Malnutrition in Africa

Every day nearly 13,000 African children died before reaching their fifth birthday (Source: UNICEF global databases). Undernutrition is an underlying cause for around half of all child deaths. In spite of progress in agricultural growth, more than 200 million people (a third of the population) still suffer from malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa is the hottest and the second driest continent in the world. Deserts and arid zones cover more than 60% of its total area and fresh water is unevenly distributed across countries and regions due to variability in rainfall patterns. Only 10% of potential farmland is used by agriculture and the agricultural potential of more than a quarter of these soils is considered low.

Knowing that 95% of Africa's agriculture is rain-fed, water scarcity is obviously a major cause of hunger. But Africa combines a range of other environmental and human factors that underlie this situation:

- an average population growth of 2.32%, almost the double of the global average rate of 1.24% per year (UN 2007) ;
- degraded soils and lack of fertilizer use: it is estimated that 65% of African agricultural land are degraded in response to erosion and/or to chemical and physical damage. 31% of African pasture and 19% of forests and wooded areas are also considered as degraded (FAO 2005) ;
- poor infrastructure (only 4% of crop area is irrigated) and poorly developed markets ;
- poor investment in agricultural R&D ;
- spread of HIV/AIDS (agricultural knowledge is being lost, as people die before they can pass it on to the next generation) ;
- conflicts, which threatens the ability of millions to get enough to eat by keeping farmers from their land ;
- worldwide increase in food prices: for every 1% increase in food prices, food expenditure in developing countries decreases by 0.75%. And while household spending on food the US accounts for just 10% of income, it constitutes more than 60% of income in Sub-Saharan Africa

Rising prices have plunged an additional 75 million people below the hunger threshold, bringing the estimated number of undernourished people worldwide to 923 million in 2007. High food prices have reversed the previously positive trend towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by half the proportion of people suffering from hunger worldwide by 2015.

Africa has 14 percent of the world population but accounts for only three percent 
of the world energy consumption - Source: FAO

Effect of climate change

Although Africa contributes only about 3.8% of total greenhouse gas emissions, its inhabitants are projected to suffer disproportionately from the consequences of global climate change. Its countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change in the world due to a warmer climate, more exposure to rainfall, poor soils and flood plains. The negative effects of climate change range from droughts and desertification, to more frequent and serious storms, intense rainfalls and floods.

95% of Africa's agriculture is rain-fed, making African farmers susceptible to climate variability and change. One report estimates that due to the effects of climate change, the number of undernourished people in Sub-Saharan Africa will have tripled from 1990 to 2080.

Given the economic constraints, Africa's capacity to adapt to climate change is relatively low, making the potential impact of any change on the environment extremely violent. In many areas, tiny changes in precipitation and water availability can have dramatic consequences on agricultural production and food security as a whole.

Projected changes in agricultural productivity due to climate change (Source: WRI)


Africa Atlas of our changing environment - UNEP
Africa: Food Security Hostage to Climate Trends - 
Food Security and Nutrition Trends in West Africa - Challenges and the Way Forewards - FAO 
Monitoring the situation of children and women: a special focus - UNICEF 
The Millennium Development Goals Report - UN 
The State of Africa’s Children 2008 - UNICEF 
Undernourishment around the world - FAO 

This page was written in 2009, as additional information to the poster series "10 years of Imaging the Earth"