Africa's Great Hunger Handicap.

Author:Wentling, Mark
Position:Commentary and Analysis - Essay

November 2016

The hefty burden of widespread hunger prevents Africa from realizing its full potential. Accepting that good nutrition is the foundation of life and human progress, Africa is clearly falling behind other regions. As long as Africa remains the most undernourished region in the world, it will fail to graduate from the lower ranks of development.

Even in the best of years, Africa is unable to feed itself. Despite decades of massive development aid aimed at making African countries food self-sufficient and resilient, more Africans go hungry today than thirty years ago. Malnutrition is robbing African economies of higher growth rates and prevents its people from enjoying a higher standard of living. Simply stated, better nutrition saves lives and builds nations.

Africa's hunger problem is a long standing one that has been exacerbated by a rapid population growth rate that has outstripped the continent's ability to feed itself. A number of countries in Africa are now experiencing structural food deficits. The population of Africa currently stands at nearly 1.2 billion, twice what it was in 1985, and it is projected to double again by 2050, surpassing the populations of both China and India by 2023. At the current population growth rate, Africans will represent half the world's population by 2035.

Also notable is the youthful structure of Africa's population. The average age in Africa is 19 (compared to nearly 40 in Europe and the U.S.). This youth bulge means more people are of reproductive age. It also represents a destabilizing factor as large numbers of youth remain unemployed, making for a rising dependency ratio that has an ever-increasing number of young people supported by a limited number of income earners.

Higher population densities increase pressure on the land, reducing farm sizes, soil fertility, and the quality of pastures. Today, one in four Africans, or about three hundred million people, are hungry, their lives seriously impaired by poor diets. A fast-growing population combined with stagnant food production only means more hungry people in the future who will be unable to enjoy healthy and productive lives.

Another key factor to take into account in Africa's complex hunger quandary is rapid urbanization. While most Africans still live in rural areas and depend on subsistence agriculture, urbanization on the continent is occurring at an unprecedented rate and by 2030 half of Africa's population will be residing in towns and cities. Unfortunately, these new urban dwellers will add to the unmanageable burden of already overcrowded, highly-polluted impoverished slums and increase growing inequality within society. The proliferation of urban...

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