Rising inflation forces greater attention to food insecurity in Africa

bottom line

  • Global economic trends – exacerbated by climate change, violence, COVID-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – threaten food security in Africa
  • Food scarcity not only leads to famine, but is directly related to other challenges such as conflict and violence, democratic backsliding and access to human rights, and obstacles to sustainable development
  • The escalating food crisis in Africa requires immediate and conscious attention from the global community with specific actions to increase food production, reduce supply chain costs and accelerate distribution

A generational challenge

Food security in sub-Saharan Africa is among the greatest challenges of this generation, a crisis that continues to worsen amid this economic downturn and will ultimately underpin further humanitarian struggles without committed and comprehensive intervention.

It is estimated that between 275 million and 350 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are currently food insecure, with around 60 percent of the continent’s population experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity, according to the latest World Bank data. With costs rising close to home, it’s easy to overlook the fact that for much of the developing world, inflation means more than higher prices – it means conflict, famine and hunger instead.

Global economic conditions are exacerbating the acute food security challenge for a variety of communities across Africa. Current conflicts and climate trends over the past year, combined with rising inflation, are creating a worst-case scenario that can create an intergenerational food crisis across the continent.

In particular, the rising costs of food production supply chain components such as fertilisers, logistics and energy as a result of an ongoing COVID recovery, regulatory changes in most developing countries and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have led to significant price jumps and processing and production shortages. Developed economies around the world are experiencing their worst labor shortages in more than a decade due to the ongoing impact of COVID. Efforts to produce food in the world’s largest economies are severely strained as the three key components of agricultural supply – energy, fertilizer and labor – face extreme market pressures and price volatility. Global food prices have reached their highest level in forty years.

The pressure on the world’s most food vulnerable countries is staggering. Many of the most threatened are in Africa, and several organizations that track food insecurity identify the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia — among other sub-Saharan African countries — as the most vulnerable situations.

Food insecurity in Africa is getting worse

The recent United Nations State of food security and nutrition in the world The report underscores the need for a conscious food supply strategy that also counteracts inflation. More than 800 million people are at risk of food insecurity worldwide, including nearly 300 million who are unable to meet their basic caloric needs and are most at risk of starvation. Catastrophic food shortages have continued to increase over the past two years, and the report shows that moderate and severe insecurity has increased most in Africa, with sub-Saharan Africa continuing to have the highest rates of both severity levels.

The balance of food supply and demand in Africa (or food availability versus demand) is already unsustainable, and the countries with the most pressing needs are highly dependent on commercial and humanitarian links to the economies of North America, Europe and Africa dependent on Asia. But that confidence is being stretched amid the larger economic shock being experienced around the world.

The International Monetary Fund expects forecasts for global economic growth to fall by nearly 50 percent in 2022, with the biggest shifts in advanced economies. In fact, the fund’s most recent outlook assumes that advanced economies will do just as badly in 2023. Although emerging markets have declined to a lesser extent and are projected to recover in 2023, the realities of global energy and food supplies, foreign direct investment and humanitarian needs will affect African communities.

Inflation in advanced economies will eventually exacerbate Africa’s food crisis. Last year in the United States there was a 41 percent increase in energy prices and a 30 percent increase in fertilizers. These price jumps make agricultural production and logistics more demanding. So when a country like the United States experiences this inflation, the downstream effect is opposite to that of African states, which face a tighter and more expensive food market.

The world’s other major economies are struggling alongside the United States to balance the cost of energy, materials and other supply chains and labor shortages. Similar conditions were last experienced from 2011 to 2014, which then produced the highest three-year average food prices since 1979 (to date).

Food constraints for developed-country partners are even more dangerous when compounded by drought and floods, or conflict and violence, which can thwart goals for greater security, economic growth and quality of life.

Comprehensive quality of life assessment tools such as the United Nations Human Development Index and the Multidimensional Poverty Indexes provide an evidence-based correlation between food insecurity and overall government instability. Food insecurity underpins the social, economic and political pressures that undermine a country’s ability to achieve sustainable development and improved quality of life. As food insecurity increases, so does the burden on human well-being. Conversely, challenges to wealth and quality of life have universal implications for access to food and vulnerability to widespread malnutrition, hunger and famine.

The Human Development Index and the Multidimensional Poverty Index find more than half of the entire African continent in the bottom third of food security and overall human development, with thirty African countries classified as “low” development for 2022. Not surprisingly, then, the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization recognize that many of the most severe shortages are occurring in the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa.

hunger and conflict

In countries hit by food insecurity, conflict and violence increase threats to humanitarian food relief, not to mention local agribusiness, logistics and the sustainable trade relationships needed for lasting food security solutions. For example, the northern states of Nigeria are facing catastrophic food shortages – exacerbated by ongoing violence in the region by terrorist groups and the farmers-hirders conflict, a violent cultural and religious competition for land rights between Muslim herders and Christian farmers in the north. central and northwestern regions.

The conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region has doubled the estimated population suffering from hunger in the past year, contributing to an increase of more than 10 million people previously doubled estimate from the previous year. Food insecurity is expected to increase as the conflict spreads to neighboring regions. The Democratic Republic of the Congo also continues to suffer from conflicts across its eastern region, and regional violence is worsening stability in the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

The effects of climate are also being felt across the continent and are particularly damaging to rural areas without the infrastructure and technology to mitigate the effects of drought, flooding and other weather events. The Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger are experiencing their worst food insecurity in almost a decade due to drought. Below-average rainfall continues to hit East African states in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Madagascar is also currently coping with back-to-back rains and droughts, particularly in its southern region where the impacts are most severe. Conversely, unusual floods are contributing to the food crisis in South Sudan.

Other geopolitical and economic forces affect the global food supply. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the disruption of Ukrainian grain reaching African markets is a clear example. Grain prices rose dramatically this spring, trading at $463 a bushel in early February, rising to over $1,200 a bushel by March. Russia (first) and Ukraine (fifth) represented two of the top five grain exporters in 2021, together accounting for more than 20 percent of total grain exports. In addition, Russia is the world’s largest exporter of fertilizers, thereby harming the productive capacity of other industrialized countries.

what can be done

Tackling food prices is the most immediate and controllable step individual governments can take to prevent Africa’s food insecurity crisis from worsening. The response should go beyond traditional humanitarian aid resources and include measures to contain inflation for food production and its supply chain. Multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank are also able to help by adapting and expanding financing instruments for agricultural development and exports in Africa, including providing access to capital and partnerships for small farmers

For heads of state, multilateral partners and the wider Africanist community, understanding food insecurity on the continent presents an urgent and inevitable burden – all the more imperative as inflation continues to raise prices, reduce access and force entire states into greater vulnerability. Adapting to the economic conditions that have accelerated this food crisis is clearly required and is a critical starting point for sustained food security on the continent.


The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan organization that strives to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles about American foreign policy and national security priorities. Also TThe views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the US Air Force, Department of Defense, or the US Government.

Image: USAID

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