SA IS ranked 40th out of 105 countries in terms of foodsecurity preparedness, but is the top-ranked African country in the Food Security Index (FSI) devised by the Economist Intelligence Unit and published yesterday.

The study was sponsored by DuPont, a US producer of chemicals, including agricultural chemicals.

The FSI could provide valuable information to SA's farmers about shortages and affordability. Maize farmers, in SA in particular, have been the indirect beneficiaries of regional droughts that have caused grain shortages in neighbouring countries. Aid agencies then buy grain from the nearest (and cheapest) source to ship to countries in need.

The index was further broken down into income per capita categories. When assessed against other upper-middle income countries, SA was 13th out of 28, with Chile, Russia and Mexico taking the top three positions.

For the purpose of the index, food security was defined as the state in which people at all times have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient and nutritious food for a healthy and active life.

The goal of the study was to assess which countries were most and least vulnerable to food insecurity in terms of affordability, availability, and nutritional quality and safety.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has for many years run the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping System to help predict regional food shortages.

The FSI is a quantitative and qualitative index, constructed from more than 25 indicators, and measures the drivers of food security in developed and developing countries. While many organisations conduct food security research, this effort is distinct for two main reasons. First, the study looks beyond hunger to the underlying factors affecting food insecurity. Second, the study adjusts for food-price fluctuations to examine the risk countries face throughout the year.

In May, DuPont and the Earth Institute of Columbia University announced a collaboration to create a rapid soil information system to help Ethiopian farmers to test soil and receive recommendations to improve crop yields. DuPont will spend $1m over three years for the pilot project.

Yesterday, DuPont's president of nutrition and health, Craig Binetti, said the firm had committed itself to spending $10bn on R&D in food security by 2020.

Central banks raised interest rates in the first half of last year due to rising food inflation. African central banks followed suit in the second half. Of the 90 major central banks, 34 made net increases to their interest rates, 21 made net reductions, and 35 kept their rates unchanged.

preussh@bdfm.co.za