Over 20 million hungry as AU misses targets in “Year of Nutrition”

(Last Updated On: 19 February 2023)

Despite many promises, commitments, and endorsements of policies, nearly three-quarters of African governments reduced their agricultural budgets while spending almost doubling spending on arms

In the 12 months that African leaders vowed to improve food security on the continent, over 20 million more people have been pushed into severe hunger – equivalent to the entire population of Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe combined.

“The hunger African people are facing today is a direct result of inadequate political choices. In a year marred with global inflation and climate disasters, African leaders should have stepped up to their responsibility,” said Fati N’Zi-Hassane, Oxfam in Africa Director.

Lingering underinvestment in agriculture is a key cause of the prevalent hunger experienced in 2022.

The majority of African governments (48 out of 54) reportedly spend an average of 3.8 per cent of their budgets on agriculture -some spending as little as one per cent.

Nearly three-quarters of these governments have reduced their share of the budget spent on agriculture since 2019, failing to honour their Malabo commitments to invest at least 10% of their budget on agriculture.

In contrast, African governments spent nearly double that budget (6.4%) on arms last year. Ongoing conflict, especially in the Sahel and Central Africa, has continued to destroy farmland, displace people and fuel hunger.

“Even though African women spend about 60% of their time on agricultural activities, they continue to be subdued with unfavourable climatic conditions,” echoed Memory Kachambwa, the Executive Director, Africa Women’s development and Communications Network (FEMNET).

“African women must be at the centre of climate adaptation because they are affected the most,” she added.

With no major government support to farmers (particularly women small-scale farmers) or adequate climate adaptation, production of staple food like cereals dropped last year, despite the continent possessing nearly a quarter of the world’s agricultural land.

Today a fifth of the African population (278m) is undernourished, and 55 million of its children under the age of five are stunted due to severe malnutrition.

Worsening climate-fuelled droughts and floods, and a global rise in fuel and fertilizers prices, made food unobtainable for millions of people. In 2022 alone, food inflation rose by double digits in all but ten African countries.

“During the rainy season, we did not have money to pay for fertilizers. On top of that, our donkey died, so I had to cultivate our field with a daba [a simple ploughing tool]. The attic is empty,” says Sidbou, a female farmer in Burkina Faso.

As the 36th AU Summit – which focuses on intra-continental free trade this year– begins today, millions of smallholder farmers, who are vital food producers in the continent, cannot reach markets in neighbouring countries due to poor infrastructure and high intra-African tariffs. Many African nations find it cheaper to import food from outside the continent than from their next-door neighbour.

“As Africa’s Heads of State meet today at this year’s Summit, let this not be another year of broken promises. We urge them to honour commitments they collectively made almost 10 years ago by investing in agriculture and supporting smallholder farmers,” said N’Zi-Hassane.

“African leaders must also take serious steps to free up intra-continental trade to help local farmers. They must equally ramp up programmes to help people rebuild their lives and cope with recurrent climatic shocks,” added N’Zi-Hassane.

Important Notes

As of August 2022 (the last available figure), there were 139.95 million people in 35 African countries living in Crisis or worse (IPC 3 or higher) acute food insecurity. That is an increase of 17% (20.26 million people) over the same number a year earlier (119.69 million people). 

While, this increase can be attributed to both a worsening acute food insecurity situation and an expansion in the population analyzed between 2021 and 2022, even when considering the share of the analyzed population in IPC3+ equivalent, the proportion of the population in these phases has increased in 2022 compared to 2021. Source: Global Report on Food Crises Mid-Year Update 2022 .

  • The population of Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe combined is approximately 21.3 million according to WorldoMeter in February 2023.
  • Malnutrition figures from the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022
  • The average spending on military as a share of the total budget is 6.43% (2021) as reported by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, while the average spending in agriculture (2021) was 3.8% as reported on GovernmentSpendingWatch
  • South Sudan spends less than 1% of its budget on Agriculture. Calculations of all agricultural spending in Africa is based on data from the government spending watch. , national budgets and FAO.
  • According to the CAADP report: and the FAO Crop Prospects report, Africa’s cereal production in 2022 was 207.4 million tons, a decline of 3.4 million tons from the average of the previous five years. 
  •   COVID-19 in addition to climate change resulted in decrease of access to input, food production, food transportation and distribution and processing. 
  •  In 2014 African leaders signed the Malabo Declaration, which stipulated that African governments must spend at least 10% of their budget on Agriculture and supporting farmers.
  • In 2022, food inflation rose by double digits in all Africa countries except ten. Source: Trading economics.

By Henry Neondo, Ethiopia.

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