global Food Security Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit scheduled for release Tuesday.

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 Co., this year added metrics based on climate and natural-resource risks. Adjusting for those factors, the U.S. fell to fourth place, with Austria and France moving ahead.

Top 20 Countries Before and After New Metrics

U.S., already down a notch, falls to fourth when climate's factored in

Adjusted

Overall

Ireland

United States

United Kingdom

Singapore

Australia

Netherlands

Germany

France

Canada

Sweden

Austria

Switzerland

Norway

New Zealand

Finland

Denmark

Belgium

Japan

Israel

Portugal

 

Ireland

Austria

France

United States

Germany

Switzerland

United Kingdom

Canada

Denmark

Sweden

Netherlands

New Zealand

Finland

Australia

Norway

Belgium

Japan

Portugal

Singapore

Spain

 

Israel

Overall ranking

Adjusted

Ireland

United States

United Kingdom

Singapore

Australia

Netherlands

Germany

France

Canada

Sweden

Austria

Switzerland

Norway

New Zealand

Finland

Denmark

Belgium

Japan

Israel

Portugal

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

 

28

Ireland

Austria

France

United States

Germany

Switzerland

United Kingdom

Canada

Denmark

Sweden

Netherlands

New Zealand

Finland

Australia

Norway

Belgium

Japan

Portugal

Singapore

Spain (rose from 21)

 

Israel (fell to 28)

Overall ranking

Adjusted

Ireland

United States

United Kingdom

Singapore

Australia

Netherlands

Germany

France

Canada

Sweden

Austria

Switzerland

Norway

New Zealand

Finland

Denmark

Belgium

Japan

Israel

Portugal

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

 

28

Ireland

Austria

France

United States

Germany

Switzerland

United Kingdom

Canada

Denmark

Sweden

Netherlands

New Zealand

Finland

Australia

Norway

Belgium

Japan

Portugal

Singapore

Spain (rose from 21)

 

Israel (fell to 28)

“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 38 million to 815 million in 2016, the United Nations 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.

Richer nations have fewer problems providing inexpensive, plentiful and safe food to their citizens. Still, risks remain, and some are increasing, according to the study.

Four Categories Make Up the Score

Natural resources and resilience were added this year

Affordability

Food consumption as share of household expenditure

Proportion of population under global poverty line

Gross domestic product per capita

Agricultural import tariffs

Presence of food safety net programs

Access to financing for farmers

Availability

Sufficiency of supply

Public expenditure on agricultural R&D

Agricultural infrastructure

Volatility of agricultural production

Political stability risk

Corruption

Urban absorption capacity

Food loss

Quality And Safety

Diet diversification

Nutritional standards

Micronutrient availability

Protein quality

Food safety

 

Added in 2017

Natural Resources And Resilience

Exposure

Water

Land

Oceans

Sensitivity

Adaptive capacity

Demographic stresses

Affordability

Food consumption as share of household expenditure

Proportion of population under global poverty line

Gross domestic product per capita

Agricultural import tariffs

Presence of food safety net programs

Access to financing for farmers

Availability

Sufficiency of supply

Public expenditure on agricultural R&D

Agricultural infrastructure

Volatility of agricultural production

Political stability risk

Corruption

Urban absorption capacity

Food loss

Quality

And Safety

Diet diversification

Nutritional standards

Micronutrient availability

Protein quality

Food safety

Added in 2017:

Natural Resources

And Resilience

Exposure

Water

Land

Oceans

Sensitivity

Adaptive capacity

Demographic stresses

Quality

And Safety

Diet diversification

Nutritional standards

Micronutrient availability

Protein quality

Food safety

Affordability

Food consumption as share of household expenditure

Proportion of population under global poverty line

Gross domestic product per capita

Agricultural import tariffs

Presence of food safety net programs

Access to financing for farmers

Availability

Sufficiency of supply

Public expenditure on agricultural R&D

Agricultural infrastructure

Volatility of agricultural production

Political stability risk

Corruption

Urban absorption capacity

Food loss

Added in 2017:

Natural Resources And Resilience

Exposure

Water

Land

Oceans

Sensitivity

Adaptive capacity

Demographic stresses

Wealthier countries including the U.S. and Canada have highly productive food systems, but use more water than they need to, leaving them more vulnerable to increasingly severe droughts expected because of climate change. European nations, meanwhile, may see strains caused by an aging population that pays less in taxes and demands more social services.

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa clustered near the bottom of the rankings yet have opportunities to develop more sustainable food systems as late adapters to technology, the report said.

Meanwhile, some developed nations rose or fell dramatically in the rankings because of local circumstances. Austria has a relatively stable climate and very low soil erosion, aiding food production, sending its rating upward. Singapore, meanwhile, fell more than any other nation, given the threat it faces from rising sea levels, exposure to extreme weather and reliance on food imports.

Climate and Resources: Nobody's Perfect

Singapore threat severe while every country faces challenges

Adjusted

Food Security Score

Overall

Food Security Score

70

80

90

Ireland

U.S.

U.K.

Singapore

Australia

Netherlands

Germany

France

Canada

Sweden

Austria

Switzerland

Norway

New Zealand

Finland

Denmark

Belgium

Japan

Israel

Portugal

Adjusted Food Security Score

Overall Food Security Score

70

80

90

Ireland

United States

United Kingdom

Singapore

Australia

Netherlands

Germany

France

Canada

Sweden

Austria

Switzerland

Norway

New Zealand

Finland

Denmark

Belgium

Japan

Israel

Portugal

Adjusted Food Security Score

Overall Food Security Score

70

80

90

Ireland

United States

United Kingdom

Singapore

Australia

Netherlands

Germany

France

Canada

Sweden

Austria

Switzerland

Norway

New Zealand

Finland

Denmark

Belgium

Japan

Israel

Portugal

The study places a high value on government support for agricultural research, which is important to keeping nutrition inexpensive and available as food needs increase, Powell said. This is where Ireland, a country where an 1840s famine led a half-million residents to migrate to America, has excelled while the U.S. has faltered, according to the report.

Ireland has outspent the U.S. in relative terms on public research and development on agriculture over the past five years, increasing farming’s share of gross domestic product even as its economy has grown, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development.

Climate and Resources Greatly Affect Stability

Low resources and resilience scores lowered every nation’s overall rating, adjusting scores downward

Ireland

United States

90

80

70

60

50

Ireland has outspent the U.S. in public agricultural R&D, increasing farming’s share of GDP. The U.S. has highly productive food systems but uses more water than it needs and is vulnerable to drought.

Singapore

Austria

90

80

70

60

50

Austria did relatively better than other countries on climate. That pushed the country's ranking higher. Rising sea levels and exposure to extreme weather caused Singapore to fall in the rankings more than any other nation.

Ireland

United States

90

90

80

80

70

70

60

60

50

50

Ireland has outspent the U.S. in public agricultural R&D, increasing farming’s share of GDP.

The U.S. has highly productive food systems but uses more water than it needs and is vulnerable to drought.

Singapore

Austria

90

90

80

80

70

70

60

60

50

50

Austria did relatively better than other countries on climate. That pushed the country's ranking higher.

Rising sea levels and exposure to extreme weather caused Singapore to fall in the rankings more than any other nation.

Ireland

United States

Austria

Singapore

90

90

90

90

80

80

80

80

70

70

70

70

60

60

60

60

50

50

50

50

Ireland has outspent the U.S. in public agricultural R&D, increasing farming’s share of GDP.

The U.S. has highly productive food systems but uses more water than it needs and is vulnerable to drought.

Austria did relatively better than other countries on climate. That pushed the country's ranking higher.

Rising sea levels and exposure to extreme weather caused Singapore to fall in the rankings more than any other nation.

Ireland

United States

Austria

Singapore

90

90

90

90

80

80

80

80

70

70

70

70

60

60

60

60

50

50

50

50

Ireland has outspent the U.S. in public agricultural R&D, increasing farming’s share of GDP.

Austria did relatively better than other countries on climate. That pushed the country's ranking higher.

Rising sea levels and exposure to extreme weather caused Singapore to fall in the rankings more than any other nation.

The U.S. has highly productive food systems but uses more water than it needs and is vulnerable to drought.

U.S. funding as a share of GDP has declined over that same period. That, combined with concerns about U.S. governance—“the United States’ hostile policy towards immigration and trade has dampened the foreign policy outlook” the report said—allowed Ireland to take the top spot.

“Ireland has roared back marvelously from the banking crisis, and their agriculture research and development has increased,” Powell said. In the U.S., “we haven’t seen that level of public-sector investment.”

The study, first published in 2012, is used to guide corporate decisions on allocating resources, said Krysta Harden, a former U.S. Agriculture Department deputy secretary who’s now the chief sustainability officer and vice president for public policy for the agriculture division of DowDuPont Inc.

Its publication is meant to aid governments, nongovernmental organizations and businesses in understanding where food struggles are greatest and where more work needs to be done even in relatively more secure nations, she said.

“Hopefully it’s a wake-up call,” she said. “Agriculture is an ongoing investment that cannot end and cannot be diminished.”

The Global Index

Sort by Overall Score, Resources and Resilience, and Adjusted Score
Country
Overall Food Security Score
Natural Resources and Resilience
Adjusted Overall Food Security
Adjustment
Ireland
85.6
73.4
79.9
−5.7
Austria
81.6
80.3
77.6
−4.0
France
82.3
76.5
77.5
−4.8
United States
84.6
65.8
77.4
−7.2
Germany
82.5
74.9
77.3
−5.2
Switzerland
81.6
79.0
77.3
−4.3
United Kingdom
84.2
67.0
77.3
−6.9
Canada
82.2
74.0
76.9
−5.3
Denmark
80.3
82.1
76.7
−3.6
Sweden
81.7
74.8
76.6
−5.1
Netherlands
82.8
68.6
76.3
−6.5
New Zealand
81.0
72.3
75.4
−5.6
Finland
81.0
71.5
75.2
−5.8
Australia
83.3
60.1
75.0
−8.3
Norway
81.4
66.6
74.6
−6.8
Belgium
79.8
69.5
73.7
−6.1
Japan
79.5
70.4
73.6
−5.9
Portugal
79.0
71.6
73.4
−5.6
Singapore
84.0
49.2
73.3
−10.7
Spain
78.1
72.5
72.7
−5.4
Czech Republic
75.8
80.3
72.1
−3.7
Italy
75.9
72.9
70.8
−5.1
Poland
74.1
78.8
70.2
−3.9
Israel
79.2
51.3
69.6
−9.6
Hungary
72.2
79.0
68.4
−3.8
Chile
74.7
62.6
67.7
−7.0
Greece
71.9
74.4
67.3
−4.6
Slovakia
70.0
81.1
66.7
−3.3
South Korea
74.7
53.9
66.1
−8.6
Kuwait
74.6
51.1
65.5
−9.1
Uruguay
69.7
75.9
65.5
−4.2
Oman
73.9
49.2
64.5
−9.4
Qatar
73.3
49.9
64.1
−9.2
Romania
67.7
75.2
63.5
−4.2
Costa Rica
69.3
58.5
62.1
−7.2
Saudi Arabia
71.0
46.3
61.5
−9.5
Russia
66.2
71.0
61.4
−4.8
Argentina
67.3
64.2
61.3
−6.0
Brazil
67.7
60.6
61.0
−6.7
Bahrain
68.6
53.0
60.5
−8.1
United Arab Emirates
70.9
40.0
60.3
−10.6
Bulgaria
62.9
75.1
59.0
−3.9
Malaysia
66.2
52.1
58.3
−7.9
Mexico
65.8
54.4
58.3
−7.5
China
63.7
60.1
57.3
−6.4
South Africa
64.0
57.7
57.2
−6.8
Belarus
63.0
62.6
57.1
−5.9
Turkey
61.1
67.0
56.1
−5.0
Serbia
60.6
69.0
55.9
−4.7
Panama
62.5
54.1
55.3
−7.2
Botswana
59.4
62.6
53.8
−5.6
Colombia
60.1
53.8
53.2
−6.9
Thailand
58.3
64.3
53.1
−5.2
Jordan
58.3
62.8
52.9
−5.4
Tunisia
58.8
56.6
52.4
−6.4
Azerbaijan
57.8
59.8
52.0
−5.8
Paraguay
56.5
66.7
51.8
−4.7
Kazakhstan
56.0
67.7
51.5
−4.5
Peru
59.2
45.4
51.1
−8.1
Egypt
56.6
57.0
50.5
−6.1
Ecuador
55.2
52.4
48.6
−6.6
Dominican Republic
54.8
53.6
48.4
−6.4
Ukraine
54.1
58.2
48.4
−5.7
Vietnam
54.0
58.1
48.3
−5.7
El Salvador
53.1
58.4
47.6
−5.5
Sri Lanka
53.0
58.4
47.5
−5.5
Morocco
52.8
55.1
46.9
−5.9
Bolivia
51.3
62.1
46.4
−4.9
Algeria
51.5
53.5
45.5
−6.0
Venezuela
50.2
60.6
45.3
−4.9
Nicaragua
50.0
61.8
45.2
−4.8
Guatemala
49.6
61.8
44.9
−4.7
Indonesia
51.3
46.5
44.4
−6.9
Honduras
48.6
62.7
44.1
−4.5
Pakistan
47.8
62.5
43.3
−4.5
India
48.9
53.7
43.2
−5.7
Ghana
47.9
57.4
42.8
−5.1
Uzbekistan
47.5
54.7
42.1
−5.4
Philippines
47.3
52.0
41.6
−5.7
Myanmar
44.8
69.5
41.4
−3.4
Uganda
43.3
71.3
40.2
−3.1
Senegal
44.2
61.8
40.0
−4.2
Nepal
44.5
58.5
39.9
−4.6
Cambodia
43.3
63.1
39.3
−4.0
Cote d’Ivoire
42.5
69.9
39.3
−3.2
Kenya
42.2
63.7
38.4
−3.8
Cameroon
41.6
57.3
37.2
−4.4
Rwanda
39.8
68.4
36.7
−3.1
Mali
39.4
63.8
35.8
−3.6
Bangladesh
39.7
56.2
35.4
−4.3
Benin
39.6
56.5
35.3
−4.3
Nigeria
38.4
60.7
34.6
−3.8
Togo
37.2
60.5
33.5
−3.7
Tanzania
35.4
67.5
32.5
−2.9
Tajikistan
35.9
53.7
31.7
−4.2
Sudan
34.8
57.0
31.1
−3.7
Burkina Faso
33.1
69.5
30.6
−2.5
Laos
33.1
68.7
30.5
−2.6
Guinea
34.0
56.0
30.3
−3.7
Ethiopia
33.3
61.1
30.1
−3.2
Mozambique
33.7
54.3
29.8
−3.9
Zambia
32.4
67.3
29.8
−2.6
Angola
33.2
56.8
29.6
−3.6
Syria
33.3
50.7
29.2
−4.1
Malawi
31.3
70.1
29.0
−2.3
Niger
29.5
67.0
27.1
−2.4
Haiti
29.1
60.4
26.2
−2.9
Sierra Leone
28.7
57.5
25.7
−3.0
Chad
28.3
59.0
25.4
−2.9
Yemen
28.8
47.5
25.0
−3.8
Madagascar
27.2
66.2
24.9
−2.3
Burundi
25.1
68.8
23.1
−2.0
Congo (Dem. Rep.)
25.5
46.3
22.1
−3.4