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Food Insecurity Worsens Across Africa

The food security situation in Africa deteriorated significantly in 2021, with the continent having the highest prevalence of food insecurity globally. An estimated 322 million Africans faced severe food insecurity in 2021 - 21.5 million more than in 2020. The largest increases occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Middle Africa. Northern Africa also saw a concerning rise in food insecurity levels from 2020 to 2021.

Key drivers include climate shocks, conflict, economic downturns, and rising costs of food. The ongoing war in Ukraine has exacerbated the crisis by disrupting grain exports to Africa. With food prices remaining high, access to adequate food is increasingly out of reach for millions of households.

Agribusiness Confidence Drops in South Africa

Sentiment among South Africa's agricultural businesses slumped to its lowest level since the Covid-19 pandemic in the fourth quarter of 2023. An index compiled by the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) dropped to 40 points, down from 50 in the previous quarter. Port inefficiencies, poor road and rail infrastructure, and ongoing energy constraints weighed heavily on the outlook. 

This souring of confidence coincided with a surprise 7.4% quarter-on-quarter plunge in agricultural GDP in the second half of 2023, despite the broader economy managing to expand by 0.6% over the year. The sector faces massive challenges that are hindering its performance and dampening the business mood.

World Bank Ramps Up Food Crisis Response 

To address rising food insecurity, the World Bank has significantly scaled up its support to countries across Africa through various programs and financing facilities. Major initiatives include:

  • The $2.75 billion Food Systems Resilience Program for Eastern and Southern Africa, aiming to increase the resilience of the region's food systems. 
  • The $766 million West Africa Food Systems Resilience Program working to boost preparedness against food insecurity in the region.
  • Multiple country-specific projects to provide emergency food assistance, expand irrigation, increase agricultural productivity and build resilience. For example, 329,000 farmers in the Central African Republic received seeds and training through a $50 million project.

However, the Global Report on Food Crises 2023 highlighted that despite substantial increases in humanitarian and development funding to food sectors, global acute food insecurity still climbed to a five-year high in 2022. More coherence between humanitarian and development efforts is needed to address the root causes.

Other Notable Developments

  • The UN warned that mass violence and human rights abuses continue unabated in South Sudan, threatening the country's stability ahead of landmark elections. The dire humanitarian situation is expected to worsen.
  • Malaria cases spiked among farm workers and farming communities in South Africa's Limpopo province. 
  • Minimum wages for farm workers in South Africa were raised from R69 to R105 per day, drawing mixed reactions from unions and farmers.

While some positive efforts are underway, the overall picture emerging is that of an escalating food crisis across Africa, increasingly interlinked with other shocks like conflict, climate change and economic fragility. Strengthening the resilience of agrifood systems while addressing the immediate food needs of the most vulnerable will be critical going forward.

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