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Food Research Group: Africa Must Do More to End Hunger

A new report shows sub-Saharan African countries are not likely to meet three of the Millennium Development Goals supported by the United Nations. They include cutting hunger and child malnutrition in half by 2015 and reducing child mortality by two-thirds. VOA's William Eagle reports from Washington.

The report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) says only six of the 42 African countries it tracked are likely to reach the U.N. goals: Mozambique, Malawi, Mauritania, Congo-Brazzaville, Mauritius, and Ghana.

The IFPRI report, called the Global Hunger Index, was released with the German group Agro-Action and Concern Worldwide.

The report ranks 118 countries worldwide. At the bottom of the rankings are 10 countries with the highest levels of hunger. In last place is Burundi (#118). Just above it are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Liberia, Niger, Yemen Republic, Angola, Comoros and Zambia.

IFPRI officials say of all the world's regions, sub-Saharan Africa has made the least progress toward reducing hunger since 1990.

Among the countries that have experienced the greatest setbacks during the past 15 years are Liberia, Burundi, Swaziland and the DRC. Among those that have shown the most progress during that period are Malawi and Mozambique.

IFPRI officials say 38 of the 42 sub-Saharan African countries ranked are lagging behind their efforts to cut child mortality; 35 are not doing enough to reduce child malnutrition, and 27 have not reduced the number of people who do not have enough to eat.

International Food Policy Research Institute nutritionist and researcher Doris Weismann says a number of factors help determine whether a country will meet the challenge of reducing hunger. They include education, health care and food production and availability.

She says armed conflict also increases hunger - as combatants cut off food supplies and take food meant for civilians. Most sub-Saharan countries involved in war during the past 15 years scored poorly on the Global Hunger Index, including Burundi, Congo, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Angola.

But Weismann said at lease one country is making progress.

"When we take Ethiopia, we can say that food production has improved, but also child mortality has fallen and child malnutrition has decreased," she said. "There remains a lot to do. Even positive trends depend where you start from. And Ethiopia has invested not only into agriculture and agricultural extension services but health and education systems, especially since the [end of a border war] with Eritrea. So I would say it is possible to see some positive steps here."

Improvements in food production can also lead to a drop in global hunger rates. Weismann says some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, like Ghana and Benin, are growing more food. But she says improved food production does not necessarily guarantee a drop in hunger rates.

"You do not only want to have food on the table and in the country," she added. "[You want to] see that it can be biologically utilized and put to proper purpose to nourish human beings and keep them healthy. It is not sufficient to have just enough grains and calories, but [also to have] micronutrients like Vitamin A, iron and zinc to help people be healthy and children to grow properly."

In other countries, including South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland, food production has been affected by AIDS.

The Global Hunger Index shows Swaziland among those countries that have most deteriorated over the past 15 years - due in part to drought and HIV/ AIDS. According to U.N. estimates, more than 33 percent of all Swazis between the ages of 15 and 49 are HIV-positive.

The disease has eliminated adult farmers and heads of households needed to produce food and take care of family health. It has also reduced the amount of money available to purchase fertilizer and other inputs needed for improving agriculture.

Weismann says there is a link between success on the Global Hunger Index and strong economies - for example, South Africa and Mauritius are on the top half of the chart. By contrast, the rankings of Zimbabwe (#93) and of the DRC on the Index are dropping as their economies decline.

On the other hand, Angola has a growing economy supported by the end of civil conflict and the production of two million barrels of petrol per day. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts a 24 percent economic growth rate for Angola this year, one of the fastest in the world. Improvements in roads, railways and other infrastructure are expected to jump-start agriculture.

But Angola (#118) remains near the bottom of the Global Hunger Index. Analysts disagree over whether the economic growth has reduced poverty. Good governance groups, including Transparency International, say poverty reduction is thwarted by corruption among political and business interests.

Weismann says this is the second year IFPRI has published the Index. She calls it a tool for NGOs and donors, showing them where to increase efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition.

Media interest has also been high and has brought with it renewed attention to hunger. For example, Weisman says in Malawi journalists have used the rankings to question legislators and government officials about policies. As a result, the government has been forced to defend its policies on hunger and malnutrition.