Obama Aid for Africa Can't Keep Pace With Population-Driven Hunger

President Barack Obama speaks on June 28, 2013 with the head of the Senegalese Federation of Corn Producers, Nimna Diayte, second right, before USAID administrator Raj Shah during an event on food security in Dakar. Photograph by Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images Close

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President Barack Obama speaks on June 28, 2013 with the head of the Senegalese Federation of Corn Producers, Nimna Diayte, second right, before USAID administrator Raj Shah during an event on food security in Dakar. Photograph by Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Barack Obama spoke in Tanzania today, ending his visit to sub-Saharan Africa by highlighting what the U.S. and other countries are doing to alleviate poverty among the world’s hungriest nations.

While it’s true that the aid programs have been successful to a degree, they are unable to address the core contributor to worsening hunger in the area: population growth that is undoing gains in other areas. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only major region of the world where the proportion of people living on less than 2,100 calories a day, the commonly accepted hunger threshold, is on the rise, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released Thursday.

By 2023, about 34 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa will face food insecurity, compared to 29 percent today, according to the USDA report. Total hunger worldwide is expected to rise to 868 million in 10 years, up from 707 million this year. Sub-Saharan Africa, one of four regions included in the USDA’s study of 76 low- and middle-income nations, will be home to 373 million of them. That’s almost 50 percent more than this year.

The Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Eritrea, Somalia and Zambia will continue to be among the world’s hungriest nations. In Uganda, food insecurity may zoom to 70 percent of the population. Malawi, which has dramatically ramped up grain production over the past half-decade, still can’t grow enough to feed a population that will increase 3.3 percent a year over the next 10 years. In Zambia the same population growth rate is expected to outpace a 2.7 percent rise in grain output, according to the USDA.

Thanks in part to investment and help from the global community, many nations, mainly in western Africa, are seeing better governance and healthy economic growth. Political instability continues in nations like Burundi and Somalia, and climate change isn’t expected to make these challenges easier for anyone.

Progress in the fight against corruption, warfare, and poor infrastructure for producing and distributing food has helped reduce hunger from more than half of the region's population in 1995, to less than a third today. Since those issues have seen improvements, that leaves demographic change as the presumed major contributor to hunger today.

Foreign aid does lift the lives of millions in these nations. Touring a food-security exposition in Senegal on Friday, Obama talked up the year-old New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, a consortium of G8 nations, African partners and private companies through which more than 70 companies have pledged $3.7 billion to improve African agriculture.

The three-year-old U.S. Feed the Future program, which reaches 7 million households in 19 countries worldwide, has improved nutrition for 12 million children. The initiative encourages farmers to use better technology and helps cultivate markets by prodding subsistence growers to produce surpluses that they can sell.

The Group of Eight nations, the African Union, and companies including DuPont Co., Cargill Inc. and Agco Corp. are all committing resources that are noble and successful, but amount to a rounding error on the overall problem.

Ultimately, economic maturity could slow population growth, in the same way that it has improved lives and lowered family sizes in other parts of the world. Until that trend takes over, domestic food production and purchased imports won't be able to meet demand. And that means global aid efforts will continue to swim against a tide that pledges alone can’t turn.

Bjerga covers the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Bloomberg News.

Analysis and commentary on The Grid are the views of the author and don't necessarily reflect the views of Bloomberg News.

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