Africa: Global Crises Plunge Millions Into Acute Food Insecurity

Cape Town — The coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine have helped to drive at least 112 million people – more than one in every 10 Africans – into acute food insecurity, the International Monetary Fund reported on Friday.

These new factors – added to food price shocks, extreme weather conditions driven by climate change and conflict and security challenges which have disrupted farming – have over the past decade reversed earlier progress in reducing the number of undernourished Africans, the IMF said. Two-thirds of the number of people who face acute food insecurity in the world live in Africa, and one third of them have become acutely food-insecure since the start of the pandemic.

The fund’s 2022 Regional Economic Outlook for Africa, entitled “Living on the Edge</a>” said every time there is flooding or a drought, food insecurity increases by anything between five and 20 percentage points.

This is particularly worrisome given that one-third of global droughts occur in the region, and the frequency and intensity of floods and cyclones – all of which will hamper agricultural production and food distribution – are rising,&rdquo; the IMF said.

Dealing with the effects of conflict, the report noted that conflict and food security gave rise to a self-perpetuating cycle: Conflict is… [a] key driver of acute food insecurity, while food insecurity itself drives conflict”

Looking more broadly at African economies, the deputy director of the IMF Africa Department, Catherine Pattillo, told AllAfrica in an interview that conflict and regional spillover from conflict is associated with lower growth. “Clearly, without stability, prospects for growth are very much dimmer,” she said. “It’s very costly”

The IMF pointed to a decrease in international food aid and the increasing reliance on imported staple foods – rice and wheat in particular – as also contributing to increased food insecurity since 2012.

“Food aid per capita has declined considerably over the past decade – 30 percent lower in the 2010s compared with the decade before – likely contributing to rising undernourishment,” the report said.

With most countries net importers of cereals such as maize, rice and wheat, recent high prices and global constraints on supplies have worsened the situation.

The IMF urges a range of short- and long-term strategies to achieve food security, among them:

  •  Temporary and targetted fiscal measures to protect the most vulnerable from rising prices;
  • Investing in projects such as improving irrigation and securing land rights, enabling the expandsion of arable land and improving yields;
  • Improving farmers’ access to finance and transport and integrating regional trade; and
  • Stepping up international support for food aid and social security nets.

Africa’s food security difficulties are part of a gloomy report on the continent’s post-pandemic economic recovery, which the report says has been “sharply interrupted”. So although growth in gross domestic product rose 4.7 percent in 2021, it is expected to slow this year on average to 3.6 percent and rise only slightly in 2023 by 3.7 percent.

However, Abebe Aemro Selassie, director of the IMF’s African Department, pointed out at the launch of the report that the outlook for individual countries varies depending on how diversified their economies are.

  • Oil exporters will gain from higher prices – a result of the war in Ukraine and the recent decision of oil-exporting nations to underpin prices – and grow on average by 3.3 percent in 2022, an improvement on their 3.0 percent growth in 2021.
  • Other resource-intensive economies will grow by 3.1 percent in 2022, down from 5.1 percent.
  • More diversified economies will grow by 4.6 percent this year, down from 6.4 percent.

“Looking ahead, the outlook for 2022 and 2023 is extremely uncertain,” the IMF said. Sub-Saharan Africa&rsquo;s prospects are tied firmly to developments in the global economy, and three key factors will shape the near-term path: the monetary policy response of the world&rsquo;s largest economies to elevated inflation, the war in Ukraine, and the ongoing impact of Covid-19 related lockdowns and supply chain disruptions.

While the current projection for the region assumes no widespread global recession will occur, the war in Ukraine will not worsen and the pandemic will not cause more disruption, “all these global factors are subject to sizable downside risks,” the IMF concludes.

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