Africa Hunger and Poverty Facts

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 233 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were hungry/undernourished in 2014-6 (its most recent estimate). 795 million people were hungry worldwide.  Sub-Saharan Africa was the area with the second largest number of hungry people, as Asia had 512 million, principally due to the much larger population of Asia when compared to sub-Saharan Africa.

There has been the least progress toward reducing hunger in the sub- Saharan region, where more than one in four people remain undernourished – the highest prevalence of any region in the world. Nevertheless, the prevalence of undernourishment in sub-Saharan Africa has declined from 33.2 percent in 1990– 92 to 23.2 percent in 2014–16, although the number of undernourished people has actually increased slightly.

In 2012, 501 million people, or 47 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa, lived on $1.90 a day or less, a principal factor in causing widespread hunger. (World Bank, Sub-Saharan Africa Poverty and Equity Data )  This number compares to 233 million estimated undernourished people.

What are the causes of hunger and poverty in Africa?

In general, the principal causes of poverty are harmful economic systems, conflict, environmental factors such as drought and climate change, and population growth (WHES 2015). Poverty itself is a major cause of hunger. All are very important as causes of poverty and hunger in sub-Saharan Africa.


Poverty is the principal cause of hunger in Africa and elsewhere. Simply put, people do not have sufficient income to purchase enough food. Conflict and environmental factors, for example, are certainly important causes of hunger, but the most typical situation is that people just do not have enough income to purchase the food that they need—they could be starving in some slum somewhere, for example. As noted above, in 2012, 47 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lived on $1.90 a day or less, a principal factor in causing widespread hunger.

Harmful economic systems

Hunger Notes believes that a principal underlying cause of poverty and thus hunger in Africa and elsewhere is the ordinary operation of the world’s economic and political systems. Essentially control over resources and income is based on military, political and economic power that typically ends up in the hands of a minority, who live well, while those at the bottom barely survive. We have described the operation of this system in more detail in our fact sheet Harmful economic systems as a cause of hunger and poverty . The role that harmful economic systems play cannot be demonstrated briefly and should not be taken as confirmed truth by students, who should nevertheless consider it seriously. Controlling the government and other sources of power and income is a fundamental way of obtaining income. Freedom in the World is an annual index that measures the degree that people have political rights and civil liberties. See its (mainly low) freedom rankings for sub-Saharan African countries in 2016 at One way that those in positions of power obtain income is through corruption. The 2015 map of perceived corruption worldwide done by Transparency International  shows that many sub-Saharan African nations are viewed as having a serious problem with corruption.


Conflict is a principal source of human misery, including poverty and hunger. According to a World Bank study,

—poverty rates are 20 percentage points higher in countries affected by repeated cycles of violence over the last three decades;

—Every year of violence in a country is associated with lagging poverty reduction of nearly one percentage point;

—People living in countries currently affected by violence are twice as likely to be undernourished and 50 percent more likely to be impoverished. Their children are three times as likely to be out of school;

—Countries with serious human rights abuses or weak government effectiveness, rule of law, and control of corruption have a 30 – 45 percent higher risk of civil war, and significantly higher risk of extreme criminal violence than other developing countries (World Bank 2011b).

The threat of death and serious injury resulting from conflict can result in such a desperate situation that people leave their homes. This is in spite of the fact that this requires leaving nearly everything behind: house and land, sources of income, and most possessions, becoming uprooted from the place where you have lived (which was home and loved), to go–typically a journey of great danger–in search of a better alternative, which is usually a very bare bones refugee camp or other marginal situation. Africa had an estimated 13.5 million refugees and internally displaced persons in 2011, as Table 1 indicates. While not all refugees are caused by conflict/violence, most of them are.
Table 1. African refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), returnees (refugees and IDPs, and others of concern to UNHCR (end-2015)

Type Number (millions)
Refugees   5.3
Internally displaced people (IDPs)   11.1
Returned refugees and IDPs   2.4
Other   0.3
Africa total  19.1
World total  63.9
Africa as % of world  19.8%
Source: Annex Table 2 Refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced persons, returnees, stateless persons and others of concern to UNHCR by origin at the end of 2015.  2015 Global Trends  p.66


Africa faces serious environmental challenges, including erosion, desertification, deforestation, and most importantly drought and water shortages, which have increased poverty and hunger by reducing agricultural production and people’s incomes. Many of these challenges have been caused by humans; the environment can be said to be overexploited. Deforestation, for example, has been caused by humans seeking new places to live, farm, or obtain firewood. Drought, water shortage and desertification in Africa have been caused to some extent by global warming, which has mostly been caused by the effects of human energy use outside of Africa.

Population growth

Africa’s population has been increasing rapidly, growing from 221 million in 1950 to 1 billion in 2009. Africa, the world’s poorest continent, has the highest population growth rate. A woman in sub-Saharan Africa will give birth to an average of 5.2 children in her lifetime (Guardian 2011). This rapid growth, along with other negative factors such as harmful economic systems, conflict and deterioration in the environment, has limited growth in per capita income, causing poverty and hunger.

Last update (partial):  August 16, 2016


Freedom House.  Freedom in the World 2016. Accessed August 16, 2016

Food and Agriculture Organization, International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Program. 2015. “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014. Strengthening the enabling environment for food security and nutrition.” Rome: FAO  Accessed August 16, 2016

Guardian, The. October 22, 2011. “Global population growth fears put to the test in Africa’s expanding cities.”

Transparency International. 2015 Map of Perceived Corruption Accessed August 16, 2016.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 2016. “Global Trends 2015.” Accessed August 16, 2016.

World Bank. Sub-Saharan Africa Poverty and Equity Data.  Accessed August 16, 2016

World Bank. 2011a. World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security, and Development.  Access the full report through this link,,contentMDK:23252415~pagePK:478093~piPK:477627~theSitePK:477624,00.html Or the link to the full report (416 page PDF file) is Accessed August 16, 2016.

World Bank. 2011b. “WDR 2011 Facts and Figures.” Accessed August 16, 2016.

World Hunger Education Service. 2015. World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics Accessed August 16, 2016.

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  • For the past 40 years, since its founding in 1976, the mission of World Hunger Education Service is to undertake programs, including Hunger Notes, that
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