Map shows the food supply gap between rich and poor countries
FAO has released a world map with the latest authoritative figures on food availability, at national, regional and global levels. The map puts a figure to the food gap between the world's poorest and richest nations and shows significant differences in the types of foods that make up daily diets in different parts of the world.
If the available food was distributed according to need, it would be sufficient to feed everyone in the world, according to the map, providing 2 720 kcal per person per day. But the reality is that 17 countries have severe food supply problems, with a DES of less than 2 000 kcal. A further 37 have DES levels between 2 000 and 2 299 kcal.
Based on data from the period 1994-96, the map does not reflect the effects of recent natural disasters, economic crises and conflicts.
How DES is calculated
DES is an estimate of the average daily food energy available per person over a given period - that is, the food that countries produce or import for human consumption. It is not an indicator of what people actually eat. Nor does it show inequity in the distribution of available supplies within countries.
Nevertheless, national DES levels clearly indicate which countries have food supply problems and a large proportion of the population suffering from chronic undernutrition. The map shows the countries suffering the severest shortages - with a DES of less than 2 000 kcal - in red. They are almost all in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to FAO, per caput availability of food - DES - has to be considerably more than per caput needs - to compensate for wastage at retail and household level and inequitable access - if people are to be adequately fed. FAO uses food balance sheets - supplied by the countries - that track the supply and utilization of food, to calculate the DES levels.
Diets high in cereals and tubers are low in micronutrients
The map also shows large differences in the composition of the average diet in industrialized and developing countries. Slightly more than one quarter of the diet in industrialized countries is provided by cereals, another quarter by meat, fish, eggs, milk and cheese.
In the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, nearly half the diet (46 percent) is made up of cereals and a further 20 percent by tubers. In the least developed countries, cereals and roots and tubers make up nearly three-quarters of the daily diet.
Cereals and tubers provide food energy, but "they do not contain adequate levels of other essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, proteins and fat," said John Lupien, Director of FAO's Food and Nutrition Division. Diets with over 75 percent of calories from cereals can be "very unbalanced," he said.
In most of the industrialized countries, fat intake is high and obesity widespread, FAO said. Diet-related illnesses, such as cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure, are considered to be a major public health problem.
Access to food is the real problem
"If you look at the world as a whole, there is enough food produced to feed each person, each day," said Lupien. "But it isn't happening because it's access to food that's the real problem."
"Within countries, and even within households, food is not always equally distributed," said Hartwig de Haen, FAO Assistant Director-General. "To ensure nutritional well-being, every individual must have access at all times to sufficient supplies of a variety of safe, good quality foods".
According to figures released by FAO in this year's State of Food and Agriculture, there are 828 million chronically undernourished people in developing countries. In addition to this, an estimated two billion people are affected by micronutrient deficiencies of vitamin A, iron and iodine.
Go to Press Release for country listing
9 December 1998