Hunger continues to be on the rise in Africa south of the Sahara, according to the 2020 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) Report, released in mid-July.
The latest edition of the report estimates that around the world, almost 690 million people, or 8.9 percent of the global population, were undernourished in 2019. Two hundred and fifty million of these people lived in Africa. Of the continent’s total population, 19.1 percent were undernourished in 2019. This is the highest rate of population undernourished (PoU) in the world and represents an increase from 17.6 percent from 2014.
The majority of Africa’s undernourished population live south of the Sahara, with 234.7 million out of a total 250 million located in the region. In addition, the number of undernourished people in SSA has increased by around 32 million since 2015. The growth in hunger south of the Sahara has particularly impacted the Eastern and Western sub-regions, where the number of undernourished people rose from 95 million to 117.9 million and from 36.9 million to 59.4 million, respectively, between 2005 and 2019. Middle Africa also saw significant growth in hunger during this period, from 39.7 million to 51.9 million.
As cited in a variety of other reports, such as the Global Report on Food Crises, the main drivers of increasing undernourishment and hunger in Africa south of the Sahara are conflict, climate change-related shocks and extreme weather events, and economic challenges.
Burundi, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Malia, northeast Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan have all experienced persistent conflict in recent years. These prolonged conflicts have limited populations’ access to food and agricultural inputs and have had a particularly harmful impact on the livelihoods of rural households. In addition, as conflict displaces populations, these migrants place increased pressure on the food systems of neighboring countries: in the current case, mostly the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Sudan.
Climate change and related unpredictable weather patterns have reduced crop yields in parts of SSA as well in recent years. For example, the Horn of Africa has experienced lowered yields of maize, sorghum, and groundnuts – critical products for both domestic producers and domestic consumers. Drought in Eastern and Southern Africa, including Madagascar, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, has also contributed to rising hunger. These environmental shocks have exacerbated existing competition over scarce natural resources, worsening the cycle of conflict and hunger.
Economic downturns have also played a leading role in rising hunger levels in SSA. In Western Africa, negative economic factors have gone hand in hand with increased undernourishment in Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Côte d’Ivoire.
The report forecast that even without the potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Africa is significantly off track to achieve the SDG goal of zero hunger by 2030. The continent’s PoU could reach as high as 25.7 if current trends persist. This would mean almost 433 million people undernourished across the continent in 2030, with 412 million of those in SSA.
The 2020 SOFI Report also examines the varying dimensions of malnutrition, including child wasting, child stunting, and adult and child overweight and obesity.
In 2019, Africa accounted for 40 percent of the world’s stunted children. South of the Sahara, the prevalence of stunting has decreased in recent years from 34.5 to 31.1 percent; however, this rate of decline will not be sufficient to reach SDG goals for 2030. In addition, while prevalence of stunting has decreased, the overall number of stunted children has actually increased in SSA between 2012 and 2019, from 51.2 million to 52.4 million. SSA is the only sub-region in the world with a rising number of stunted children.
Twenty-four percent of the world’s 38.3 million overweight children lived in Africa in 2019. However, the region has the lowest prevalence of children overweight, at 4.7 percent. The report finds that Africa as a whole has been successful in stopping the trend of increasing childhood overweight but is still off track in terms of reaching the SDG target of 3 percent by 2030.
There are important links between dietary quality and the foregoing food security and nutrition outcomes. For many people in Africa south of the Sahara, a healthy diet (defined by variety/diversity, adequacy, moderation and overall balance) is simply unaffordable and inaccessible. To address this problem, policy makers, researchers, and private sector stakeholders will need to work together in a food-systems approach to make nutritious foods more widely available and affordable. Such an approach would include increasing productivity and diversification in food production, reducing pre- and post-harvest losses, and enacting effective agricultural, financial, and trade policies that protect and strengthen food systems at the local, regional, and global level. Policymakers in the region also need to emphasize conflict reduction and strengthen social safety nets for vulnerable populations.
The 2020 SOFI Report was launched on July 14 with a virtual seminar hosted by FAO North America and IFPRI. Watch a recording of the webinar here.
Sara Gustafson is a freelance writer.