A new report by the United Nations has revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the food security and nutrition situation in Africa, where about 78% of the population cannot afford a healthy diet. The report, titled “African Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2023”, was jointly published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the African Union Commission (AUC), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the World Food Programme (WFP) .
The report states that the majority of Africans – nearly 1.1 billion people – are unable to access a healthy diet, which is defined as one that meets the dietary energy requirements and provides adequate amounts of protein, essential fats, vitamins and minerals for optimal health and well-being. This is compared with 42% of the global population who face the same challenge .
One of the main factors behind this alarming situation is the high and volatile food prices across the continent, partly driven by the Russia/Ukraine crisis that disrupted the global supply chain of commodities, especially grains such as wheat . The report notes that the average price of wheat in Africa increased by 28% between January and September 2023, while the price of maize increased by 17% .
The soaring food prices have eroded the purchasing power of many households, especially the poor and vulnerable, who spend a large share of their income on food. According to the report, the average cost of a healthy diet in Africa is 2.5 times higher than the cost of a diet that only provides sufficient calories .
The report also highlights the impact of the pandemic on the nutritional status of the population, especially children, women and older persons. It estimates that around 20% of Africans, or 282 million people, are currently experiencing undernourishment, marking an increase of 57 million individuals since the onset of the pandemic . Moreover, the report warns that the prevalence of stunting, wasting and overweight among children under five years of age could increase significantly in the coming years if no urgent action is taken .
The report calls for a coordinated and multi-sectoral response to address the root causes of food insecurity and malnutrition in Africa, such as poverty, inequality, conflict, climate change and poor governance. It also urges the governments, development partners, civil society and the private sector to invest in food systems that are resilient, inclusive, sustainable and nutritious, and to ensure that no one is left behind in the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals .