Global Hunger Index Tells Stories of Progress and Stagnation in Sub-Saharan Africa

By Jeffrey Lamoureux

The International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) recently released Global Hunger Index 2011 contains a wealth of information about the state of hunger across the developing world. Combining measures of undernourishment, underweight children, and child mortality, the study creates a picture of the severity of hunger on a nation-by-nation basis.  The measure is designed to help policymakers focus attention on the regions that need it most. According to the latest report, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have the highest levels of hunger, and progress over the last 20 years in these regions has been uneven.

Farmers in Ghana have benefitted from government investments (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Ghana was the only country in sub-Saharan Africa among the 10 best performers in improving their Global Hunger Index (GHI) score since ranking began in 1990. As rated by the index, Ghana has reduced the scale of hunger within its borders by 59 percent. IFPRI attributes this success to sustained investments in agriculture, rural development, education, and health, specifically immunizations. For his efforts on these fronts, former president John Kufuor was awarded the 2011 World Food Prize.

By all accounts, Ghana’s efforts, which included outreach to get more information to farmers, the provision of agricultural inputs, and infrastructure investments, had ripple effects that benefitted all levels of society. The government launched a program to improve the provision of food at its primary schools, using local produce to provide a hot meal to students, which significantly increased school enrollment. Their efforts were conducted alongside political reforms to expand the country’s democratic freedoms, supporting a virtuous circle that has pushed Ghana into the ranks of the world’s middle-income countries. Ghana today is a fast growing and politically stable country, a leading example of what is possible on the continent.

Only six countries worldwide experienced worsening hunger situations, but five of them were in sub-Saharan Africa: Burundi, the Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Swaziland. In the DRC the level of hunger rose 63 percent. More than half of its population is undernourished, a deplorable distinction it shares with Burundi, Eritrea, and Haiti. The DRC has been crippled by decades of conflict and political instability. In 2003 it emerged from a five-year civil war that had destabilized the entire region.

According to IFPRI, improvement in the DRC’s dire hunger situation will require strong and extensive development programs that include food security, nutrition, and health components. On November 28, the DRC held only its second attempt at a democratic vote, a vote that was considered flawed by many observers. Many Congolese had hoped to use the vote to protest official corruption and development that enriched only the well connected. Political infighting continues to threaten development efforts.

The report details policy responses to address the high and volatile food prices that are driving heightened food insecurity. But examples like Ghana demonstrate the need to scale up investments in agriculture and nutrition that reduce poverty and alleviate hunger. With investments made by motivated governments, significant progress can be made. With the aid of the Global Hunger Index policymakers can identify those regions most in need of assistance. It takes only the will to develop the needed programs.

Do you have any examples of investment programs that are alleviating hunger? Share them with us in the comments below.

Jeffrey Lamoureux is a research intern for Nourishing the Planet.

To learn more about efforts to reduce hunger, see: Nourishing the Planet TV: School Feeding Programs Improve Livelihoods, Diets, and Local Economies, IFPRI Report Recalls Ghana’s Transformation, World Food Prize Recognizes Leadership in Agriculture, and Soaring Food Prices Raise Global Security Concerns.

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