Hunger levels in Africa south of the Sahara remain among the highest in the world, according to the latest Global Hunger Index (GHI), released today by IFPRI, Concern Worldwide, and Welthungerhilfe.
The 2017 GHI, which ranks hunger levels based on four indicators (undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting, and child mortality), reports that hunger levels have declined globally since 2000 by around 27 percent. During the same period, the GHI score for Africa south of the Sahara saw the largest reduction in absolute GHI values of any region - a decline of 14 points. However, the 2017 report finds that, despite this progress, Africa south of the Sahara remains in the serious range with a GHI score of 29.4. Only South Asia, with 30.9 points, has higher levels of hunger. In Africa south of the Sahara, the two indicators that appear to be driving the region’s high GHI score are child mortality and overall undernourishment. Undernourishment in the region has remained virtually unchanged from its 2007-2009 levels at 22 percent. This is the highest regional undernourishment rate in the world. Rising food prices, political instability and conflict, and severe droughts all play a role in this stagnation, the report suggests.
At the national level, Africa south of the Sahara is home to seven of the eight countries ranked as having extremely alarming or alarming hunger levels – Central African Republic, Chad, Liberia, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Zambia. The report cites ongoing conflict as one of the major driving factors behind the high hunger levels seen in these countries. In addition, several African countries that were not able to be ranked due to insufficient data - Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Libya, Somalia and South Sudan – remain a significant food security concern. Famine was declared in South Sudan in early 2017, and near-famine conditions have been identified in Somalia.
Numerous countries in the region have improved their food security status, however. For example, the report finds that Angola, Ethiopia, and Rwanda have all improved their GHI scores from the extremely alarming category in 2000 to the serious category in 2017, despite experiencing violent conflict and famine in recent decades. While stunting and child mortality rates in these countries remain high, their recovery from the highest levels of hunger and undernutrition show that recovery from such shocks is possible. In addition, the report cites that Angola, Gabon, and Mali have achieved undernourishment rates below 15 percent as of 2014-2016. These improves are due in large part to increased investment in the agricultural sector and improvements in agricultural productivity.
Kenya offers another case of impressive improvement; Kenya’s GHI score has dropped by 44 percent from 2000. This decrease moves the country’s ranking from alarming to serious, verging on moderate. Steady economic growth in recent years and investments in improving food security and nutrition have played an important role in this progress. In 2012, Kenya established a National Nutrition Action Plan and stepped up investments in agricultural, disaster resilience, and other food security-related programs. The country does continue to face challenges, however, with progress in some areas lagging behind. In particular, the drought that has hit the country in 2016-2017 has had significant negative impact on harvests and livestock production and has played a role in rising food prices. The GHI report cites research suggesting that to address these challenges, Kenya needs national nutrition interventions in addition to immediate drought-relief packages.
The 2017 GHI also provides sub-national data for child stunting and finds wide disparities within countries. For example, some countries that have relatively low national stunting rates still have states or regions with high stunting levels. Gabon is one such case. The national stunting rate is 16.5 percent in Gabon; however, stunting within the country varies widely. In the sparsely populated northeastern region, stunting rates reach as high as 34.5 percent, while in the two largest cities, stunting rates are only 10.6 percent. Similar situations exist in many other countries in the region. For example, in Tanzania, the national stunting rate is around 35 percent; however, within the country, stunting rates range from around 15 to 60 percent. The report indicates that these discrepancies can be explained by unequal distribution of countries’ resources, with poverty and hunger more common in rural, isolated areas.
Inequality is also posing a problem for food security in Nigeria, where near-famine conditions were declared in early 2017 in the northeast portion of the country. In this region, 4.5 million people are facing or are at risk of facing famine due to ongoing conflict. However, Nigeria as a whole is relatively food-secure, with a GHI score of 25.5. Similarly, child stunting ranges widely within Nigeria, between 8 and 63 percent with a national average of around 35 percent.
The disparities among and within countries highlights that a one-size-fits-all approach to hunger reduction will not be effective. To achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger in all its forms while ensuring that no population is left behind will require policymakers and international organizations to examine and address the causes of this inequality. The GHI provides several policy recommendations to do so, including fostering democratic governance of national food systems, increasing support for smallholder farmers, increasing the equality of women and other marginalized groups through improved education and social safety nets, and creating strong regulatory frameworks to uphold human rights, environmental standards, and food safety and sovereignty.
By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI