Nigeria, Angola two of the least committed to ending hunger in Africa

African countries vary widely in their commitment to ending hunger and undernutrition, new research launched Thursday shows. High commitment was found in most countries in East Africa, but commitment reduces towards central and West Africa. While poor countries like Malawi and Madagascar show high commitment to ending hunger and undernutrition, oil-rich states like Nigeria and Angola show very low commitment, ranking 37 and 42 respectively on the 45-country list.

The new Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index – Africa (HANCI-Africa) 2016, produced by the Institute of Development Studies (UK) with the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) aims to hold African leaders to account on the issue and reveals the nations taking the strongest action, as well as those that have the biggest improvements to make. With 220 million Africans still estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger and 58 million children under five stunted by undernutrition, much is at stake.

South Africa ranks highest in this inaugural edition of the index. Its laws enshrine strong legal rights that can help protect people from hunger, it provides good social safety and has made significant investments in health services. However, the index shows that South Africa can go further by investing in agriculture and strengthening access to sanitation – that is currently lacking for a third of its population.

Malawi closely follows South Africa to be in second place. It too offers a constitutional protection for the right to food, and makes substantial investment in health; one notable result is that a large share of pregnant women are seen by skilled birth attendants. There is good access to drinking water, and public funding for agriculture is high, however the latter could encourage crop diversification for better diets. Malawi could work to extend coverage of Vitamin A supplementation for children in the country and in improving people’s access to sanitation to improve nutrition results, which remain worrying.

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Sudan, Guinea-Bissau and Comoros are at the bottom of the HANCI-Africa rankings. The research shows that each are –amongst others- lacking in social safety nets, dedicated budgets for nutrition and constitutional rights to food. Nigeria ranks 37th (out of 45), highlighting concerns that the commitment to addressing hunger and undernutrition needs shoring up in Africa’s most populated country and largest economy. While Nigeria has taken some important steps, such as introducing nutrition outcome targets with a clear time frame, it lacks investment in health and agriculture, and many Nigerians continue lacking safe drinking water and sanitation.

The African Union declared 2016 as the African Year of Human Rights, with a focus on the rights of women. Laws can support women’s empowerment, which is known to be a key factor in successfully addressing hunger and undernutrition. Yet, HANCI-Africa also shows much remains to be done in this area. Women in countries including Gambia, Ghana and Sierra Leone have no or few legal rights to own, use and control land on which to grow food, and are severely restricted by discriminatory practices.

Isatou Jallow, Senior Nutrition and Partnership Advisor at NEPAD said: “Our leaders have committed in the 2014 Malabo Declarations, to end hunger and reduce undernutrition (stunting) to 10% in children under five by 2025. However, greater political and multi-stakeholder commitment and action is required to reach these goals, especially the Sustainable Development Goal on ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 Goal for healthy and well-nourished citizens. The Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index – Africa, is an important tool to promote accountability by measuring, monitoring and reporting on the actions that African Union member states are taking to combat hunger and undernutrition, highlight progress, gaps and challenges including areas where support is required by countries.”

Dolf te Lintelo, Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, and lead researcher on HANCI-Africa, said: “This first HANCI-Africa highlights which countries dedicate resources, policies and laws to protect their citizens from hunger and undernutrition.”

“Across countries in Africa, the research has also identified how much ground remains to be covered in supporting women’s rights. Women’s access to agricultural land or economic rights are still often on unequal terms, to advantage men, which can greatly affect women’s ability to access adequate nutrition for themselves and their children.”

HANCI-Africa shows that the countries at the lower end of the rankings are characterised by inconsistencies rather than poor performances on hunger and nutrition across the board. Over time, country leaders need a co-ordinated, consistent approach across a range of areas that drive hunger and undernutrition reduction, rather than focusing improvements in just a few areas, even though these may be important first steps. For example, Sudan has a strong level of public spending on agriculture and Guinea-Bissau achieves 98% vitamin A supplementation coverage, but neither country has social safety nets, ring-fenced budgets for nutrition or constitutional rights to food that can protect their people.

See the full HANCI-Africa Index here.