AFRICAN UNION LEADERS are meeting at an important summit this weekend (5-6 February) to launch a ‘year of nutrition’ amid worsening levels of hunger and malnutrition that are now threatening sustainable development across the entire continent.

One in five people (282 million) is now under-nourished and 93 million in 36 African countries are suffering extreme levels of hunger. Women and children are hit hardest. In Sub-Saharan Africa, one in three children under five is stunted by chronic undernutrition while two out of five women of childbearing age are anemic because of poor diets.

The UN estimates that food prices in Sub-Saharan Africa are now 30-40 per cent higher than the rest of the world, taking into account comparative levels of GDP per capita.

Oxfam’s Pan-African Programme Director Peter Kamalingin says: “The triple threat of the climate crisis, Covi-19, and conflict will require an extraordinary response from African leaders. Many countries have already taken important steps, increasing investment in healthcare, providing shock responsive social protection systems, and empowering local, women-led, peacebuilding initiatives. However, such actions are still too few and far between.”

“People are having to skip meals to feed their children, selling livestock and other assets, begging, pulling children out of school, or harvesting immature crops. Over three million people in Somalia have recently migrated, in large part because of hunger, while millions of households in pastoralist communities in Chad, Benin, Niger, Mali and Mauritania say they are having to sell more animals than they otherwise would to pay for more food”, said Kamalingin.

Historical injustices, inequality and wealth extraction have left generations of Africans poor and national economies indebted. Africa has stood last in line for Covid vaccines as the rich world hogged supplies. The continent has also been hit hardest by climate change and is already heating at a faster rate than the global average of 1.2 degrees.

“While the deck seems stacked against Africa, there is a lot more that African leaders can do to improve food security. Instead of allocating 15 per cent of national budgets to the health sector and 10 per cent to agriculture, military spending across Africa rose by over five per cent in 2020. African leaders must prioritise food, trade and medicines over bullets, guns and bombs”, said Kamalingin.

Twenty African countries are today facing insecurity and conflict including seven coups in the last year alone. In Ethiopia – the home of the AU – conflict has contributed to catastrophic levels of food insecurity in the Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions.

“AU leaders must make better, more effective use of all existing mechanisms they have to prevent and resolve conflicts”, said Kamalingin.

How regions have been impacted:

  • The Horn of Africa is experiencing one of its most severe droughts in 40 years, following three back-to-back poor rainy seasons, and there are active conflicts across Ethiopia and Somalia. Nearly 15 million people are suffering from extreme hunger and severe water shortages.
  • In West Africa, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance could rise to 35.7 million during the lean season from June to August 2022.
  • In Southern Africa, communities in southern Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Malawi are struggling to cope with the cumulative consequences of climatic shocks and Covid-19 economic shocks. Until the 2022 harvest begins in April, many countries, including Madagascar, will continue to rely on food assistance.

Farmers and pastoralists have been particularly hit by food insecurity. Droughts on the continent have destroyed thousands of hectares of crops and depleted livestock, often a primary source of income. Covid-19 restrictions have caused delays in the trade of critical agricultural inputs like fertiliser.

Jean-Paul Ndopoye, president of the Union des Riziculteurs de Paoua (URP) in the Central African Republic told Oxfam: “Our major problem is the sale of farm products. With the security crisis and the calamitous state of the roads, we can no longer travel to sell these products in neighbouring towns and countries such as Chad. Our wish is to be connected to profitable marketing channels to sell all these products.”

Achta Bintou, who was displaced from her home and now lives in the Amma site in Lake Chad told Oxfam: “Today, the crisis has completely changed our lives. We had to move from Boma to the Amma site where we live in a makeshift shelter that barely hides the sun. Our water is not drinkable and we cannot get enough to eat. Imagine your diet dropping from three meals a day to one.”

Ahead of the Africa Union Summit, Oxfam calls upon African leaders to:

  • Meet the targets laid out in the 2014 Malabo Declaration to halve poverty and end hunger by 2025 by increasing agricultural investment to at least 10 per cent of government budgets; encouraging women and youth in agricultural businesses and boosting intra-African agricultural trade.
  • Develop national agricultural investment plans that are gender-sensitive and climate-proof, which seek primarily to support small-scale farmers in non-cash crop sectors.
  • Commit to non-violent conflict resolution and enforce the African Peace and Security mechanisms which prevent and resolve conflict. They should ensure that international humanitarian law is respected in conflicts and condemn human rights violations and bring perpetrators to account.
  • Ensure that safe humanitarian access is granted to those most in need.
  • Adopt the draft Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Citizens to Social Protection and Social Security and encourage member states to sign and ratify it, in order to ensure universal access to adequate food and nutrition and to address vulnerability and inequality.
  • Ensure national humanitarian organisations at the forefront of addressing the hunger crisis are at heart and centre of the political effort to resolve it.
  • Drawing lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic injustices, and collectively investing in partnerships that secure long-term health for Africans, including allocating 15 per cent of annual budgets to health as per the Abuja declaration.
  • Redouble Africa’s political voice to urge heavy carbon emitters, like China and the United States, to reduce their emissions, pay for the loss and damage that the climate crisis is causing in Africa, and to support Africa in mitigating the impact of climate change.

* Read the draft  Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Citizens to Social Protection and Social Security here.

* Source: Oxfam International