Food Insecurity Persists in Sub-Saharan Africa despite Efforts to Halve Hunger by 2015

GAO-08-1007R: Published: Jul 17, 2008. Publicly Released: Jul 17, 2008.

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Thomas Melito
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At the 1996 World Food Summit (WFS) in Rome, the United States and more than 180 world leaders pledged to halve the total number of undernourished people worldwide from the 1990 level---a commitment that they reaffirmed in 2000 when they established the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which included a target to halve the proportion or the percentage of the world's population that is undernourished by 2015. More than a decade later, however, the number of undernourished people has not decreased significantly, and about 850 million people, including 170 million children, remain undernourished, according to the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Furthermore, the number of undernourished people in sub-Saharan Africa has increased from about 170 million in the period of 1990 to 1992 to over 200 million in the period of 2001 to 2003. Since early 2007, food-related riots have occurred in 15 countries, including 7 in sub-Saharan Africa, leading both the UN Secretary-General and the head of the World Food Program (WFP) to express concern about the impact of chronic undernourishment, or food insecurity, on world peace and security. In January 2008, world leaders meeting in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum predicted that food insecurity would be among the top potential threats to the world economy this year and for decades to come. In April 2008, the President of the World Bank called for a New Deal for a Global Food Policy that would involve a combination of long-term efforts to boost agricultural productivity in developing countries and short-term emergency aid to address immediate food crises. GAO recently examined (1) factors that contribute to persistent food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa and (2) the extent to which host governments and donors, including the United States, are working toward halving hunger in the region by 2015.

In May 2008, we reported on these issues as follows: (1) Chronic undernourishment (food insecurity) in sub-Saharan Africa persists primarily due to low agricultural productivity, limited rural development, government policy disincentives, and the impact of poor health on the agricultural workforce. Additional factors, including rising global commodity prices and climate change, will likely further exacerbate food insecurity in the region. (2) The efforts of host governments and donors, including the United States, to achieve the goal of halving hunger in sub-Saharan Africa by 2015 have thus far been insufficient. Some host governments have not prioritized food security as a development goal. Donors have reduced the priority given to agriculture and their efforts have been further hampered by difficulties in coordination and deficiencies in measuring and monitoring progress. Limited agricultural development resources and a fragmented approach have impaired U.S. efforts to reduce hunger in Africa. U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funding to address food insecurity in Africa has been primarily for emergency food aid, which has been crucial in helping to alleviate food crises but has not addressed the underlying factors that contributed to the recurrence and severity of these crises. The United States' principal strategy for meeting its commitment to halve hunger in Africa, the Presidential Initiative to End Hunger in Africa (IEHA), is limited to some of USAID's agricultural development activities and does not integrate other U.S. agencies' agricultural development assistance to the region. In our May 2008 report, we recommended that the Administrator of USAID (1) work in collaboration with the Secretaries of State, Agriculture, and the Treasury to develop an integrated governmentwide U.S. strategy that defines each agency's actions and resource commitments toward achieving food security in sub-Saharan Africa, including improving collaboration with host governments and other donors and developing improved measures to monitor and evaluate progress toward the implementation of this strategy, and (2) report on progress toward the implementation of this recommendation as part of the annual U.S. International Food Assistance Report submitted to Congress.

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