Food Sustainability Index 2018: France leads developed world in food sustainability; Rwanda is top performer in developing world

After winning in the “brand and media owner partnership” category at the World Media Awards 2018, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Food Sustainability Programme continues to go from strength to strength. It’s been one of the most exciting projects I have led in recent years. It has helped to raise awareness about how food is a common thread connecting all Sustainable Development Goals. It has also highlighted policy gaps and opportunities as well as best practices that can be replicated and scaled up.

Sustainable food systems are vital for achieving the SDGs by 2030. There are strong connections between the SDGs and the three core dimensions of food systems: economic, social and environmental. Our research allows for comparison between countries and food-system indicators and highlights best practices that food-system stakeholders—including policymakers, civil society organisations, the private sector, academia and research, and the media—can use to design roadmaps toward more sustainable food systems and ultimately the SDGs.

Highlights from the research:

  • France is in first place among high-income countries (out of 35) in the 2018 edition of the Food Sustainability Index (FSI), driven by its leadership position in the FSI’s “food loss and waste” pillar.
  • Among low-income countries (out of nine countries) Rwanda shows the strongest performance overall, with noteworthy performances across the FSI’s three pillars (nutritional challenges; sustainable agriculture; and food loss and waste). Nonetheless, undernourishment remains a problem in the country.
  • Colombia is the leading middle-income country (out of 23 countries), thanks in particular to high scores in sustainable agriculture and nutritional challenges.
  • The FSI’s 2018 edition extends the index to 67 countries (from 34 in the previous edition) and aligns the index methodological framework more closely to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • A white paper accompanying the index focuses on best practices in food sustainability conducive to reaching the SDGs. Among those highlighted: eating guidelines, agroecology farming practices, and digital technologies to connect agricultural producers and buyers.

France is the top high-income country in the 2018 Food Sustainability Index (FSI), which ranks 67 countries’ performance in food system sustainability according to their income group. These countries represent over 90% of global GDP and over four-fifths of the global population. The FSI was developed by The Economist Intelligence Unit with the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation (BCFN) as part of a research programme commissioned by BCFN. The FSI’s 2018 edition focuses particularly on best practices in food sustainability that help to reach the Sustainable Development Goals.

France’s strong showing rests on high scores across the FSI’s three pillars: nutritional challenges, sustainable agriculture, and food loss and waste. Its performance is particularly strong in the food loss and waste category. In a world where a third of all food produced globally is either lost or discarded, according to estimates from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), France has been in the vanguard of policies and measures to reduce such losses, for example via best-practice legislation requiring supermarkets to redistribute leftover food to charities serving poor communities.

Rwanda is the top performer among low-income countries. The country’s dietary patterns are characterised by diets that are comparatively low in sugar, meat, saturated fat and sodium, support the country’s high ranking in the nutritional challenges pillar. That said, malnourishment remains a problem, where the country is in the bottom half among low-income countries. Prevalence of undernourishment is high (41.1% of the population, according to FAO data), and prevalence of stunting among children under five years of age remains high. However, Rwanda is the best-performing country from sub-Saharan Africa in terms of micronutrient deficiency. Rwanda also gets high marks for sustainable agricultural practices, such as the sustainability of agricultural water withdrawals on renewable sources. This is crucial because agriculture is responsible for 70% of global freshwater withdrawals.

Thanks in particular to a strong showing in sustainable agriculture and nutritional challenges, Colombia is the leading middle-income country in the FSI. Sustainable agriculture, such as water management and conservation, is a particular strength of the country. However, there is still room for improvement in a number of areas, for example almost 60% of adults are overweight.

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