Africa: Hunger Statistics and Facts

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*2022 is the most recent data from FAO. 

Regional Spotlight: Africa

There are proportionately more people on the continent of Africa who experience hunger, measured by chronic undernutrition, than anywhere else in the world—and it is getting worse. 

An estimated 282 million people were undernourished in 2022, according to the most recent data by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). That means that about 20 percent of the population did not get enough nutrients to live a healthy life. In several regions, food shortage was so severe that FAO estimated 342 million people needed emergency food aid.

These bleak statistics are driven by unresolved conflict and climate change, coupled with high rates of poverty and the lingering impacts of colonial occupation.


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Poor progress against hunger

Efforts to reduce hunger on the African continent do not reflect the steady and consistent decreases over the last two decades seen elsewhere in the world. The number of people who are not getting enough nutrition has risen since 2010.

There was a rise in hunger during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic across the globe by 1 percent. In Africa, the increase during the same time was nearly double at 1.7 percent. 

Between 2019 and 2022, hunger worsened in all regions of Africa, with 57 million more people chronically undernourished in 2022 compared to before COVID-19. A key factor behind the increase is the rising cost of food.

In some areas, however, the situation was extremely dire, with people struggling to obtain any food at all.

Hunger hot spots

An estimated 60 percent of the African population experienced moderate or severe food insecurity in 2022. This means that, unlike chronic undernutrition, which measures the quality and adequacy of food intake, people in this category did not consistently have access to sufficient food of any kind.

Map showing the hunger hotspots in Africa

A story from Sudan offers an example of severe food insecurity. People in the Al Lait refugee camp ate dirt after going without food for days, as their hunger was so extreme,  according to a 2024 Reuters article.

Of the six countries designated as having alarming levels of food insecurity by the Global Hunger Index in 2023, five are on the African continent. In addition to Sudan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, and Niger are listed.

Five subregions of Africa

Northern Africa

The people of North Africa are primarily Arab speakers and culturally similar to people in the Middle East. Civil war in Sudan intensified hunger to the point of near famine conditions. Climate change also threatens food security in the region. Already prone to drought, water shortages are expected to increase with rising temperatures, impacting local agriculture.

Western Africa

Many of the countries in Western Africa are net food importers and are subject to fluctuating global prices. The rising cost of food in the wake of both COVID and the Ukraine war  hit the region hard. Fragile local food systems could not absorb the shocks, leaving a healthy diet of reach for millions. Further complicating the situation, conflict and poor land management is shrinking the farmable land in the region.

Central Africa

Similar to Western Africa, the Central region is dependent on food imports even though arable land for agriculture is more plentiful. Conflict in the Central African Republic makes a dire situation worse, displacing millions, decimating resources and adding to the soaring costs of food. Over 300,000 children are suffering from acute malnutrition.

Eastern Africa

Frequent droughts, climate variability, and post-colonial conflicts define the modern era of Eastern Africa. Five consecutive failed rains  contributed to severe food shortages in the Horn of Africa—one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in the world. Persistent conflicts in Somalia and Ethiopia have made the situation worse leading to near famine conditions.

Southern Africa

The Southern African region includes one of the most economically successful countries on the continent as well as one of the most food-insecure countries in the world. South Africa and Lesotho were both hit by severe drought in 2017 and continue to grapple with rising temperatures. Lesotho, where the majority of the population are subsistence farmers, was less able to absorb the impacts. In 2023, an estimated 16 percent of the population experienced high levels of food insecurity.

Conflict, climate, and the colonial past

Both conflict and climate adversely affect each other, creating the vicious cycles of instability behind persistent hunger.

Conflicts displace farmers, destroy crops and land, and disrupt food supplies. Climate change increases fragility, degrades soil, increases water scarcity. Both increase competition for limited resources and reduce access while driving up the cost of food. And in Africa, both have roots in a colonial past that still marks political, social, and agricultural practices.

In sub-Saharan Africa (the Central, East, West, and Southern subregions—regions that was relatively food secure before colonization), researchers have linked persistent hunger to politically motivated colonial systems —systems that fostered economic dependency and disrupted local food systems. Although a complexity of factors contribute to high rates of hunger today, conflict, climate, and the recent increases in the cost of a healthy diet are worsened by the weak infrastructure and institutions left in the wake of colonial administrators.

The Somalia hunger crisis

Somalia is an example of this perfect hunger storm.

Before independence in 1960, Somalia was divided between two colonial powers with different languages and systems of government. Weak and unstable governance amid clan-based social organization after independence eventually devolved into a civil war that began in 1991. An estimated 300,000 people died of starvation in the first year of that conflict.

Conflict and poor agricultural policies made land degradation worse. In recent years, a severe drought has increased soil erosion and crop failures, pushing a vulnerable system into a state of disaster.

More than a million people are displaced from their homes and now live in refugee camps. In 2024, more than half of the population needed urgent, life-saving, humanitarian assistance

Among the displaced is Khadija Muali, who lost two children to hunger. Her story, featured in a 2022 article by National Geographic, highlights the human cost of this crisis. She asked:  “When you see your child crying because of lack of food, and there is conflict and no possibility of casual work, what do you do?”

The struggle for survival

Muali’s question is echoed by millions of individuals caught in prolonged conflicts and devastated landscapes. As instability grows, choices dwindle. When a person can no longer earn an income to afford food—if there is any to be purchased—their only choice is to search for better circumstances or watch their family starve.

Refugee camps are a place of last resort for many families like Muali’s, leaving people in limbo as they wait to rebuild their lives. Emergency humanitarian assistance has been able to stave off starvation for millions, but it does not solve the underlying problem of hunger.

Climate and camels in Kenya

Kenyans are taking steps to address root causes of hunger.

In Northern Kenya,  the same drought that devastated Somalia left over 4 million people short of food. Eighty percent of the region’s cows, an important source of milk, died from a lack of water and grazable land.

In response, the regional government purchased camels for drought-hit pastoralists. Camels also produce nutritious milk but require significantly less land and water to survive.

Camels need less water than cows but can still die during the worst droughts. Still, the program has provided a chance for many pastoralists in the region to rebuild their livelihoods, but much more needs to be done for the future of Kenyan food security.

Climate-smart agriculture

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is working with Kenyan enterprises to reduce the need for humanitarian aid by building resilience. They are investing in watershed protection, promoting climate-smart agricultural practices, and training local communities to improve water and sanitation access.

A project administered through USAID’s Feed the Future initiative helps farmers plant nutritious and drought-resistant grass for animal feed. This increases a critical resource while also boosting farmers’ income, enabling them to improve the nutrition of their own families.

When weather is unpredictable, reliable forecasting is vital for farmers like Jonnes Ellijah Mlegwah. New technology is helping to send forecasts through WhatsApp and radio. These and other tools helped Mlegwah adapt his Kenyan land to climate change. In addition to using more drought resistant crops, he learned  new composting and irrigation techniques that save water.


The African continent is rich in natural resources, but in many regions, there is a lack of infrastructure needed to reverse current trends of growing hunger.

Hunger in Africa is a complex issue driven by conflict, climate change, and the lingering impacts of colonialism. Pervasive poverty and weak governance add fuel to the fire. Despite these challenges, there are glimmers of hope.

Investment in climate-smart agriculture and local resilience programs shows promise in building food security. More development projects like USAID’s are working with local communities on solutions that are influenced by the social and environmental context of the region. By continuing to invest in and support sustainable solutions, it is possible to lessen the adverse effects of Africa’s unique challenges. Together, international collaboration and local efforts can pave the way for a future where hunger is significantly reduced and resilience is strengthened.

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  • World Hunger Education
    P.O. Box 29015
    Washington, D.C. 20017
  • 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
    • Educate the general public and target groups about the extent and causes of hunger and malnutrition in the United States and the world
    • Advance comprehension which integrates ethical, religious, social, economic, political, and scientific perspectives on the world food problem
    • Facilitate communication and networking among those who are working for solutions
    • Promote individual and collective commitments to sustainable hunger solutions.