An alarming new report has shown that global hunger is on the rise for a second successive year.
The 2023 Global Report on Food Crises found that in 2022, over 258 million people in 58 countries and territories around the world experienced a level of acute food insecurity that required urgent food, nutrition and livelihood assistance. This is a worrying 34% increase on the previous figure of 193 million people in 2021.
A subsequent UN Food and Agriculture Organization report also identified 18 ‘hunger hotspots’ across 22 countries, where hunger is projected to worsen. The report calls for urgent action to save lives and livelihoods.
What has caused this rise in global hunger?
There is no single cause of the current rising levels of food insecurity and global hunger, but rather a combination of factors. These include weather extremes, displacement, conflict and economic shocks.
All of these are interconnected and are ruining lives at a rate never seen before.
Before we look at these different factors in more detail, first let’s have a quick recap of what exactly we mean by food security and insecurity.
What does food security mean?
Back in 1996, delegates at the World Food Summit, agreed a definition of food security as: ‘when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.’ The definition is based on four criteria:
- The physical availability of food
- Economic and physical access to food
- Food utilisation
- Stability of the other three dimensions over time
What are the different phases of food security?
The Global Report on Food Crises figures are based on the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) and the Cadre Harmonisé (CH).
The IPC/CH food security classification ranges in severity from Phase 1 Minimal, to Phase 5 Catastrophe/Famine.
Acute food insecurity occurs at IPC/CH Phase 3 and above. At these stages, urgent food, nutrition and livelihood intervention is required.
- Phase 1 Minimal: Basic requirements for both food and non-food items can be met without resorting to unsustainable methods.
- Phase 2 Stressed: A basic level of food consumption but a struggle to afford important non-food items without financial strain.
- Phase 3 Crisis: Food consumption gaps leading to higher than average rates of acute malnutrition, loss of livelihoods, and/or a reliance on crisis coping methods.
- Phase 4 Emergency: Major food consumption gaps leading to severe acute malnutrition, excessive mortality rates, or extreme loss of livelihood assets. Emergency coping strategies may be resorted to in order to address these challenges.
- Phase 5 Catastrophe: Dire conditions marked by extreme deprivation of food and/or other essential necessities. The situation here can lead to starvation, death, destitution, and critical levels of acute malnutrition.
What led to the rise in global food insecurity?
Now we’ll look at the factors contributing to the alarming rise in global food insecurity, in more detail.
Weather extremes and climate change
The effects of the ongoing climate crisis had a devastating impact on food security in many of the countries where Self Help Africa is working, in 2022.
This is laid bare in the figures from the report – showing weather extremes as the main driver of acute food insecurity in 12 countries – where nearly 57 million people were in IPC/CH Phase 3 or above. This is more than double the number of people in 2021.
Africa bore the worst brunt here – almost no part of the continent was spared from erratic weather. The most severe extremes were the Horn of Africa drought – unprecedented in severity. There were storms, cyclones and further drought in Southern Africa, as well as unusually heavy rainfall and flooding in parts of East Africa and West Africa.
Weather extremes were the main cause of food insecurity in countries where Self Help Africa works including Malawi, Zambia, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
An in-depth look at the impact of the Horn of Africa drought:
Last year saw a once-in-a-generation drought in the Horn of Africa prompt a humanitarian catastrophe that remains ongoing. There was a sharp increase in food insecurity, with countless crops ruined and total crop failure reported in parts of south eastern Kenya. Estimates from January this year put the number of livestock dead owing to the drought at almost 11 million. This also has a knock-on effect on child nutrition with a dramatically depleted milk supply. Even of the animals that survived, many stopped producing milk.
Most significantly, the drought led to a heartbreaking loss of life, with estimates putting this at one person dying every 48 seconds in 2022. And the drought is sadly far from over.
- The worst-affected countries were Ethiopia and Kenya, where Self Help Africa are working, as well as Somalia, where a famine situation was only very narrowly avoidedEconomic Shocks
Included here is the ongoing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ongoing war in Ukraine. This demonstrates the interconnectedness of all these factors, with the war in UKraine of course being a huge part of the conflict factor as well.
- Conflict and the war in Ukraine
The ongoing war in Ukraine played a huge role in inflated international food prices in early 2022, with agricultural production disrupted. Prior to the start of the war in 2022, Russia and Ukraine contributed nearly 30% of global wheat exports. Eastern Africa, which meets most of its wheat demand through imports, gets 90% of its imported wheat from the two countries.
In 2022, the war in Ukraine drove international food prices up to an all-time high in February, reflected in the UN FAO’s Food Price Index. The Index tracks monthly changes in the price of a basket of common food items, including cereals, vegetable oils, dairy, meat and sugar.
People being forced from their homes in ever-increasing numbers is both a cause and consequence of food insecurity. When people are forced to flee their homes, often they lose everything – their livelihoods, support network, access to markets, access to essential services, and more.
What is Self Help Africa doing?
People in seven countries experienced the Catastrophe level at some stage in 2022, including in Burkina Faso, a country where Self Help Africa is working. As of January 2023, there are more than 1.9 million people in Burkina Faso with significant humanitarian needs. In the North and Centre North regions where Self Help Africa is working, the food security crisis has led to a depletion of household food stocks, a high demand for food in markets that are becoming increasingly inaccessible and isolated. There has been a surge in prices in markets that are still accessible.
Commenting on the findings of the report, Self Help Africa’s Gender and Nutrition Advisor in Burkina Faso, Yacouba Balogo, said: “Working in Burkina Faso since 2006, Self Help Africa have extensive experience of supporting communities to recover from crisis. For example, a recent evaluation of a large scale programme supporting more than 600,000 smallholder farmers, showed that 96% of households surveyed were meeting minimum food requirements.
We recognise that to meet growing global challenges, we must work together. To that effect, Self Help Africa are part of an EU-funded consortium called SustIn Africa. With 15 partners in Africa and Europe, we’re working to develop innovative technologies that support the intensification of African farming systems in a self-sufficient, sustainable and resilient manner.
In mid-2023, Self Help Africa will also launch an Irish Aid-funded project to support the promotion of sustainable and inclusive food systems, and to improve the resilience of vulnerable households in Burkina Faso. The figures cited in the Global Food Crises Report are incredibly concerning and we are working here every day here at Self Help Africa Burkina Faso to ensure that these catastrophic levels of food insecurity do not continue.”
What can we do about the food security crisis?
The number of people facing acute food insecurity is simply unacceptable. We must take urgent action – now.
Acting quicker means less food gaps and also protects livelihoods and other valuable assets like livestock, than later interventions such as emergency food aid. Indeed, the cost of this life-saving food itself has also risen dramatically – not immune from the dramatic global food prices rises.
What’s the forecast for 2023?
Unfortunately, things are not looking hopeful for an improvement any time soon. A number of recent shocks have happened that are likely to negatively affect food security. These shocks were too recent to be factored into the 2023 Global Food Crises Report.
In Madagascar, Malawi and Mozambique, the impact of Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which struck in March 2023, is expected to affect food insecurity for at least the rest of this year.
And projections for 2023 unfortunately show a sharp deterioration in food security again for Kenya. The population facing IPC Phase 3 or higher is predicted to increase by 25% in 2023 – or to 5.4 million people – the highest in the history of the GRFC – with the main reason being the continued impacts of the continued drought – as well as high food prices.
Is there anything I can do?
Food security is at the heart of Self Help Africa’s work across 15 countries in Africa, and Brazil and Bangladesh. We consider agriculture the key to reducing hunger and poverty in rural areas. Agriculture is fundamental to the sustainable food systems we promote – which are addressing chronic under-nutrition, and are focused on healthy, safe and affordable diets for all.
But the climate crisis is making this more challenging than ever. Your support makes possible the work of Self Help Africa – striving every day to alleviate hunger, poverty, social inequality and the impact of climate change.