Starvation in Africa
In March 2017, the United Nations (U.N.) warned that some 20 million people in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen face starvation and famine if the international community did not act quickly. This warning refocused attention on the ongoing food insecurity faced throughout the African continent. While the issue is completely preventable, starvation in Africa still exists.

Facts about Starvation in Africa:

    1. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the U.N., some 153 million people (about 26 percent of the adult population) suffered from severe food insecurity in 2014/15 in sub-Saharan Africa.
    2. Food insecurity exists when people do not have adequate access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their needs for an active and healthy life. The issue is thus not the existence of enough food, but the access to food.
    3. There are various interrelated reasons why African states are vulnerable to food insecurity. Several countries in the region remain highly dependent on food imports to ensure adequate food supplies. Thus exposing them to unstable food markets and commodity prices. The African region also has the lowest per capita income in the world and the highest poverty levels. This means that large parts of the region’s populations are unable to cope with rising food prices.
    4. The majority of Africans are also directly dependent on subsistence farming on a continent that is prone to extreme natural disasters, including severe drought and floods. These natural disasters lead to failed crops, as well as insufficient pasture feed and water for livestock. The current El Nino drought has been one of the most intense and widespread in the past 100 years.
    5. The majority of African countries facing acute food insecurities are also experiencing internal conflict. This impedes both access to food and food production. The levels of political instability and corruption result in these states being unable to address food crises, whether caused by rising food prices or natural disasters.
    6. Food insecurity in South Sudan has reached extreme levels. Several parts of the country declared pockets of famine, and nearly 100,000 people face starvation. Limited humanitarian assistance has reached these regions because of recurrent fighting due to civil war.
    7. A famine can only be declared when certain measures of mortality, malnutrition and hunger are met. Namely, at least 20 percent of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope, acute malnutrition exceeds 30 percent, and the death rate exceeds two per 10,000 people per day. The last famine in Africa was in Somalia in 2011, which killed an estimated 260,000 people.
    8. Apart from the three countries highlighted by the U.N., several other African countries are facing acute levels of food insecurity. The World Food Programme classified emergency situations in the Lake Chad Basin (Cameroon, Chad, Niger, including Nigeria) and Southern Africa (Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe).
    9. The Lake Chad Basin faces an acute humanitarian crisis caused by existing challenges of extreme poverty, underdevelopment and climate change. Boko Haram violence only aggravates these challenges. Some 7.1 million people need food assistance, and famine looms in the areas most affected by the crisis in northeast Nigeria. Malnutrition in the region is rising at alarming rates, and more than half a million children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
    10. While the situation in southern Africa has stabilized somewhat in recent months, food insecurity remains widespread following two years of consecutive drought. Some 16 million people in the countries worst-hit by drought will need emergency humanitarian assistance throughout early 2017.

The current levels of food insecurity and starvation in Africa are bleak. Humanitarian assistance is sorely needed to address the food crises in the hardest hit areas. While this would help to address the crisis in the short-term, more attention should also be given to long-term peace-building and food security efforts on the continent to prevent the recurrence of famine.

Helena Kamper

Photo: Flickr

What Causes Famine in Africa
What causes famine in Africa? Over 40 million African lives are threatened by famine and food crisis. A number of factors contribute to widespread and stubborn famine, such as extreme weather, weakening currencies and a failure to mobilize resources.

Although international aid is an imperative aspect of a country’s ability to cope, food aid alone will never solve the reoccurring problem.

“Food aid is focused on short-term emergencies and doesn’t address the causes of the crisis,” according to Poverties, an organization that provides social and economic research. “That’s why even if it’s badly needed in emergencies, a long-term plan is also vital.”

Programs such as The Purchase for Progress and World Food Program seek to develop local farming industries. Investing in agriculture prevents future food shortages and supports a local economy rather than only relieving famine in the short-term.

For international aid to be most effective, it is crucial that it arrives in a timely fashion in predictable amounts and is properly targeted. An earlier response to a crisis builds resilience in a community and is more cost-effective than waiting to treat seriously malnourished people. According to Mail and Guardian Africa, the continent needs at least $4.5 billion for emergency relief.

Across the Horn of Africa and South Sudan, a combination of war and severe drought create food insecurity.

“In war, food sometimes becomes a weapon,” according to World Food Program, the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger. “Soldiers will starve opponents into submission by seizing or destroying food and livestock and systematically wrecking local markets. Fields are often mined and water wells contaminated, forcing farmers to abandon their land.”

Continuous fighting hinders food aid; the areas that need it the most are the areas hardest to reach due to the security situation. Ethnic discrimination is a factor as well as the region being hit hard by AIDS. The disease causes those weakened by starvation to be unable to fight for survival.

Instability in the market causes food prices to fluctuate, making it difficult for the poor to have access to nutritious food consistently. These spikes in price hit children and the elderly the hardest.

With unrestricted access and thorough planning, international aid can drastically relieve food crisis. Providing resources and assistance to Africans can foster sustainable development strategies specific to the region and its weather as well as boost economic development, preventing famine in the future.

Emily Ednoff

Sources: Poverties, Mail & Guardian Africa, Deutsche Welle, World Food Programme
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in South Africa Starvation
South Africa is one of the few countries able to provide its entire population with food. Each individual is able to receive approximately 600 grams of starch, 300 grams of fruit and vegetables, and 150 grams of meat or fish, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. However, hunger in South Africa continues to be a prevalent issue.


Causes of Hunger in South Africa


Thus, 11 million South Africans are unsure where their next meal will come from, a concept known as “food insecure.” A quarter of the South African population is currently struggling from malnourishment and hunger. The rural areas are where hunger hits the hardest, and the majority of South Africa’s poor are living in the rural parts of the country.

The reasoning for this is because natural resources are being wasted and are not being put to appropriate use. The cost of food is rising, and many South Africans are finding it increasingly difficult to afford or access nutrient dense foods at an affordable price.

Dr. Gerhard Backebery, Executive Manager of the South African Water Research Commission states, “Although not conclusive, it seems that most poor people are buying and not growing the food that they are eating. At the same time it is of major concern that available natural resources (such as water, soil and plants) are under-utilized.”


Devastating Health Outcomes of Hunger in South Africa


People are not merely dying of hunger in South Africa, but more specifically, they are dying from the side effects of lacking proper nutrients.  What people are able to eat is directly stemmed from what they are able to afford. Children, in particular, are suffering from undernourishment and malnourishment; a study in the Eastern Cape shows that some children are only ingesting meat one time per month, therefore they are severely lacking in minerals such as zinc and iron.

One in five children are reportedly stunted from lack of necessary nutrients and minerals.  Their nutrient deficiencies can have a lasting effect on their growth process, causing significant impairment to their physical health and mental development.

For example, iron deficiencies can cause poor attention spans and fatigue, making brain activity slower and learning more difficult.

Food fortification is one of the main methods to help reduce malnutrition and deprivation of nutrients.

Wheat flour, sugar, and maize flour now include essential vitamins and minerals. The addition of fortification in food has led to a reduction in birth defects. Children who are not breastfed, or who have been improperly breastfed, present elevated levels of malnourishment, growth defects, diarrhea, and are at greater risk of HIV and AIDS.

Other factors such as access to clean water, sanitization and health care can have a large impact on resolving hunger in South Africa. They influence health and can lead to maintaining essential nutrients that may otherwise be lost due to diarrhea and dehydration.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: UNICEF, Food Bank, Mail and Guardian
Photo: Telegraph

Though there are many causes of death in regions of poverty within developing countries such as AIDS, cancer, unclean water or other diseases — the number one cause of death continues to be hunger.

To understand hunger, however, one needs to first understand the definition of hunger. According to the Oxford dictionary, hunger is a feeling, discomfort or weakness caused by the lack, or severe lack of food. Global hunger refers to the latter — a severe lack of food.

A closer definition of world hunger comes from World Hunger, which describes hunger as being the scarcity of food in a country.

Hunger also leads to the lack of nutritional supplements necessary for human health. One out of three people in the world suffer from vitamin deficiencies such as vitamin A, iron and iodine.

A lack of vitamin A can cause blindness and reduce the effectiveness of the human immune system. The lack of iron is the cause of anemic, malaria and worm infections. The lack of iodine negatively affects mental health of children while the lack of this supplement during pregnancy can result in miscarriage, premature death in babies.

As it stands, though the world is producing enough food to feed the growing human population, those living in poverty do not have enough income to supply food for their households.

According to a slew of statistics, as you are reading this article, 820 million people are suffering from hunger, over 7000 people die of hunger everyday in India alone and one child dies every five seconds. Moreover, with the climate changing in recent years, many natural disasters have occurred, further pushing a large number of people into poverty.

Humanity is fighting a tough battle against global poverty, especially when concerning world hunger.  Though with the help of the world’s population, the future continues to look bright.  One person alone might not be able to make a difference, but if people are united under the same flag and want to make a difference, the world will change significantly.

This battle is, in fact, a drawn out war — and humanity is winning. With everyone’s support, this war can be won in twenty years, thus allowing the world tree to bear the fruit of freedom and strong economic growth for all nations.

– Phong Pham

Sources: Hunger Notes, Bhookh Relief Foundation

South Africa
With a GDP of over 384.3 billion dollars, and a GDP growth of over 2.5 percent, South Africa is the wealthiest nation in Africa and the 25th wealthiest in the world.  By the year 2000, South Africa GDP was 40 percent of the total Sub-Saharan GDP.

Over 11 million South African citizens are currently food insecure, making over one-fourth of the population in imminent danger of malnutrition.  24% of the nations citizens are moderately to severely stunted, with another 9 percent of the population moderately to severely underweight.

The most harshly affected areas are the cities of Cape Town and Msunduzi. In Cape Town, 80 percent of the poor face food insecurity, while over 87 percent are affected in Msunduzi.

What factors are inflaming the situation? South Africa, despite producing “sufficient food for its’ population”, rising food costs have prevented poor “urban households” from obtaining proper “nutrition.”

Dr Jane Battersby-Lennard from the Food Bank of South Africa stated food is available, but impoverished residents of these urban centers can not afford the food. The nation’s “poor areas” have “seven times fewer supermarkets than rich areas”, making it extremely difficult for poorer residents to obtain food of adequate dietary value. She also noted that most urbanized residents reside within the “severe food insecurity category”, creating a situation where “meal sizes” are shrunk and families go “hungry for days.” In an attempt to save money, meals are downsized significantly.

The situation has been categorized by the term “Hidden Hunger.” South Africa is noted for it’s wealth and abundance of food, so the idea that such extreme levels of starvation can occur in this nation is astonishing to many. Even with the vast availability of food, residents lack of wealth result in them purchasing less than adequate food. This results in a “chronic lack of vitamins and minerals” which prevents impoverished residents from living a healthy, nutritional lifestyle.

Malnutrition has become an epidemic, both “under-nutrition” as well as “over-nutrition.” Over-nutrition has impacted large swats of improverished residents who purchase low-cost food deficient in essential vitamins, resulting in citizens becoming “overweight” and developing “obesity.”

South Africa’s rural population, which accounts for about 14 million people, are also destructively affected by the lack of proper nutrition. Moderate factors such as access to common household resources like “electricity and refrigerators” impinge on the storing of essential goods.

Dr. Mieke Faber and Dr. Friede Wenhold, working on a study proposed by SA Water Research Commission or WRC, found that rural populations are not exploiting natural resources such “water, soil and plants”, but instead, heavily relying on purchasing food and not producing crops. Water Research Commission executive manager Gerhard Backeberg emphasized the need for impoverished communities to take advantage of these resources to help combat food insecurity.

The wealth of a nation does not necessarily mean all of it’s residents receive the same treatment. Unequality in wealth and poor access to nutrition can blemish a nation’s reputation heralded for its economic successes. Addressing the health concern of impoverished residents is a necessity for South Africa to advance as a nation.

Joseph Abay

Sources:, WFP, Times Live, Health 24, Gallup, World Bank, UNICEF, VOA News, Children Count, Stats SA, BBC, The Economist, All Africa, The Independent, Digital Journal


With the world population expected to double by 2050, food security will continue to be an increasingly complicated and important issue. More food will be needed to feed more people and, to preserve vital biodiversity sites, we’ll need to produce this additional food using land already devoted to agriculture. While there are many factors that could improve agricultural efficiency, genetically modified crops hold the most potential. Many scientists now believe that transgenic plants could help prevent or minimize future food shortages.

Transgenic plants are those that possess an inserted portion of DNA either from a different member of their own species or from an entirely different species. The inserted DNA serves some special purpose, such as allowing the plant to produce natural insecticides. Once the genes are transferred, they can be passed on to offspring through simple fertilization, allowing farmers to breed advantageous traits in their plants. Transgenic plants have proven extremely profitable in the developed world, accounting for a 5% to 10% increase in productivity, and reducing the cost of herbicides and insecticides.

Such methods could effectively increase productivity in the developing world, where a surge in food production is sorely needed. Developing countries, especially those in the tropics and subtropics, suffer severe crop losses due to pests, diseases, and poor soil conditions. In addition, a lack of financial capital often prevents farmers from investing in high quality seeds, insecticides, and fertilizers. Poor post-harvest conditions such as inadequate storage facilities and thriving fungi and insect populations also fuel crop loss. Currently, pests destroy over half the world’s crop production. Transgenic plants could provide an innovative solution.

Fortunately, bioengineering solutions can be easily adapted from one species to another, allowing one advancement in plant biotechnology to quickly produce many more. For example, insect-resistant strains of several important plant species have been produced using one specific endotoxin. Commercial production of insect-resistant maize, potato, and cotton has already begun. Plant bioengineers hope to use similar technology to create fruits that ripen more slowly, allowing for longer shelf lives and less post-harvest crop loss.

It is important to note that this technology has mostly been established with the developed world in mind. Therefore, adapting it for use in the developing world must be done carefully. For instance, many crops grown in the developing world are local varieties and have not been extensively tested thus far by plant bioengineers. Blindly replacing local crops with bioengineered varieties from the developed world could disturb deep social or religious traditions that are represented in the widely varied cultures in the developing world. Additionally, societies are more likely to embrace a familiar crop than a foreign one. Research and development in bioengineering must, therefore, adapt to include the crops of the developing world.

Although the globe produces enough food for everyone, people everywhere continue to die of starvation. With this unequal distribution in mind, it is imperative that, moving forward, small farmers in the developing world receive the same access to plant biotechnology given to large agribusinesses in the developed world. First-world corporations cannot be granted even more unfair advantages over small landholders in poorer nations, especially as global populations grow and food security becomes ever more scarce and important. As this technology is developed, it is up to us to share it with the developing world in order to minimize severe food shortages in the years to come.

– Katie Fullerton

Sources: Plant Physiology, Colorado State University
Photo: Tree Hugger

Can Converting Cellulose Into Starch Solve World Hunger?
When considering the most pressing issues confronting global poverty in the next 30 to 40 years, none are more alarming than the food shortages predicted to accompany a worldwide population of over nine billion people. In an effort to ameliorate future food insecurity, more and more research funding has been allocated towards finding sustainable, nutrient-dense complex carbohydrates capable of meeting the caloric demands of a greatly expanded populace. Quite astonishingly, in a turn of events that have even researchers optimistic about future food security challenges, scientists have recently discovered a way of converting cellulose into starch.

Researchers at Virginia Tech’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, along with their College of Engineering devised an ingenious method of converting cellulose into starch by utilizing a process involving cascading enzymes. Basically, enzymatic reactions transform cellulose – an abundant carbohydrate contained in the cell wall of plants – into amylose and ethanol, which means that absolutely nothing goes to waste. The potential of the cellulose to starch conversion opens up exciting new frontiers in the fight against world hunger, as humans generally derive 20 to 40 percent of their daily caloric intake from complex carbohydrates such as starch.

In regards to the process of converting cellulose into starch, Associate Professor of Biological Systems Engineering Y.H. Percival Zhang remarked that “Cellulose and starch have the same chemical formula, the difference is in their chemical linkages. Our idea is to use an enzyme cascade to break up the bonds in cellulose, enabling their reconfiguration as starch.”

Scientific breakthroughs such as converting cellulose into starch serve to unlock the potential of feeding the entire world’s population without the necessary land, water, and fertilizer usage that wreaks havoc on the earth’s delicate ecosystems. Furthermore, by harnessing the scientific technology necessary to transform something as abundant as plant cellulose into a viable human food source, future challenges such as global food security are looking much more surmountable.

Brian Turner

Source: Science Daily
Photo: National Geographic

North Korean Prison Camps Uncovered Using Google Earth
Using new Google Earth images, analysts and human rights groups have uncovered visual proof of several prison camps operating in the oppressive North Korean state. Long an unconfirmed and secret program that the country continually denied as foreign propaganda, the regime’s prison camps are now verifiable through high-definition satellite imagery.

The UN has been encouraged by rights groups to investigate the situation that has persisted for nearly 50 years, as there are thought to be nearly 200,000 political and civilian prisoners held in a series of camps – many detained as punishment for attempting to flee North Korea in search of food or work, according to a report by the National Human Rights Commission.

With the release of the latest satellite imagery courtesy of Google Earth, a newly constructed prison camp can be seen in Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, that did not exist when the last images were released in 2006, according to the North Korean Economy Watch website. Analysts were able to determine such details as a 13-mile-long fence, with two checkpoints and six guard posts, and a seemingly nonoperational coal mine.

Reports of conditions inside North Korea’s prison camps have been few and far between, as very few prisoners have ever escaped alive, with little chance of ever leaving the prison at all once they are in. The accounts of life inside, where perceived “enemies” of the regime and three generations of their family can become imprisoned for the rest of their lives, are extremely harrowing. Such stories include prisoners “forced to to survive by eating rats and picking corn kernels out of animal waste.”

Other such conditions include abuse, torture, sexual violence, and disease; analysts suspect that nearly 40 percent of prisoners die of starvation and malnourishment, while those who survive are worked to death in harsh conditions for up to 16 hours per day. Prisoners who attempt to escape and are caught face execution.

The role of Google Earth has played a large part in the increased amount of knowledge that rights groups have available on the prison system. Former prisoners have, with the improvement in imagery that is now high-definition, been able to work with analysts in pinpointing the exact features of the prison camps that they were in, including their barracks and camp execution grounds.

Although the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay, stated that steps are needed in order to take stronger action against the regime, she also acknowledged that the UN had hoped that the change in leadership would improve the human rights situation in the country. Ms. Pillay stated that the UN will look into creating an international investigation into the North Korean prison camps system since it is clear that the situation is not improving.

Christina Kindlon

Source: The Telegraph