African countries & the issues of food insecurity

A new United Nations report warned indicates that four countries contain spots on problems of food insecurity and could potentially fall into famine if conditions in the coming months experience “any further deterioration.” These include northeastern Nigeria, South Sudan, Burkina Faso in the Sahel region of West Africa and Yemen.

In the Early Warning Analysis of Acute Food Insecurity Hotspots, published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the causes of these looming crisis are a toxic-mix of conflicts, climate extremes, economic decline and the COVID-19 pandemic that is driving people further into the food insecurity emergency phase.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), which is used by humanitarians to gauge food security levels on a scale of one to five, defined famine as the most serious type of hunger. A famine declaration applies to only areas where “at least one in five households has or is most likely to have serious food security,” and or where severe mortality, directly due to outright hunger or to the interaction of malnutrition and disease, occurs or may occur.

A critical hunger situation is already being reported from parts of the population in the four hotspots of the greatest concern, with the report warning that conflict escalations, as well as further reductions in humanitarian access, could lead to a risk of famine. Although in the report, these four nations are far from being the only red flags on a global map that shows that, caused by a variety of factors, acute food insecurity levels are hitting new highs globally, and there is a high risk of growing levels of acute hunger in other 16 countries.

Why raising the alarm?

The report was necessitated as for the at-risk nations to brace up in avoiding a series of emergencies. It also serves as a call to action for the international community to be supportive. The report also mentions that in those four hotspots discovered, conflict dynamics, food prices, and the various impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their food systems, rainfall and harvest outcomes, humanitarian access, and the willingness of donors to continue funding humanitarian operations will depend on how the situation progresses.

The report is a straightforward call to immediate action, said Dominique Burgeon, FAO’s Director of Emergencies and Resilience. “We are deeply concerned about the combined impact of several crises which are eroding people’s ability to produce and access food, leaving them more and more at risk of the most extreme hunger. We need access to these populations to ensure they have food and the means to produce food and improve their livelihoods to prevent a worst-case scenario.”

Margot van der Velden, WFP Director of Emergencies related the issue to how Somalia experienced a famine in 2011 that killed 260,000 people. The famine was proclaimed in July, but by May most people had died already. Thus, there is an urgent need for action to avoid this catastrophe. “When we declare a famine it means many lives have already been lost. If we wait to find that out for sure, people are already dead.”

More so, there are reports that almost 20 countries are more at risk of worsening acute food insecurity with the main drivers include economic crises aggravated by the socio-economic effects of COVID-19, severe weather conditions and Desert Locust ravaging some parts of the regions in Africa and Asia.


Looking at the dwindling farm supplies, climate change and high food prices, investing in research and development to boost soil fertility and agricultural productivity, increasing disaster resilience and enhancing disaster management, and supporting social safety nets (such as drought insurance) are some of the policy that needs to be prioritized.

Climate change and famine do not respect borders, so African countries need to work together to create resilience to adverse effects of climate change. In Africa’s five regions, many of the countries share trans-border natural resources on which millions of livelihoods rely. Ecosystems that are subject to similar climate change impacts on livelihoods are shared by countries within the same region. In these cases, the best approach for working together to preserve the shared trans-boundary ecosystems is through regional cooperation.

Regional development and cooperation can enhance the competitiveness of African countries for agricultural and economic growth and can also address issues of human security. Human protection implies access to the basic needs of life, such as food, shelter, clothes, education and health care and good governance.

Most importantly, African Union (AU) and other regional organizations need to collaborate with the private sectors and NGOs and acknowledge the potentials for sustainable intensification as an engine of growth in terms of food security, better nutrition and more resilient rural livelihoods. Also, assisting African farmers to increase their production and income while safeguarding the environment provides a balanced and realistic way forward.

Educator, writer and legal researcher at Alafarika for Studies and Consultancy.

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