'More than three in 10' in East Africa undernourished, says UN

The United Nations have declared that the number of people going hungry is increasing for the third year running. A report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the UN Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization, said reaching the target of zero hunger by 2030 is “an immense challenge”.

More than 820 million people worldwide are not getting enough food, with the situation most alarming in Africa, the report says. Africa "has the highest rates of hunger in the world" and the rates are rising in some of the continent's sub-regions. The report says that in East Africa more than three in 10 of the population are undernourished. Across the continent, "in addition to climate and conflict, economic slowdowns and downturns are driving the rise. 

"Since 2011, almost half the countries where rising hunger occurred due to economic slowdowns or stagnation were in Africa," it added.

While hunger remains widespread, obesity also continues to rise in all regions. Africa and Asia are home to nearly three-quarters of all overweight children worldwide, according to the report that says it is largely driven by consumption of unhealthy diets.

An article by the guardian yesterday revealed: “wiping out hunger in Africa could cost $5bn.” Yet billions are are already spent on humanitarian aid each year, yet nearly 60 million children across Africa go to bed hungry.

Richer donor countries need to show they are serious about helping to eradicate malnutrition and hunger by ripping off the bandage of food aid. This sounds counterintuitive, but donors need to invest in agriculture and local food manufacturing instead so that African countries can become self-sufficient. But this requires a bold new approach funded by public-private investment. Local food projects exist, but few are capable of scale. The answer lies in initiatives such as Africa Improved Foods (AIF). Started two years ago in Rwanda, it is the first big public-private partnership in Africa to specifically address malnutrition and hidden hunger.

In one year of operation, and with an investment of only $70m (£55m), it has already helped more than two million people to avert malnutrition. AIF purchases locally grown maize and other crops from more than 24,000 smallholder farmers – mostly women – at set prices that guarantee a predictable income for them. These crops are locally processed in a factory in Kigali, where a nutritious “super cereal” is produced for mothers and young kids in the region.

Food security in Africa is an achievable goal. Private companies need to step forward to invest in that brighter future. Together with local farmers and governments, we can eradicate hunger in Africa.

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