Hunger in Africa Highest in World

While global hunger has fallen significantly since 2000, hunger levels in Africa south of the Sahara remain high – they are, in fact, the highest in the world. This is the finding of the 2016 Global Hunger Index , released today by IFPRI, Concern Worldwide, and Welthungerhilfe.

Specifically, hunger in the developing world (measured by prevalence of undernutrition, prevalence of wasting and stunting in children, and rate of under-five mortality) fell by 29 percent between 2000 and 2016. However, Africa south of the Sahara has the highest GHI ranking, at 30.1, and is home to five of the seven countries around the world still at “alarming” hunger levels. The Central African Republic, Chad, and Zambia have the highest levels of hunger in this year’s report (46.1, 44.3, and 39, respectively), and Madagascar and Sierra Leone are not far behind (at 35.4 and 35, respectively). The report finds that around half of the population of the CAR and Zambia are undernourished. In addition, the CAR and Chad have also experienced relatively low percentage reductions in hunger since 2000, caused by prolonged civil war and recent extreme weather events which have reduced food production.

In addition to conflict and poor weather conditions, a lack of data also presents a challenge to reducing hunger in Africa south of the Sahara. GHI scores for several countries in the region (Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan) could not be calculated due to insufficient data; however, the existing literature, especially regarding child undernutrition and child mortality, suggests that these countries are at particular risk for extremely high levels of hunger. Without up-to-date data, however, identifying and addressing the specific barriers that these countries face in terms of feeding their populations will be difficult.

The report also highlights that data is essential at the subnational level because variations in GHI indicator values often exist within countries. For example, GHI indicators vary widely within Zambia and Sierra Leone; having a more in-depth understanding of these subnational variations can help governments and researchers identify areas in crisis or where progress on hunger indicators is lagging behind, allowing for the creation of policies and programs specifically tailored to the challenges faced in these communities.

Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe have also released a series of country case stud ies to supplement the GHI; two African countries (Malawi and Burundi) are covered in this series. The case study finds that in Burundi, child stunting remains very high, at 57.5 percent; in addition, as much as 81 percent of the Burundian population is classified as poor, and 50 percent live in severe poverty. A recent period of socio-political instability has resulted in drastically decreased foreign bilateral aid and a large internally displaced population. Despite these challenges, however, the report cites that Burundi’s fertile land, mild climate, and mineral wealth and comparative advantage in the agricultural sector compared to its neighbors also give the country with enormous potential for growth and for reaching the goal of zero hunger. Government programs and development interventions should focus on stabilizing the population’s food consumption levels, reinforcing good nutrition and education practices, and increasing households’ opportunities to engage in income-generating activities, particularly in rural areas. Such policies and programs will require strong political commitment, increased funding from both government agencies and international development partners, and coordination among all stakeholders.

In Malawi, the agricultural sector has grown rapidly in recent years, and as much as 80 percent of the population depends on subsistence farming for their livelihoods. The case study finds that 20.7 percent of the Malawian population is undernourished and 37 percent of children are stunted. Addressing the causes of these high hunger levels has been a priority for the Malawian government, and there has been strong commitment from both government agencies and international donors to ending malnutrition. The Government of Malawi is currently working on a 2016-2020 National Nutrition Policy and an accompanying Operational Plan to address barriers (such as high transport costs and lack of data and training) that remain in the implementation of nutrition and health services. This established national plan will help policymakers and development partners not only respond to and treat existing undernutrition, but prevent undernutrition in the future and achieve the goal of zero hunger. The case study emphasizes, however, that meeting these goals will require additional domestic funding for nutrition and health programs.

The 2016 GHI concludes with several policy recommendations for how individual countries, and the world as a whole, can achieve zero hunger by 2030.  These include: increased political commitments that integrate nutrition and hunger goals into national development plans and that provide long-term financing and coordinated action across key sectors (such as the agricultural, health, and education sectors); a focus on innovative approaches to minimize food loss and waste, prioritize agricultural production for food and nutrition security, and improve smallholder productivity; the need to address structural inequalities to ensure that vulnerable populations, such as women and minority groups, are included in growth and are ensured equal food and nutrition security; and improved data collection to more accurately measure and monitor progress toward food and nutrition security goals.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI