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Publication | 2023

Commission Staff Working Document - Drivers of food security

This staff working document aims at analysing the main drivers affecting food security from both the supply and demand sides. Relying on an evidence-based approach, this document provides a factual assessment of the key drivers and their interlinkages, to inform the ongoing debate in today’s context. It looks at short and longer term horizons and linkages between the drivers. Stakeholder views, collected through specific consultations, have been taken into account in the analysis.


Food availability is not at risk in the EU today. The EU is largely self-sufficient for key agricultural products and achieves a stable overall food export surplus.

However, the current food price inflation endangers food affordability for the most vulnerable households. Special attention needs to be paid to low-income households that are not able to access diverse, healthy, and nutritious food due to the expected persistence of high levels of food prices and high energy prices in a context of low economic growth or even recession in some countries in the short-term.

The analysis confirms that the production is facing increasing pressure on natural resources (water scarcity, pollution, decreasing soil fertility, and air pollution), pollinators decline, pests and diseases, reduction of biodiversity and ecosystem services as well as the multi-facetted impacts of climate change. The analysis also recognises that the ability to ensure food security in the long-term requires policy interventions that reinforce sustainability and resilience of the food system in view of the pressure on climate or natural resources. Research and innovation, technological development, knowledge transfer and reskilling are key enabling factors to achieve higher efficiency on food production while minimising the effects on natural resources.

Globally, acute food insecurity is increasing and affected up to 222 million people in 53 countries/territories in mid-2022. The situation is likely to deteriorate further in many countries and ‘hunger hotspots’. Soaring food prices are especially affecting the poorest households in developing countries as they often spend more than 50% of their income on food. An estimated 3.1 billion people (42% of the world population) could not afford a healthy diet in 2020. Food insecurity increases humanitarian needs and fuels social unrest, instability, and conflict, and vice versa. It can also weaken the respect of human rights and exacerbate gender inequality.

While EU centred the document also identifies the main drivers of food security in low-income countries:

  • Demographic driver: the world’s population is projected to grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030 and reach a peak of around 10.4 billion people during the 2080s. More than half of the population increase projected through 2050 will derive from Sub-Saharan African countries. Global food production will have to continue to increase, though by how much will depend on consumer food choices and the ability to reduce food losses and waste (current estimates range between 35 and 60%). Urbanization is expected to put additional stress on food systems by changing food demands.

  • The majority of the food insecure population in low-income countries resides in rural areas and depends on farming for most of their income. Farm income is therefore a direct and crucial determinant of many households’ economic access to food in low-income countries. For households that are net sellers of food, the positive effect of food price increases on farm gate prices and income may outweigh the negative effect on the increased cost of purchased food. For countries depending on food imports and subsidising bread, the high share of food in the overall national economies means a high exposure to food insecurity drivers increasing fragility and costs for subsidies with rising food price.

  • Food loss tends to be a particularly serious problem in low-income countries because of poor drying and storage handling or weak postharvest infrastructure (estimated at 21.4% for sub-Saharan Africa in 2020). In the context of low-income countries, reducing food loss (especially on-farm losses) would not only contribute to food availability, but also to income growth and therefore food access.

  • Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa also depend heavily if not completely on imports for their use of agricultural inputs. This import dependency renders them particularly vulnerable to price increases on world markets. In addition, their relatively lower use of agricultural inputs implies that these countries are smaller markets that are likely to be bypassed by producers and traders in case of limited supplies.

  • Challenges such as desertification, land degradation, and water scarcity are particularly affecting food security globally.

  • Finally, the negative effects of conflicts on global food security, nutrition and primary production are uncontested. In 2021, 10 countries were home to 70% of people experiencing acute hunger. In seven of these, conflict was the primary driver of acute food insecurity.

The analysis concludes that in an uncertain and volatile context, the transition to a sustainable food system should continue to guide the EU’s political, policy, and programme action. At global level, there is a need to ensure effective multilateralism, support diversification, increase market transparency, and avoid trade-restrictive policy measures.