Seventy-five per cent of countries on the African continent and several Arab countries face an impending food crisis, a new study has revealed.
Maplecroft’s Food Security Risk Index, a report released on Wednesday, found that in a survey of 197 countries worldwide, up to 39 of the 59 most at risk of food insecurity were African countries.
"Although a food crisis has not emerged yet, there is potential for food-related upheaval across the most vulnerable regions," including sub-Saharan African and Arab states, Helen Hodge, head of maps and indices at Maplecroft, said.
Maplecroft said that low crop yields had pushed global food prices up by six per cent in July 2012, raising concerns of a repeat of the 2007/2008 food crisis.
The crisis had culminated in a series of food riots across several countries, including Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Mexico, Senegal and Yemen.
“Food price forecasts for 2013 provide a worrying picture,” Hodge said.
The British consultancy said that despite strong economic growth on the African continent, food security remained an issue of primary importance, citing armed conflict, civil unrest, drought, displacement and poor governance as excerbating factors in creating conditions for a food crisis.
Nine out of the 11 countries in the "extreme risk" category were in Africa.
They include Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), which are ranked joint first, Burundi (4th), Chad (5th), Ethiopia (6th), Eritrea (7th), South Sudan (9th), the Comoros (10th) and Sierra Leone (11th).
Haiti (3rd) and Afghanistan (8th) are the other two countries in the extreme risk category.
The 48 countries considered to be at "high" risk for food supplies include Yemen (15th), Syria (16th), Pakistan (27th), Papua New Guinea (33rd), North Korea (35th), Iraq (54th) and Libya (58th).
Egypt, ranked 71st of the 197 countries, and Tunisia, 100th, are among medium-risk countries.
Sources of food insecurity range from conflict and instability in the Sahel, DR Congo and eastern Africa to rising prices for corn, caused by the worst US drought in 50 years and declining production in former Soviet countries, Maplecroft said.
The report, called the Food Security Risk Index, is intended for governments, NGOs and businesses to identify countries that could be susceptible to hunger or unrest because of food shortages or price hikes.
"The drivers of the 'Arab Awakening [Spring]' were varied and complex and included long-standing public anger at high levels of governmental corruption and oppressive tactics against populations and political opposition," said Maplecroft.
"When these factors combine with food insecurity, sparked by rising global prices, it can create an environment for social unrest and regime change."
Notable changes compared to last year's rankings were North Korea (19th on the 2011 list); Egypt (88th) and Syria (89th).