World hunger increased in 2020 under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. After remaining virtually unchanged for five years, the prevalence of undernourishment rose from 8,4% to around 9,9% in just one year. Between 720 million and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020. Hunger affects 21% of the population in Africa, compared with 9% percent in Asia; one-third of the world’s undernourished are found in Africa (282 million people). In Southern Africa, severe food insecurity increased from 19,2% to 22,7%.
While the pandemic was a contributing factor, changes observed from 2019 to 2020 point to many other factors at play. These include:
• Conflict Conflict in Africa is cross-border and regional in nature. It’s also becoming more complex, protracted and intractable, and involving large outflows of refugees and external international actors. Sometimes the factors that lead to a conflict may not disappear when the conflict is seemingly over; what’s more, conflicts can take on a cyclical nature if underlying causes are not addressed.
• Climate extremes Countries face increasing climate variability and more frequent climate extremes, linked in part to climate change. The occurrence of three or more types of climate extremes has increased from 10% in 2000 to 2004 to 49% in 2015 to 2020 for countries in Africa.
• Economic downturns Even before the pandemic, global economic reports showed economic slowdowns, stagnation and outright recessions in several economies, leading to increased unemployment. Since 2014, poor and uneven growth has been especially pronounced in sub-Saharan Africa. One of the factors that will make recovery in 2021 less likely in some countries is the growing external debt burden, which could crowd out investments in economic recovery and social protection. As a result, food security and nutrition could worsen.
Poverty and inequality are critical underlying structural factors that amplify the negative effect of conflict, climate variability and extremes, and economic slowdowns.
Addressing hunger lies in the transformation of food systems and, on a positive note, there is already momentum to do so. The UN‘s Food Systems Summit 2021 will bring forward a series of concrete actions that people from all over the world can take to support the transformation of the world’s food systems.
Possible pathways to address major drivers of food insecurity, malnutrition and unaffordability of healthy diets include:
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Bishop Stephen Masilela is the general presbyter for the COGOP in Africa. He is also a counselor and registered marriage officer and currently serves as president for Evangelical and Pentecostal churches in Africa. He holds a diploma in Personnel Management and Training (IPM) from Bible Training Institute and is enrolled with the Gordon Conwell/COGOP Leader of Leaders Master’s Degree program and the Extension School of Ministry of Swaziland College of Theology for a theology degree. He is married to Sibongile and they are blessed with three children.
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Nicole Patton-Terry loves helping kids learn to read. She is associate director of the Florida Center for Reading Research at the Florida State University. Patton-Terry works on teams with researchers, students, teachers, designers, parents, and community members. Together they study reading and develop tools that help children read.