The Food Sustainability Index: Fostering the Global Shift Towards a More Sustainable Food System


Written by Food Tank

Researchers Francesca Allievi, Marta Antonelli, and Katarzyna Dembska worked on the Food Sustainability Index with the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition.

A sustainable food system (SFS) has been defined by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as a food system that ensures food security and nutrition for all in such a way that the economic, social, and environmental bases to underpin food security and nutrition of future generations are not compromised.

A food system does not sit in isolation, and a large number of stakeholders act together according to dynamics created by specific drivers. These include biophysical elements and constraints (such as the availability of land and water), innovation and research (such as solutions derived from new technology), political and economic inputs (policies, regulations, income levels, etc.), socio-cultural aspects (for example food traditions and religious rules), and demographic issues (urbanization and education levels, among others). When scaling this picture to the regional, national, continental, and global level, it becomes increasingly complex, creating a high level of uncertainty when trying to assess the interaction among its parts.

In this context, the Food Sustainability Index (FSI) assesses how different areas of the food system and its stakeholders are moving towards a more sustainable direction. Food sustainability is here defined as resulting from progress and performance in promoting sustainable agriculture, ensuring healthy nutrition, and reducing food waste and losses.

The FSI is a collaborative project developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit with the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) Foundation. This project stemmed from the continuous effort of the BCFN to prompt the engagement of civil society, policymakers, and businesses on the food challenges that the world is now facing. This effort began in 2014 with the development of the Milan Protocol, and today continues with the BCFN support of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), through its research, publications, and public initiatives. Six of the SDGs clearly highlight the role of food and nutrition to many of the key development indicators from health and wellbeing through to inequality, sustainability, and environmental protections.

The FSI is based on 58 indicators and investigates the extent to which food sustainability exists along three main challenges, defined as pillars: promoting sustainable agricultural practices (Sustainable Agriculture); ensuring healthy nutrition and lifestyles (Nutrition Challenges); reducing food waste and losses (Food Loss and Waste).

The FSI analyzes 25 countries, which include the G20 countries plus 5 additional nations of regions otherwise unrepresented (Israel, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Colombia, UAE). These countries represent 87 percent of global GDP and more than two-thirds of the world’s population. The most recent data from sources including publicly available database (e.g. FAO, World Bank etc.), information collected from gray literature, interviews, as well as EIU estimates and research was used.

The top three performers in the FSI include: France, efficiently responding to food waste and loss, and with good policies for nutritional challenges; Japan, the highest among Asian countries for nutrition and sustainable agriculture; Canada, which scores second in sustainable agriculture, but where nutritional challenges and food waste are still an issue. On the opposite side, the three bottom performers include Egypt, mainly dealing with water scarcities and unsustainable use of this resource; Saudi Arabia, the worst performing countries in food loss and waste; India, with the highest prevalence of under and malnourishment.

The objectives of the FSI are not only to highlight the performance of countries, but to establish a comparable benchmark, to offer examples of best practices at the national and city levels, and to measure progress over time.

The FSI is publicly available, where data can be visualized in the form of a map or a country ranking, and the full dataset can be downloaded. With this open approach, the FSI was conceived as a tool for policymakers and experts to orient their action, for students to be educated, and for the public to conscientiously adjust their behavior for the well-being of our health and our planet. Progress will be measured over time by updating of the FSI in the next years through new inputs, feedbacks, and new focus of research.

SOURCE: Food Tank