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Current state of food security in Africa and the Africa–EU partnership on the Millennium Development Goals

Working papers

Written by Steve Wiggins, Sharada Keats

This paper, prepared for Second Joint Experts Group Meeting, Africa-EU MDGs Partnership, Sub Group on Priority Action 2: Accelerate the Food Security targets of the MDGs, (24 March 2009, Pretoria) has been drafted to summarise the current state of food security in Africa and relate this to activities that form part of the EU-Africa partnership on the Millennium Development Goals, that would allow keys gaps in the programme to be identified.

The recent record on hunger and malnutrition

FAO (2008) estimates that in 2003/05 the number of Africans who were undernourished was around 217M, out of 848M inhabitants, about one quarter the population. While since the early 1990s the proportion of people living in hunger has fallen —for Sub-Saharan Africa, the fraction has been reduced from 34% to 30% — absolute numbers have been rising. Progress towards meeting Indicator 5 of the MDGs, halving the proportion not getting an adequate intake of food, has been minimal. That said, there are great variations across the regions of the continent and between countries.

n North Africa and West Africa have markedly lower prevalence of undernourishment than other parts of the continent, with fractions below 5% and at 14%, respectively in the most recently reported period;

n Prevalence has been rising in Central Africa and, fractionally, in North Africa. Elsewhere prevalence has fallen since the early 1990s;

n The only part of Africa that has reduced prevalence at the rate necessary to meet the MDG target for 2015 is West Africa,

Looking at the nutrition of infants, seen in stunting levels in national surveys since 1990, the record shows much variation. In general, however,

n For the 27 countries for which statistics exist, 17 show lower rates of stunting for the most recent survey compared to the earliest, while only 10 show a deterioration. Overall it seems, nutrition is improving; but,

n Levels of stunting are often high, at rates of one third or more. Even when surveys showing falling levels of malnutrition, improvements are often small. Hardly a single country — Senegal may be an exception —looks as though it will halve the level of stunting seen in the early 1990s by 2015.

In sum, the picture is diverse. In the broadest terms, both series of statistics tend to show an improvement in undernourishment and stunting; but generally the rate of progress has been slow and well behind that needed to meet the MDG targets. There is, however, great diversity of experience across countries suggesting that the most reliable insights may only apply in national analyses.

Factors influencing hunger and malnutrition

Statistics have been collected to examine the three sets of factors expected to affect food security: food availability, access to it, and utilisation of food.

Availability per capita of staple food — cereals, roots and tubers —in Africa has been rising since the mid-1990s. With more than 2,500 kcal available per person, there is enough to feed everyone adequately — Africa rates more highly than South Asia on this measure.

There is much variation in both the levels of food availability and trends since 1990 across regions and between countries. Generally, Northern and Western Africa show higher levels and rising trends: performance in the rest of the continent is more variable.

As proxy indicators for access to food, the record on economic growth per capita, the value of agricultural production against rural population as a rough measure of rural incomes, and reported poverty rates were examined.

Steve Wiggins and Sharada Keats