The fall armyworm invasion, conflicts and migration are some of the factors affecting food security in Africa.
The continent faces a serious food and nutrition crisis amid growing concerns over increasing cases of undernourishment.
The prevalence of chronic undernourishment rose from 20.8 to 22.7 per cent between 2015 and 2016, according to the Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2017 report released by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
According to the report, the fall armyworm caused damage to crops like maize, rice, sorghum, legumes and cotton.
However, the report by FAO shows that it is too early to know the long-term impact of the pest on agricultural production and food security in the continent.
This is despite preliminary assessments conducted between mid-February and end of April, which suggest approximately 356,000 hectares of crops were affected in seven SADC member states.
Increasing food prices are expected to worsen the nutrition situation in the SADC region, as more people face food insecurity.
“The key message for the region is that the nutrition situation continues to be of great concern and this is based on trends showing the number of severely malnourished children increased this season,” said Angela Kimani from the FAO regional resilience team.
“While there are on-going responses to the nutrition problem by different countries, a more multi-sectoral strategy is needed to address and prevent the high levels of malnutrition in parts of the region,” she added.
Ms Kimani was speaking at a forum, in Kigali last week, of parliamentarians from East Africa, where the theme was food and nutrition security.
At the FAO-led dialogue, the legislators from eight regional countries, committed to achieve food and nutrition security. They also cited gaps in sector-related legal frameworks, policy formulation, accountability and investment.
“Our countries are focused on economic growth but figures suggest we are not putting policies in place to address stunting and malnutrition,” said Tanimoune Mahamadou, World Food Programme nutrition expert.
Mr Mahamadou was citing findings of a 2012 study titled The Cost of Hunger in Africa: The Economic and Social Impact of Child Undernutrition that showed countries were losing between 1.5 to 16.5 per cent of GDP as a result of malnutrition.
The study jointly conducted by the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the World Food Programme, and published in 2014 estimates that health costs and mortality from undernourishment among others cost Rwanda about Rwf503.6 billion ($590.7 million) annually.
Uganda and Ethiopia lose $523.5 million and $1.4 billion respectively.
Figures show that while the regional countries were doing well in tackling stunting and had seen a substantial decline in undernourishment levels between 1999–2001, and 2009–2011, rates generally rose between 2014–2016.
While FAO anticipates an improvement in food security in some countries due to the current rainy season, it warns that a general increase in food prices will continue to limit access to food.