The number of chronically undernourished people in sub-Saharan Africa has increased by 24 million between 2015 and 2016, according to a new report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Adverse climatic conditions, conflict, and increasingly challenging global economic conditions are key factors driving the recent increase in food insecurity, the report states.
“The number of undernourished people rose from 200 to 224 million, accounting for 25 percent of the 815 million people undernourished in the world in 2016,” said Bukar Tijani, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa.
According to the report, the forces driving these trends in food insecurity differ from country to country. However, conflict and climate change are the two major drivers of hunger in the region. In sub-Saharan Africa, the prevalence of undernourishment is about twice as high in conflict-affected countries than in countries not affected by conflict. Nutrition outcomes, such as child stunting, are also generally worse in these countries.
The impact of conflict on food insecurity may also be amplified by climate change, the report argues. A recent FAO study shows that the risk of conflict increases for each additional year of growing-season drought, especially in low-income countries. Adverse climatic conditions can also negatively impact crop yields, fish stocks, and livestock health and productivity, reducing both food availability and farmer incomes. A reduction in food supply due to climate change will also lead to a rise in food prices, the report states. With reduced incomes due to harvest losses and increased food prices, subsistence farmers become especially vulnerable to food insecurity.
“With climate change, the concurrence of conflict and climate-related natural disasters is likely to increase. This not only magnifies problems of food insecurity and nutrition, but also adds another stressor that exacerbates the potential for conflict, protracted crisis, and continued fragility, ” the report stresses.
The FAO provides recommendations for investing in food security and agriculture to help prevent conflict and achieve lasting peace in the region. These include strengthening livelihood support measures, community-based approaches, and institutional capacities to address the root causes of conflict and reduce inequality.
“Because agriculture plays a very important role in the livelihoods of people in many sub-Saharan African countries, policies and interventions that build resilience of farm households and mitigate potential causes of conflict, such as disputes over water and land, can contribute to sustaining peace.”