Report

For Lack of Will: Child Hunger in Africa

Author:
African Child Policy Forum
Source:
African Child Policy Forum
Contributor:
Publication Year:
2019
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-Being

This report examines the persistent and rising problem of child hunger as a driver of child mortality in Africa and includes key findings, lessons learned, and policy recommendations.

 

Key Findings and Messages

 

Child hunger is unacceptably high and on the rise

Millions of children in Africa go hungry

  • Ninety per cent of children do not meet the criteria for minimum acceptable diet.
  • Sixty per cent of children do not meet the minimum meal frequency.
  • In 2017 alone 14 million children were affected by wasting.

Child hunger has huge personal, social and economic costs

  • Globally, a child dies every three seconds due to hunger, which is equivalent to 10,000 children everyday.
  • In low and middle income countries, child undernutrition contributes to about 45% of under-5 child mortality. One third of child deaths in Africa is attributable to micronutrient deficiencies.
  • Children’s physical and mental development depends on the amount and quality of food they take, especially in the first 1000 days or the first two years of life. Children who get insufficient food are likely to develop less optimally than others – they are stunted and suffer from health complications.
  • Hunger has immediate and long-lasting adverse effects on the physical, emotional and intellectual development of children, on their life-time experiences and earnings, and on a country’s economic performance. Hungry, stunted children do less well in school and suffer from low self-esteem. They are less healthy and productive, earn less and therefore have lower incomes as adults than their peers. All of this of course has direct impact on a country’s economic performance. It is estimated that child hunger costs African countries between 1.9 and 16.5% of their GDP. Stunting alone is estimated to have reduced Africa’s present GDP per capita by 10%. Ensuring that children have enough food is, therefore, not as glibly characterized a “social welfare” waste, but an investment in people’s wellbeing, social justice and a country’s economic future.
  • On the other hand, by failing to invest in nutrition early in children’s lives, countries will miss out from making huge savings. For every dollar spent on nutrition early in a child’s life, up to USD 85 can be saved in Nigeria, USD 80 in Sudan, and USD 60 in Kenya.
  • A reduction of the prevalence of undernutrition to half of the 2009 level by the year 2025 can generate annual average savings ranging from USD 3 million to USD 376 million.
  • A study covering 15 African countries showed that meeting the 2025 World Health Assembly target for stunting will add USD 83 billion to national incomes.

Poverty is the number one driver of child hunger

  • Access to food is primarily the result of poverty and inequalities in income. The proportion of people in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa was estimated at 41% in 2015. Poverty is especially serious amongst children.
  • The proportion of children in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa was estimated to be 49% in 2013.

Child hunger is worsened by inadequate political commitment

Government efforts to protect the rights of children to food have not been enough

  • Africa is not on track to meet SDG 2 of ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture by 2030.
  • African countries committed themselves to an African Regional Nutrition Strategy (2015-2025) with ambitious targets. Yet, more than half of African countries are currently off course to meet the targets set out in this Strategy.
  • Only ten countries met their commitment under the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme to allocate at least 10% of their annual public expenditure to agriculture.
  • Thirty-four countries are off course to meet the target of reducing childhood wasting to less than five per cent by 2025.
  • And, only 9 countries are on course to meet the target of reducing stunting by 40% by 2025.

Countries that are child-friendly, according to ACPF’s Child-Friendliness Index, and have placed children at the centre of their public policy, have fewer children going hungry

  • Countries such as Mauritius and South Africa, which are among the most child-friendly countries, according the Child-friendliness Index, ranked the lowest in the Global Hunger Index.
  • Central African Republic and Chad, which are at the bottom of the Child-friendliness Index, ranked the highest in the Global Hunger Index, characterized as having an “extremely alarming” and “alarming” levels of hunger, respectively.

Uneven and unequal economic growth

  • Growth in Africa over the last two decades has been impressive by historical and world standards. But it has not been inclusive, with little impact on child hunger. Economic growth, without appropriate pro-poor policies, is not sufficient to address child hunger. For example:
    • Despite a 2% average annual growth in GDP per capita, stunting in Kenya increased by 2.5%.
    • In the DRC, despite a 2% average annual increase in GDP per capita, the decline in stunting was only 0.5%.
    • A 4% average annual growth in GDP per capita did not lead to any reduction in stunting in Nigeria.

A broken food system that hampers access to nutritious food

  • Increases in food production have not resulted in better quality diets for children.
  • Agricultural production focuses more on major cereal crops than on more nutritious food such as pulses, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Nutrient-dense foods are in limited supply, inaccessible or unaffordable.
  • In Ethiopia, for instance, eggs, meat, fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables each contributed less than 1% to the food energy supply, and dairy products contributed less than 2%.

Child hunger is compounded by economic and gender inequality

Children from poor and rural backgrounds suffer the most from hunger

  • In some countries, the prevalence of stunting is twice as high among rural children as among urban children.

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by hunger

  • Globally, about 60 percent of people who go hungry are female.
  • Nearly half a billion women and girls, a large number of whom live in Asia and Africa, do not have access to nutritious food.
  • 110 million women of reproductive age in Africa suffer from anaemia, facing the risks of higher rates of morbidity and mortality for both the mother and the child and impairing the child’s cognitive potential.

Conflict and climate change have complicated the continent’s child hunger dynamics

Politically stable countries have fewer numbers of children going hungry

  • Three quarters of all stunted children under the age of five live in countries affected by armed conflict.
  • The proportion of undernourished children is 2-3 times higher in zones where there are protracted conflicts than in other zones. Access to food markets and humanitarian food aid is impossible in many conflict zones.
  • In 2017, conflict was the major driver of acute food insecurity in 18 countries where almost 74 million food-insecure people were in need of urgent assistance.
  • In some active conflicts, starvation is still used by warring parties as a weapon of war. Countries hard-hit by climate change and extreme weather conditions faced the largest food emergency
  • In 2015-16, following the El Niño phenomenon, more than 10 million people needed food aid in Ethiopia, while about 40 million people in the southern African region suffered food insecurity.
  • In 2017, climate shocks led to acute food insecurity in 23 countries, affecting over 39 million people, the majority of which were in Africa. This included 8.5 million in Ethiopia, 5.1 million in Malawi, 4.1 million in Zimbabwe, and 3.4 million in Kenya.
  • By 2050, due to adverse climate change effect, water availability will be reduced resulting in potential mean production losses for sub-Saharan Africa which are 22 percent for maize, 17 per cent for sorghum and millet and 18 per cent for groundnut.

Countries hard-hit by climate change and extreme weather conditions faced the largest food emergency

  • In 2015-16, following the El Niño phenomenon, more than 10 million people needed food aid in Ethiopia, while about 40 million people in the southern African region suffered food insecurity.
  • In 2017, climate shocks led to acute food insecurity in 23 countries, affecting over 39 million people, the majority of which were in Africa. This included 8.5 million in Ethiopia, 5.1 million in Malawi, 4.1 million in Zimbabwe, and 3.4 million in Kenya.
  • By 2050, due to adverse climate change effect, water availability will be reduced resulting in potential mean production losses for sub-Saharan Africa which are 22 percent for maize, 17 per cent for sorghum and millet and 18 per cent for groundnut.

What is to be done?

Recognise the urgency of child hunger and ensure greater political commitment

  • Africa will have to feed 2.2 billion people and a billion children and young people by 2050. The political trajectory and the economic and technological future of the continent will be determined by how well fed and educated these one billion children and young people are. ACPF studies on the current state of child nutrition and quality of education suggest a very serious human development crisis unfolding unless radical and transformative policies are put in place. This therefore means that there must be government commitment to giving greater political visibility to ending child hunger.
  • Specifically, ending child hunger and children’s right to food must be entrenched in constitutional and other legal instruments.

Adopt an economic and budgetary policy that is pro-children and pro-poor

  • Children should come first in the design of economic, especially budgetary policies. The merit of budgetary policies should be anchored to the question of whether or not or how far governments are making the maximum effort to provide for the physical wellbeing, the health and education of children and young people.
  • This also means adopting policies that are pro-poor and investing in sectors and communities where the poor live especially rural areas. Governments must commit at least 10% of annual public expenditure to agriculture as agreed in the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme.

Adopt a policy of universal access to food for all children

  • No child should go hungry. This is a moral and development imperative. In the same way that the principle of universal access to education and, in some countries, universal access to health is now accepted as a commonly accepted and integral part of the social contract, African governments must commit themselves to the principle that no child should ever go hungry and therefore to the principle of universal access to minimum acceptable diet for all children.
  • This should be complemented by a policy that provides targeted safety net programmes for the poor and the vulnerable, especially women.

Develop nutrition-sensitive and nutrition-focused policies targeting early childhood and mothers

  • Nutrition policies should prioritise the critical first thousand days from conception through to the first two years of life and mothers.
  • Implementing nutrition-related behavioural change programmes leads to positive outcomes in child wellbeing.

Institute school-feeding programmes

  • Schools can be an effective means of assuring that no child goes hungry. Complex though they may be, governments should adopt locally or community-tailored school- feeding programmes involving parents and local communities.

Bridge the gap between rhetoric and action

  • One of the most serious and recurring problems in the policy area is the gap between policy commitments and practice. In this, as in other social and development areas, a critical area for government attention is improving policy coordination and building implementation capacity. The need for such improvement is especially important to prevent and respond to climatic vulnerabilities and conflicts.

Establish a mechanism for regular monitoring and accountability

  • Governments should establish a mechanism for statistically monitoring their performance to end child hunger.
  • Knowledge or statistics is the foundation for effective action. Governments should promote evidence-based policy making and ensure that monitoring data feeds into policy and programmatic action.
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