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Food Sustainability Index

The Food Sustainability Index (FSI) is a collaborative project developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) together with the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, assessing the pursuit of a sustainable food system by different stakeholders in 25 different countries.

The FSI is constructed from 58 environmental, economic and societal indicators, accounting for three pillars: Food Loss and Waste, Sustainable Agriculture, and Nutritional Challenges.

The three paradoxes affecting the global food system highlighted in Milan Protocol, were further strengthened after the United Nations identified the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): all the goals of the Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are strictly connected with the food system.

The FSI aims to provide a tool for highlighting the performance of countries and establishing a comparable qualitative and quantitative benchmark. The FSI is a tool for all stakeholders in the food system, from researchers to policymakers to industry to orient their action, for students to be educated, and for the civil society to conscientiously choose for the good of our health and our planet.

FSI Nutritional Challenges Pillar

The Nutritional Challenges look at the complex effects of food on people and health in three areas: life quality, life expectancy and dietary patterns. The life quality indicator provides an overview of the prevalence of undernourishment and micronutrient deficiency. The life expectancy indicator measures, among others, the prevalence of overweight in adults and children, together with physical activity habits and life expectancy at birth in individual countries. Physical activity levels and screen time are also taken into account as essential components of a healthy lifestyle. The dietary patterns indicator accounts for the eating habits in the countries, with proxies such as the prevalence of sugar in diets and the number of fast foods pro capita. The quality indicator of policy response addresses how nutritional challenges are being addressed on a policy level. A total of 19 Key Performance Indicators were used to build this section of the Food Sustainability Index.

This pillar highlights how under - mal - and over nutrition are still relevant issues affecting countries worldwide, with children being particularly vulnerable to these states. Many countries are facing a double burden: hunger on one side and obesity on the other, both affecting life expectancy, also in terms of health outcomes and disabilities due to chronic conditions. The qualitative indicators want to highlight how these challenges are being addressed, with initiatives considered on a municipal and national level.

Countries leading the ranking in the Nutritional Challenges pillar are France, Japan and South Korea, while the greatest challenges are being faced by South Africa, Nigeria and India.

FSI Sustainable Agriculture Pillar

The Food Sustainability Index looks at how to make agriculture more sustainable from the point of view of the impact generated on land, water and atmosphere. A total of 30 Key Performance Indicators is used to understand how the production of safe and healthy food can be not only more efficient, but also more environmentally, economically and socially sustainable. In order to enable this type of development, the protection of the environmental resources should be ensured together with the improvement of social and economic conditions of farmers and local communities. The safeguard of animal welfare and the introduction of actions for climate change mitigation and adaptation, are two further key elements of a comprehensive approach towards the assessment of sustainable agriculture.

When analyzing the results of the FSI for this pillar, the first point that becomes evident is that the world is running out of arable land: meeting the world’s nutritional needs means reducing food waste, developing more sustainable techniques and technologies, improving the efficiency of food production, and making careful choices about the use of land for food versus non-food crops. The second important factor to consider is for countries and stakeholders to make careful choices about the allocation of agricultural land for direct human foods as opposed to non-food crops, notably biofuels. In developing regions, institutional and infrastructure reforms can also help strengthen efficiency, including more transparent land rights, greater access to finance for the agricultural sector, and stronger infrastructure for storage, transport, and logistics, can help promote greater efficiency. The last relevant result from this analysis is that traditional forms of agro-ecological knowledge and practices among indigenous agricultural communities, especially on-farm/in-situ conservation and resource management strategies, can also play a role in the transition to more sustainable agriculture.

Germany, Canada and Japan are the three countries that score highest for sustainable agriculture, while the lowest performers are India, UAE and Egypt.

FSI Food Losses and Waste Pillar

Food waste has risen up the policy agenda globally and was included in the SDGs. The Food losses and waste pillar has been developed analyzing how the Countries deal with the phenomenon in terms of quantification of it, policies and solutions implemented. Taking into account the FAO differentiation between food losses and waste, 6 indicators have been developed to analysis the Countries performance on this issue.

As a result, France demonstrated a truly holistic policy framework for eliminating food waste. Its legislation includes legal obligations for supermarkets to donate excess food to charities, bans on expiration dates for certain categories of goods such as wine and vinegar, education at the primary school level, and tax incentives. Italy also scores highly in the index for its laws that incentivize food donation. Other countries can look to these for ideas and best practices on tackling food waste.
Another important aspect relates to the food retail industry, that is rising to the challenge of food waste through several measures: clearer expiration dates on produce, partnerships with charities to donate excess foods, and use of food waste as fuel are among the measures used by the leading food system stakeholders.
Concerning food losses, results show how food loss in emerging markets comes from a range of sources, including infrastructure deficits and vulnerability to environmental shocks. Poor road and transport systems, inadequate access to cool-chain technologies, inadequate storage facilitates, and vulnerability to shocks such as pests and droughts are the drivers of food loss in developing countries.

The top three countries in the food loss and waste ranking are France, Australia and South Africa. The countries scoring lowest are UAE, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

The Economist - Intelligence Unit
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