Assessing the Dynamics of Food Insecurity in Africa


Food security is a basic human need and fighting hunger is one of the greatest challenges of this century. By 2022, two billion people are living in moderate or severe food insecurity, because they do not have regular access to food, not a necessary variety of nutritional value, or there is not enough food for the whole population available. Particularly in developing countries, people cannot meet their nutritional needs. It is an immensely discussed issue in our society and many scholars have studied the factors leading to food security with their direct and indirect impacts on food security. There are key factors causing food insecurity: population, climate change, and economic development. As many scholars analyzed, these drivers often co-exist and influence each other. Only assessing a single factor influencing food insecurity is almost impossible and it is important to take confounding drivers into account.

Africa is a hub of resources yet there are several states in the region that lies on the scale of food insecurity from general food insecurity to the last stage which is famine. Amongst the several states, Nigeria is the most food insecure state in which the ratio of hunger has kept on increasing rapidly since 2019. Conflicts and natural catastrophes along with many other factors contribute to food insecurity in Nigeria that have an adverse impact on the social strata of the state.


Food insecurity as a phenomenon

Food is the basic source of life for human beings. The world is now evolving towards the trend of prioritizing human security over military security and under this realm is the concept of food security. Food security is one of the seven ingredients that make up human security.  However, due to certain factors, the states are now already food insecure or on the verge of food insecurity. Food insecurity contributes to many other factors that hinder the progress of the state which include poverty, hunger, discrimination, and malnutrition. There is an increase in food production however, there is a rapid population influx as well that disturbs the food balance and distribution. According to the World Health Organization in the year 2018, more than eight hundred million people were hungry due to food insecurity. (World Bank, 2022)

The definition of food security kept on evolving from time to time-based on the addition of the needs. Firstly, it was merely confined to having food for the population. Then the concept of crisis and food security were incorporated that the population must have economic and social access to food at times of unwarned disasters. Finally, food was incorporated with the notion of not just being food secure but also nutrition secure. The food must contain the required nutrition for human growth and sustenance. (Ahmad, 2021)

A region or a state is considered food secure when the whole of its population has access to sufficient food to meet its daily nutrition requirement. This in return flourishes stability in the economic, social, and political arenas. There are four elements of food security that when not fulfilled lead to food insecurity. They include, Availability which is the amount of food available to the country by its own resource, Accessibility is the access that the population of the state has to food through economic means and trade, Utilization is the proportionate amount of food consumed by the population to meet their nutritional requirements and the factor of quality and quantity is also kept in view while gauging the utilization rate and Stability is the balance attained in the food distribution throughout the year at all times (Peng, 2018).

Food insecurity occurs when the individuals of the state do not have access to sufficient food and are in a state of starvation and hunger being food deprived. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, food insecurity has three distinct stages which include, chronic food insecurity which is a severe lack and shortage of food and people are dying because of it; occasional when food insecurity occurs for a short period of time due to a disaster and is manageable in the long run while chronic food insecurity is a serious condition and is a threat to the human security of the state.

Chronic food insecurity is for a longer period of time and it occurs when people cannot meet the basic food requirement and is caused by poverty, lack of management at the administrative levels, inflation, and lack of assets. While transitory food insecurity which includes acute and occasional food insecurities occur for a comparatively shorter period of time and it occurs when there is a sudden drop in the ability to produce enough food and there is fluctuation in food accessibility as well as availability which results from year-to-year variation in domestic food production and food prices.

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, the indicators of food insecurity include crude mortality rate, malnutrition prevalence, dietary complications, and ineffective coping strategies for food crises. Famine is the darkest form of food insecurity. There are several factors that contribute to food insecurity primarily include overpopulation, climate change, urbanization and industrialization, and even political instability.

There exists an undeniable relationship between population and resources. When the population increases, more and more resources are utilized and they need to be replenished. Thomas Malthus hypothesized and proved that population will eclipse the natural food production capacity of the Earth. If the space and food will not be limited then the population will keep on growing and hence it‚Äôs a two-way traffic between food and population. However, the increasing population as well as the economic boom demands more food supply that contributes to food shortage (Guzman, 2011). The increase in population also leads to urbanization and more land is used to occupy the population in the urban areas and the number of individuals in the rural areas declines that inevitably increasing the pressure on the farmers to grow more crops which is not possible due to the reduction in the agricultural land. Climate change and industrialization also contribute to the acceleration of food insecurity because the rise in temperature and carbon dioxide levels damages the crop’s yield and production and deteriorates soil health. Moreover, food and crops are now being financialized and are perceived to be mere commodities associated with profit and loss ratios contributing to the state economy rather than being viewed as a precious resource. Food insecurity impacts society as it causes malnutrition, poverty, starvation, hunger, and eventually death (Ahmad, 2021).


Food Insecurity in Africa:

Food insecurity has been rising in the African continent in the past several years. The current year (2022) is considered a period of unprecedented hunger crisis all around the globe, relatively more prevalent in the African continent. According to statistics, the rainy season was the shortest in 2022 in comparison to the rainfall ratio of the last seven decades. The prediction of the autumn rainy season to fail is also high which has led to severe drought in Africa. The lack of sufficient resources is leading to food insecurity at large. Food insecurity in the African region has reached alarming levels. Following are discussed some major factors that are causing food insecurity in Africa;

Crop Failure:

Crop production has decreased to a large extent in African states due to water scarcity, land damage during conflict, and climate change being the primary reasons. The low production rate has led to a sort of crop failure as it is not sufficient for the entire population of Africa. Thus, crop failure is causing food insecurity and hunger crisis in Africa.

Natural Calamities:

One of the major causes of food insecurity in Africa is the occurring natural disaster i.e. Drought. The region is suffering from severe water scarcity which is less than sufficient to grow most of the crops. The lack of major resources like water which are necessary for agricultural production is causing crop failure, which in turn, is a leading cause of food insecurity.

Armed Conflict:

Africa is a conflict-ridden region where most of the armed violence is being caused. African states like Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo & South Sudan are suffering from severe armed conflict which is causing food insecurity. Food insecurity is a ‚Äėcause‚Äô as well as an ‚Äėeffect‚Äô of conflict. Food is being used as a weapon in African wars as there is competition for food.

Population Growth:

The increasing population is a huge contributing factor to the rising levels of food insecurity in Africa. Population growth has resulted in higher demands for food. The food production is way too less than the population stats. Therefore, little quantity of available food is not enough to meet the demands of a current large population. 

Contagious Diseases-AIDS:

Contagious diseases like AIDS and Malaria are quite prevalent in African states. They are causing the deaths of many African people, specifically, men having AIDS who are the breadwinners of their families. The death of such men causes a decline in the number of agricultural laborers and thus, leads to a food crisis.


Just like the migration of people from rural to urban areas is disrupting agricultural growth patterns, similarly, increasing urbanization is playing a key role in elevating food insecurity in Africa, specifically in Nigeria.

Unfair Trading Structures:

The unequal trading patterns of Western and European powers are another contributing factor to food insecurity. The Core states subsidize food production in their respective states. They import raw resources from Africa at cheap prices and export them in refined forms at expensive prices to Africa. The poor African states are unable to buy such expensive food and thus face hunger and food crisis.

Climate Change:

Climate change is another leading cause of food insecurity in Africa. The transformation period of rainfall in the Horn of Africa has contributed to increasing food insecurity. The World Meteorological Organization forecasts a fifth consecutive failed rainy season because of drier-than-average conditions expected for October to December 2022, worsening the crisis that affects millions of people. According to the WFP, 22 million people are at risk of starvation in the region. (Disasterphilanthropy, 2022)


The food crisis has caused numerous impacts on the African region; some of these effects are mentioned below;

Starvation & Death:

The food crisis has resulted in starvation in Africa. Due to prolonged hunger, thousands and millions of people, including adults and children, have starved to death. One person is likely to die of hunger every 36 seconds (Oxfam, 2022).


Food insecurity has resulted in hunger and malnutrition. The lack of nutrients in the bodies of African people makes them weaker than usual. Millions of children face or are already suffering from acute malnutrition in Africa.

Vulnerability to diseases:

Malnutrition due to food insecurity has made Africans, especially children, more prone to diseases. The weakened immune systems make them more vulnerable to diseases like AIDS, Diarrhoea, Acute Respiratory  Infections,  Malaria, and  Measles.

Political Instability:

The lack of food and higher population causes competition over food which has resulted in political instability in several African states like Nigeria. The political instability further disturbs the economic system and stability of the region.


Impact of climate change on food security in Africa

Africa is one of the most impacted regions by the effects of climate change. As a continent, it will be hit most by severely by changes in the climate. Researches conducted by World Bank indicate that annual temperature will additionally increase by 4C by 2099. 2019 and 2020 were among the hottest years since the 1930s with indications for further increases in surface temp Рaccompanied by heat waves and hot days. Rising temperatures have already reduced Lewis Glacier by 90% since the 1930s; at the indicated rate Mount Kenya could lose all its glacier resources by 2030 (Carleton, 2022). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also indicated that almost 250 million people will be affected by water insecurity. 50% of crops dependent on rain will be affected due to reduced precipitation mainly in northern and south-western states (Vermaak, 2020).

(Trend in mean surface temperature- Climate Change Is an Increasing Threat to Africa)

There has also been an increase indicated in the sea level and coastal erosion. Sea level is increasing by 5 mm per annum while another 5 mm per annum in the western Indian Ocean. Coastal erosion has caused environmental deterioration leading to the worsening of 56% of coastal lines (Vermaak, 2020). Africa as a region relies on agriculture and forestry as means of sufficiency and economic growth which will be directly affected by the climatic adversity caused. Its dependency reduces the region’s adaptability and capacity to combat climatic challenges. It also affects various communities such as women who rely on natural resources to make a livelihood (UNDP, 2013).

Prone to the effects of climate is the food security of the region. Decreases in rainfall, environmental catastrophes, droughts, hot weather, and increased evaporation play crucial aspects in the food security of the region. Climate change affects food availability, productivity, and growth which leads to rising food insecurity. The following discusses in detail the impact of climatic effects on food insecurity. Climate change has severely impacted the lives of people. In 2020, 1/5 of people faced hunger which was double any other region. 27 million people in the region require instant food assistance while 282 million are malnourished. Food security declines 5-12% with every flood or drought.


Impact on crop yield:

climate change has significantly affected the crop yield in sub-Saharan Africa. Negative crop yield has been projected for some of the most common food i.e. wheat and sweet potato ( RINGLER, ZHU,  CAI,  KOO, &  WANG, 2010, pg 5-19). Africa is getting warmer at a higher rate than required which makes its natural conditions inconsistent with the crops that grow there. Maize, wheat, millet, and sorghum cannot survive in higher temperatures. An increase of 2 degrees reduces crop productivity by 10% while global warming beyond that reduces crop productivity by 20%. Similarly, if global temperature rise takes place by 3 degrees it will make all these crops unsustainable (Carleton, 2022).

The rise in temperatures is an evident consequence in Africa. It has led to a 30% increase in precipitation in wet regions near the equator while the rest of the areas experience a 20% decrease in rainfall. As these changes further trigger, the continent will have to face the devastating effects of floods and droughts. 75% of the region faces floods and storms that destroy agricultural harvest, pasture areas, and livestock loss (White, 2021). Floods damage infrastructure, block travel ways, and cause saltwater intrusion while also eroding away the fertile layer of land causing it to lose its productivity and go barren(Reed et al., 2022). Floods impact food security for 12% of the population e.g. the Horn of Africa has experienced 4 failed rainy seasons due to the severe drought experienced. 828 million people sleep hungry while 135 million to 345 million face acute food insecurity (Entcheva, 2022).

(areas experiencing flood and drought in Africa-Climate change in Africa: What will it mean for agriculture and Food Security?)

Africa has seen ten times more floods since the 1970s, these are expected to increase due to the presence of the Indian Ocean in the southwestern. IO is warming at a rate of 2.7 degrees, it causes an increase in evaporation, leading to heavier rainfalls and stronger wind storms (Carleton, 2022).


Impact of the fishing industry:

fishing has had a major contribution to the livelihood of African people that contributes to limiting poverty and food insecurity. The sector provides jobs as it is one of the most traded goods. However, it has been overlooked in national planning and understated when required investing and taking care of. Climatic fluctuations lead to a rise in sea levels due to thermal expansion which reduces the pH of water, making it acidic due to increased carbon dioxide. The rise in temperature risks the adaptability of fishes as they fail to tolerate the fluctuations in temperature causing species to go extinct. The rise of sea level also adds to the rise of salt levels that lead to salt stress on fish stock. An increase in ocean water also threatens the coastal areas as salt water is entering those areas and destroying the marshes. Due to the decrease in fish women in Lebialem Highlands in Cameroon have started to hunt for frogs and tadpoles in order to survive. It leads to economic consequences for vulnerable communities that depend on the industry (Essam Yassin Mohammed, 2013).


Increase in food demand:

The international cereal demand by 2050 will increase by 1.03% however as for Africa this demand is increasing faster at 2.43 %, resulting in the need for economic accelerations and diversification of bowls. However, land and climatic degradation have caused limited food production. Africa ideally depends on crop yield to fulfill demands but it too has been on the decline at 1.96% since the 1980s. Poor infrastructure and agricultural techniques play a role in constrained outputs.


Food prices:

recent years have seen an increase in food prices around the world due to increases in higher energy prices, the use of biofuels, and reduced food stocks. Prices are expected to increase due to pressure on land and water resources by climate changes, underinvestment in the agricultural sector, and poor governmental strategies. As a result, many African countries now rely on exports from the Western world to fulfill food needs (Ringler, Zhu,  Cai,  Koo, &  Wang, 2010, Pg 5-19).


Impact of the Pandemic on food security in Africa:

Other than climate change, Africa recently has also had to deal with the challenges brought forward by the spread of COVID-19. It is necessary that these implications are equally catered to prevent long-lasting effects. Though food insecurity has already been a rising concern for the continent, it has been aggravated by the pandemic. It has pushed people into poverty; the middle classes have also seen a downfall as they struggle to cover all areas.

Lockdowns and limited travel affected food supply, food availability, prices, and quantity. Millions experienced poverty during the lockdown due to the closure of borders; it limited to export and imports of various materials such as wheat and rice directly affecting people’s income.  The illness of workers in the sector also prevented the completion of necessary tasks while several people lost their jobs in the informal sector.

Agriculture plays a significant role in the economic sector, making up 23% of the GDP. Nearly 60% of the working population is employed in the sector; it is considered the primary source of nutrition and livelihood. However, the restrictions made it difficult for farmers to sell their harvest while also cutting off veterinary services that are necessarily required by the animals. Lack of maintenance activities also led to crop destruction and food losses. The initial lockdown period came when the farmers had to plant their crops for the season, it led to a lack of food availability and shortages as the season did not bring enough harvest Relief Web (2020). Social protection programs have also been unable to get enough food and reach out to vulnerable communities to provide assistance (Ali Mohamed, Alhaj Abdallah, Ahmadi, & Lucero-Prisno, 2021). The manufacturing sector has been unable to produce goods due to the shutdown of industrial zones. Business owners suffered from economic losses due to which people saw a reduction in income, many got unemployed as many companies were permanently closed (Kogai, 2020).


Case Study of Nigeria

Why is it food insecure?

Food insecurity is a major problem in Nigeria. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that Nigeria’s food security situation has worsened in the past 15 years. There are the impacts of different factors that jeopardize the Nigerian food security situation. According to previous literature, there are mostly three factors that affect food security; climate change, economic development, and violent conflict. Nigeria is the chosen case study because all the above-mentioned factors play a key role in the country; it is affected by climate change, the economy is fluctuating and there has been the Boko Haram insurgency going on since 2009.


Impact of Food Insecurity on Population and Development

The economy influences food security. Economic growth is one of the biggest variables to measure the economy and can be closely connected to food security. The better the economic growth is, the more people are likely to be food secure. Hence a weak economy or an economic crisis can lead to food insecurity in a country. Most research has been conducted in developing countries in Africa because especially developing countries might have thriving economic growth, but at the same time are vulnerable to an economic crisis because they are often low-income countries, countries in conflict, and the countries that are hit most by climate change. All this increases the vulnerability of a population. For the food security status of a household, the economic situation of the individual is significant as well. Many researchers analyzed unemployment as a factor leading to food insecurity. It is one of the most explored factors in the field of economic development and food security. Being unemployed puts people into poverty and poor people usually depend on the market to obtain food. They spend a higher percentage of their income on food and consequently suffer more likely from food insecurity. In particular long-term unemployment, does not only result in people spending less money on food but also causes people to change their diet. Evidence showed that they bought cheaper and less healthy food, which in turn impacted the quality of their daily calorie intake. Food prices are another indicator leading to food insecurity. Global food price drops or rises hit especially countries with an uneven trade balance.¬† When a country depends on exporting agricultural goods or minerals, they are more vulnerable to global price volatility. As mentioned above, most scholars argue that often developing countries are affected by economic crises. However, all countries can be affected by a sudden global economic shock. Especially the 2008 financial crisis and the recession that followed have negatively impacted several countries in the Global North analyzed the demand for food aid in Europe after 2008. They argue that the need for more food aid represents higher food insecurity. They found a rise in food aid and therefore more food insecurity after 2008. The United Nations (UN) in September 2015 at its General Assembly adopted the resolution of the agenda for sustainable development and the resolution birthed 17 goals referred to as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDG Goal 2 (SDG 2) as one of the food security goals, was set to address the importance of food security and nutrition within the wider agenda and calls member States to ‚Äúend hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture‚ÄĚ by 2030. SDG 2 has five principal targets and three implementing mechanisms. In 2019, it was revealed that close to 690 million (8.9% percent of the world’s population) people are estimated to be undernourished globally. However, considering the number of people in food crises around the world, the 2020 Global Report on Food Crisis (GRFC 2020) reported that about 135 million people in 55 countries and territories are suffering from acute food insecurity while 73 million of this figure are from 36 countries in Africa. The recent statistics by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed, said the inflation rate rose to 15.92 percent in March 2022, representing a 0.22 percent point rise when compared to 15.7 percent recorded in February 2022. The Bureau also said that the composite food index rose year-on-year (YoY) by 0.09 percent points to 17.20 percent in March 2022 from 17.11 percent in February 2022. In its Consumer Price Index (CPI), the bureau said the rise in the food index was due to increases in prices of bread and cereals, food product, potatoes, yam and other tubers, fish, meat, oils, and fats. The above statistics are manifest with a panoramic view of the present state of livelihood in Nigeria, which gives a glimpse into the level of poverty ravaging the nation with respect to food security. Staple foods such as garlic, corn, rice, yam, beans, millet, potatoes, and others have all jerked up with prices above the common man‚Äôs pocket. With the rising food inflation, it is not uncommon that some households could have been forced to the ratio of 0.0.1 or 0.1.0 for their daily meals. This is chiefly associated with shrinking income or stagnated income that is no longer sufficient to meet the rising cost of food products. Also in recent times, a report processed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) disclosed that about 18 million people will face food insecurity across Nigeria between June and August 2022. The stakeholders‚Äô report laid emphasis on acute food and nutrition insecurity in the Sahel and West African region.

The report said the food crisis will affect Nigerians in 21 states and FCT including, 416,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). It noted that about 14.4 million people including 385,000 IDPs in 21 States and FCT of Nigeria are already in the food crisis till May 2022.


Nigeria’s Global Food Security Index and Rank (2012-2019) Source: Authors’ graph using EIU 2012-2019 data

What initiatives does the govt. has taken?

According to the report by the World Food Programme, with a recorded 5 million people, Nigeria has the highest number of people in the crisis of the 15 countries analyzed in the region. Also, 29 percent of the total number of people in crisis were from Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Nigeria had about 50 percent of West Africa’s food-insecure population in 2019. Unsurprisingly, this situation is aided by the 10 years of terrorism the area has experienced and the debilitating impact of the shrinking Lake Chad on economic and agricultural activities. Also, the global pandemic has exacerbated the already existing challenges.

The Coronavirus pandemic has impacted virtually all aspects of human life globally. As it relates to the food crisis, the pandemic has worsened the innate realities. In Nigeria, lockdowns, curfews, and inter-state border closures have been part of the government’s responses to the pandemic. It has led to a hike in food prices. Besides, before the pandemic, as a protectionist move, the Nigerian state banned the importation of staple food items such as rice to protect local industries and boost local production. A combustible mix of embargoes on food items, the reluctance of manufacturing countries to export, and the reduction of economic activities due to the pandemic have led to food price hikes as high as 120 percent across markets nationwide.

This challenge will be worse for the vulnerable population. Before the pandemic, Nigeria had about 7.1 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in 2019. In 2020, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance rose to 7.9 million coupled with 82.9 million Nigerians that are living in poverty as reported by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in the same year. These figures will likely increase as the pandemic and state control measures unfold. The prospects of providing such interventions to these millions of people are greatly threatened as containing the spread of the pandemic tops the priority list of the government and relevant non-governmental organizations. Nigeria’s northeast region which has the highest contribution of food insecure population in the country is challenged by the Boko Haram insurgency. For Instance, agricultural activities have been severely affected as Borno State Police Command had to set up a Rapid Response Squad to protect farmers from attacks. With sinking oil prices and a slash in budgetary allocations, the government as part of its social contract is burdened with the problem of catering to its vulnerable population and those that will slip into vulnerability because of the pandemic.

Nextier SPD study of some terror-troubled communities highlights indigenous efforts of the vulnerable population in the Northeast and how government and other stakeholders can support and strengthen their community resilience initiatives. This can be one of the ways government and relevant agencies can cushion the impact of COVID-19 on the vulnerable population. Also, in another publication, Nextier SPD argues that government agencies responsible for the vulnerable population should ensure that humanitarian assistance and intervention schemes are kept up and running in the face of the pandemic. COVID-19 intervention packages should prioritize vulnerable populations. The government should seek the involvement of agencies that will directly provide intervention schemes to the nation’s 7.9 million people in need of assistance. It should also incorporate thousands of others that have been grossly impoverished because of the pandemic. Food insecurity can exacerbate already existing conflict issues, and create new vistas for violence, hence, urgent policies and programs should be targeted at solving the deepening crisis.



In order to curb the issue of food insecurity in the region and in Nigeria, the authorities need to incorporate an agricultural policy with the inclusion of area experts to protect agricultural land from being used in industrial and urbanization processes. The rural subjects of the state must be provided with adequate infrastructure to prevent migration towards the urban areas and manage the workload of the farmers. Population growth needs to be controlled as population and food insecurity go hand in hand. The masses must be educated about the increasing burden on the planet Earth and its resources. In order to secure the food, it must not be wasted and stored effectively to utilize it around the year. The trading structures need to be improved and the trade barriers must be lifted to smoothen the import of food products. Food must be perceived as a resource and not as a commodity that is the financialization of food must be curtailed. Disaster risk management can prevent food insecurity caused by climate change and natural catastrophes. Lastly, the initiatives taken by the government need to be effectively implemented and monitored to get immediate and long-term results as well as solutions to food security.



Food security is the greatest challenge in the current century however its making dates back to more than five decades. Mother Earth was blessed with resources but population growth, human activities, and unprecedented depletion of the resources caused them to reach their limit. Africa was a region with plenty of resources that are yet untouched and undiscovered but little has been done to preserve the already available resources that cause a threat to human security in Africa. Food is different from other commodities because everybody needs it for survival and it is an indispensable factor in a nation’s quest for economic growth and development.  Food insecurity in the region has caused several deaths, malnutrition, and poverty which hinders the development of the state. Climate change and Covid 19 pandemic have turned the food security situation worse taking food insecurity to the last stage which is famine in many cases. Food insecurity in Nigeria is recurrent and needs an immediate action plan to sustain the survival of the state.


Areeha Chaudhary

Kinnaird College for Women University

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