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For Africa, extreme poverty and food insecurity are two sides of the same coin

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development included the aspiration of eradicating extreme poverty for all people globally by the year 2030. Extreme poverty, which is defined at a threshold of no less than $2.15 per person per day, at purchasing power parity in 2017, was the goal that was set by the SDGs.


 (Statisa)


This goal is likely no longer achievable. Over a quarter of a billion more people across the globe could find their way into extreme poverty by year end 2023. This is because of several factors like COVID-19, the increase of food prices resulting from the war in Ukraine, and rising national income inequality.


The IMF estimates that approximately 265 million people will join the ranks of the extremely poor by the end of 2023, reversing two decades of progress. If current patterns persist, 7% of the world population, approximately 575 million people, could be in extreme poverty by 2030, with the concentration being in sub-Saharan Africa.


Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the momentum of poverty reduction in Africa was beginning to cool. COVID, and what followed, effectively wiped out a half decade worth of progress in poverty alleviation.


While 478 million people in Africa were forecast to be living in extreme poverty in 2019, it is predicted that number will rise to over 500 million by 2024, and this is 37 million more than was anticipated before the pandemic.


And, some countries in Africa are fairing far worse than others when it comes to rising levels of extreme poverty. The Western Sahara, Burundi, and Somalia are now the three poorest nations/regions in Africa with the highest recorded setbacks in extreme poverty levels, as of the end of 2022. While Somalia had made some pre-COVID gains in reducing levels of extreme poverty, trends are now no longer in their favor. 


Malawi, Niger, and Tanzania are also struggling with their levels of extreme poverty. These three nations continue to have Africa's highest extreme poverty rates based on the 2.15 U.S. dollars per day extreme poverty indicator, as of the end of 2022.


Sadly, Africa is even seeing the resurgence of hunger at levels not observed since 2005. This is the result of increasing international food prices compared to the period from 2015 to 2019. Africa’s quandary is the dual challenge of extreme poverty coupled with food insecurity, and this puts several countries on the continent at extreme risk for a resurgence of outright hunger and famine. 


While Africa has gold, diamonds, oil, natural gas, copper, uranium, among other untold riches, it is also a continent dependent on the import of foodstuffs, mostly staples and grains. In part, this is why a significant number of African countries with large deposits of natural resources, don’t accumulate wealth because food insecurity hampers their rise.

Man observes grain shipment in Djibouti on dock of port

A WFP employee ovsersees Ukrainian grain deliveries to Djibouti. (Hugh Rutherford/World Food Program/Handout via Reuters)


Putting food insecurity aside, most of the revenues from resource exploitation (oil, coal, gold, etc.) in Africa is not properly distributed to the lower income classes. Trickle-down wealth creation in Africa is extremely slow, and in some cases, it does not meaningfully change the lives of people trapped in extreme poverty.


Since a major part of African farmlands are used to grow export crops such as coffee, and cocoa, basic staples like wheat, and rice are imports, and come from outside of the continent. When the international price of wheat, rice, and grains rise, Africa’s most populace countries like Nigeria and Egypt struggle. The war in Ukraine has not been good for Africa bringing back to the spotlight the risks of a continent that can’t yet feed itself.


It isn’t just the rising price of wheat, rice, and grains, that’s threatening Africa’s gains in eradicating extreme poverty, the continent is also threatened by its ever rising rates of population growth. By 2050, the populations of more than half of Africa's 54 countries will have more than doubled due to continued high fertility rates, and decreasing death rates. Compared to less than 10% in 1950, the African continent will become home to at least 25% of the world's population. With more mouths to feed, and Africa’s inability to manage its ever growing threat of food insecurity, it would follow that the continent is more likely to see gains in extreme poverty than losses by 2050. 


Africa is at a crossroad when it comes to promoting pro-poor economic growth. If the fight against extreme poverty is to be won, land reclamation across the continent has to be job one. Import substitution and food self sufficiency for wheat, rice, and grains, has to become a continent wide priority. 


This is fundamental for nations in Africa with the largest population levels. Egypt, for example, has reclaimed only 5 percent of its reclaimable land. Reclaiming the other 10 percent will be key to ensuring enhanced food security, and reducing the threat Egypt faces every time international food prices for wheat and cooking oils rise. And, Egypt is not alone in this quandary. Countries like Sudan have reclaimable land that can provide wheat self sufficiency for the entire African continent. Yet, Sudan currently can’t feed itself. 


If you’re looking for the answer to eliminating extreme poverty in Africa, addressing food insecurity has to be at the top of the development agenda for every country on the continent. 

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