- Eastern Africa and Western Africa account for 70 per cent of Africa’s population unable to afford a healthy diet.
- About 30 per cent of Africa’s children bear the indelible mark of stunted growth, a cruel consequence of malnutrition.
- Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger emerged with the highest prevalence rates of child wasting above 10 per cent.
Food crisis in Africa is deepening with a new report showing that an estimated one billion people in the continent are unable to afford a healthy diet. Painting a grim picture for the continent, the Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition – Statistics and Trends 2023 report adds that a total of 282 million people in Africa, roughly 20 percent of the population, including millions of children, are undernourished. This distressing statistic sadly reflects an increase of 57 million people since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“After a long period of improvement between 2000 and 2010, hunger has worsened substantially and most of this deterioration occurred between 2019 and 2022” during the pandemic, the report said.
Overall, the continent is confronting an unprecedented food crisis, according to the report launched this week by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the African Union Commission (AUC), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and the World Food Programme (WFP) notes.
East and West Africa hit hard by unraveling food crisis
According to the report, more than a billion people, a significant fraction of Africa’s populace, are finding themselves ensnared in a harrowing reality where the prospect of affording a healthy diet is but a distant mirage.
In 2021, over three-quarters (77.5 per cent) of the population in Africa or one billion people were unable to afford a healthy diet. This number represents about one-third of the global population that was in such a situation.
Eastern Africa and Western Africa were home to almost 70 per cent of Africa’s population who were unable to afford a healthy diet, the survey notes. At the sub-regional level, an estimated 362 million people (84.6 per cent of the population) in Eastern Africa and 350 million people (85.4 per cent of the population) in Western Africa were unable to afford a healthy diet in 2021.
Across Africa’s largest economy Nigeria, which is a leading crude oil exporter, a staggering 93 per cent of the country’s population of over 210 million people cannot afford a healthy diet, the report indicates.
Relatively fewer people were affected in Southern Africa (46 million), Northern Africa (128.5 million) and Central Africa (154.5 million), although they represent more than half of the total population in these subregions.
African children bearing the brunt of food crisis
Amidst this harsh deprivation, the innocence of Africa’s future—its children—bears the brunt of this unraveling crisis. The report lays bare a chilling statistic: around 30 percent of Africa’s children, the custodians of the continent’s tomorrows, bear the indelible mark of stunted growth, a cruel consequence of malnutrition.
As the sunken eyes of these children reflect the weight of a future curtailed by hunger, the collective failure of economies and the international community to safeguard their well-being echoes through the corridors of time.
Moreover, the disconcerting revelation that Africa languishes off-track to meet the food security and nutrition targets set forth by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 deepens the specter of an impending catastrophe.
The Malabo targets, ambitiously aiming to eradicate hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2025, remain elusive dreams in the harsh light of the current reality. In this narrative, the urgency to confront and rectify the systemic failures that perpetuate the continent’s food insecurity becomes not just a moral imperative but an existential one—a call to action that resonates with the gravity of a continent teetering on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.
“The deterioration of the food security situation and the lack of progress towards the WHO global nutrition targets make it imperative for countries to step up their efforts if they are to achieve a world without hunger and malnutrition by 2030,” FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa Abebe Haile-Gabriel said in the report’s joint foreword, together with Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment at the AUC, Hanan Morsy, Deputy Executive Secretary and Chief Economist at ECA, and Stanlake Samkange, Senior Director for Strategic Partnerships at WFP.
Children with stunted growth
On a global scale, the year 2022 witnessed a staggering reality where more than one in five children under the age of five—equivalent to 148.1 million young lives—experienced stunted growth. Within the African continent, the prevalence of stunting among children in this age group stands at an alarming 30 percent, a figure notably surpassing the global estimate of 22.3 per cent.
While both Northern Africa and Southern Africa align closely with the global estimate, other subregions exhibit significantly higher prevalence rates. Of particular concern, Central Africa emerges as the subregion most severely affected, grappling with a distressing prevalence rate of 37.4 per cent. This disheartening statistic sheds light on the disproportionate burden borne by young lives in this region, emphasizing the urgent need for targeted interventions to address the pressing issue of childhood stunting.
At country level, the prevalence of stunting in 2022 was particularly high (above 35 percent) in ten countries including Niger, Sudan, Libya, Mozambique, Madagascar, Eritrea, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and Angola.
Child wasting across Africa
According to the report, significant disparities in child wasting prevail across nations, as indicated by the most recent estimates spanning the period from 2015 to 2022. Ten countries, predominantly in Western Africa, surpassed the global estimate of 6.8 percent for child wasting prevalence.
Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger emerged with the highest prevalence rates, surpassing 10 per cent. Contrastingly, the prevalence of wasting is less than 4 per cent in 14 countries. Among these nations, Lesotho, Morocco, Rwanda, and Tunisia stood out with particularly low prevalence rates, each falling below 2.5 per cent.
These findings underscore the need for targeted interventions, especially in regions where the burden of child wasting is most pronounced, to address and mitigate the impact of this pressing health concern.
Wasting refers to a form of malnutrition whereby a child is too thin for his or her height. Wasting is the result of recent rapid weight loss or the failure to gain weight. It is a life-threatening condition caused by insufficient intake or malabsorption of energy and nutrients and/or frequent or prolonged illness.
A child who is moderately or severely wasted has an increased risk of death, but treatment is possible. Children suffering from wasting have weakened immunity, increasing their risk of death due to greater frequency and severity of common infection, particularly when severe.
Overweight among children under five years
According to the report, the incidence of overweight in children under five years old in Southern Africa surpasses the global estimate, with South Africa and Botswana recording the highest prevalence in the subregion. However, there exists variability within the subregion, as Namibia and Lesotho exhibit considerably lower prevalence rates, approximately 5 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively.
In Central Africa, the nations of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea report the highest prevalence of overweight, while Comoros and Seychelles lead in Eastern Africa, and Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia in Northern Africa.
On a broader scale, a significant number of countries witnessed a surge in the prevalence of overweight among children under five years old between the years 2000 and 2022.
“We hope the findings will trigger the momentum for agrifood systems transformation along with other systems such as education, health and energy, for better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all,” the UN agencies explained.