Hunger and malnutrition are huge problems affecting many countries in Africa. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that hunger is a physical feeling of discomfort caused by not getting enough energy-rich foods. Malnutrition, on the other hand, is a broad term that includes both undernutrition and overnutrition. Africa's health, education, and economic growth are all greatly affected by hunger and malnutrition. Hunger levels vary across Africa, but they are generally high in low-income countries. Malnutrition also varies a lot from one country to the next. For example, in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa, up to 40% of children under five are stunted, while in other parts of the world, underweight and wasting are far less common.
Indeed, the magnitude of hunger and malnutrition in Africa is staggering. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported that there were over 225 million people suffering from hunger in 2020 across sub-Saharan Africa alone. Since at least 2015, this number has been steadily going up. In addition to this alarming number, it is thought that more than one in every three children under the age of five is stunted or too short for their age because of chronic malnutrition. This is the highest rate in the world outside of South Asia, and nearly half of them are anaemic because they don't get enough iron.
People go hungry in Africa for three main reasons: economic factors, social factors, and environmental factors. Some specific contributors to hunger and malnutrition include: Poverty: Many households can't get enough healthy food because they don't have enough money or jobs. Inequality: Rich and poor households have different access to food. Weak infrastructure: Poor roads can make it hard to get to markets where food can be bought. Volatile markets: Prices for staple foods can change a lot depending on the weather or other factors. Government policies: subsidies for agricultural inputs can make farming more profitable but may not reach those most in need. Trade policies: Protectionist policies can get in the way of imports and exports, which can make food more expensive or harder to get, depending on where you live. Debt crises: Some countries have too much debt, which makes it hard to invest in agriculture and other things. Gender inequalities (women face disproportionate barriers to accessing education or job opportunities) and urbanisation (density increases competition for access to resources) have also been identified as major contributors to hunger and malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa. In the same way, environmental factors like land degradation (caused by erosion or cutting down trees) and crop pests and diseases (which lower yields) also play a role, even though they do so indirectly by reducing the amount of food available per person and causing prices to go up, which some families can't afford.
Because the causes of hunger and malnutrition are so complicated, we will need help from different sectors if we want to make real progress in reducing this problem on a large scale. In the end, the solutions may include both big and small steps, such as educating vulnerable groups (like the elderly and pregnant women) about nutrition and getting them to eat a variety of foods. It is important to strengthen local markets by making transportation better, which will make food and nutrition easier to get and cheaper. Larger-scale projects are also important, like investing in renewable energy sources so that rural communities can get electricity to process or store food before selling it at local markets. It is important to think about giving subsidies and loans to smallholder farmers so they can buy quality inputs that help them get higher yields. It is also very important to put more money into agricultural research and development that focuses on making drought-resistant varieties with more nutrients.
Overall, reducing or ending hunger and malnutrition requires a long-term commitment and effective implementation strategies that are made to fit each situation. This is because needs vary from place to place and even within a country due to the unique problems each region (and country) faces. Thus, multi-sectoral interventions are necessary if we are going to tackle this issue head-on. In this situation, people from the public sector, private sector, and civil society need to work together to use evidence-driven approaches and technology-enabled solutions that help with sharing information, transparency, and holding each other accountable. These measures may lead to the healthier and happier lives that everyone deserves, no matter where they live or how much money they have.
This article was produced using artificial intelligence tools available on the CARTA Evidence platform. This article is a summary of some research papers (co)-authored by PhD fellows. It was edited by Jude Igumbor, and the original sources are listed below.
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