Figures of the week: Ending rural hunger in Africa

World Food Day was October 16, a day for reflection on and commitment for nations and people on global progress towards eradicating hunger. The developing world and Africa especially have made huge steps towards protecting food and nutrition security (FNS), but there is still a long way to go: The latest Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) figures reveal that nearly 800 million people in the world are food insecure. In recognition of World Food Day, the Global Economy and Development program at Brookings presented a new report entitled, “Ending Rural Hunger: Mapping Needs, Policies, and Resources in Africa,” which examines the state of rural hunger throughout sub-Saharan Africa and the domestic, regional, and international efforts aiming to eliminate hunger in the continent by 2030.

The report’s FNS needs index measures the extent to which people have physical, social, and economic access to safe food in a sufficient quantity and quality to allow for a healthy and active lifestyle.[1] It includes indicators grouped in four categories: Access to Food, Malnutrition, Agricultural Productivity Gaps, and Vulnerability. According to the report, the countries with the highest FNS needs in the region are Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Eritrea, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Zambia (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Top 10 African countries with highest FNS needs



Malnutrition and access to food

Undernourishment—the share of the population with food consumption below minimum energy requirements—and inadequate access to food represent significant challenge for many African countries. According to the report, while Africa has decreased the prevalence of undernourishment from 28 percent to 20 percent between 1992 to 2015 (Figure 2), the absolute number of undernourished people has actually increased by 49 million to 230 million due to population growth. By 2030, under current trends, Africa will have lowered the prevalence of undernourishment to 14.5 percent, but because of population growth, the number of undernourished people would increase to over 240 million. The authors state that, to end hunger in Africa by 2030, the region must triple its current rate of progress.

Figure 2: Prevalence of undernourishment in Africa: Historical trends and projections



Malnutrition is not only an individual’s inability to meet the suggested minimum calorie intake, but is also the lack of a diverse, healthy diet. In Africa, 16 countries have high rates of malnutrition; however, the prevalence of childhood stunting, a common indicator of malnutrition, decreased from 48 percent in the 1990s to 32 percent today (Figure 3). Again, the authors note, while Africa has made impressive strides in eliminating childhood stunting and related indicators, the rate of progress is not quick enough to guarantee its complete elimination by 2030: Under current trend rates, the report notes, the prevalence of stunting will remain at a stubbornly high 26 percent.

Figure 3: Ending malnutrition in Africa: Prevalence of (population-weighted) stunting in Africa



Agricultural activity

The report highlights that over 22 African countries are hindered by significant agricultural productivity gaps, especially output, technological, and infrastructure gaps. Increasing agricultural productivity increases farmers’ incomes, keeps food prices low, and reduces hunger. Current cereal yield per hectare, a measure of agricultural productivity, remains at a low 1.3 metric tons per hectare. According to the authors, in order to reach the threshold for sustained agricultural productivity growth, which leads to broader economic transformation—commonly thought to be at least 2 metric tons per hectare—Africa needs to increase its productivity growth from 0.7 percent to 3.6 percent by 2030.

Figure 4: Transforming agricultural productivity in low-yield African countries



While Africa has made impressive progress towards the goal of zero hunger by 2030, there is still a long way to go, as outlined by the report. Smart domestic agricultural policies at the top of countries’ political and economic agendas will lay the foundation for advances in Africa while greater public and private donor investment in FNS will give policymakers the resources to drive further improvements. All stakeholders have key roles to play in order to eliminate hunger by 2030.

For recommendations on the targeted policies and resources necessary to end rural hunger in Africa, see sections two and three of “Ending Rural Hunger: Mapping Needs, Policies, and Resources in Africa.”

Junaid Belo-Osagie contributed to this post.

[1] Adapted from Committee on World Food Security 39, October 2012 definition.