According to Food Agricultural Organization reports, the average number of undernourished people in Sub-Saharan Africa increased from 108 millions /year in 1969 – 1971 to 186 millions/year in 1996 – 1998; that was about 72.2 percent change from 1969 to 1998. Apart from Sub-Saharan Africa where the number of undernourished people increased by 23.5 percent (234 millions/year to 294 millions/year) in the same period as Sub-Saharan Africa, two regions in developing countries such as East & Southeast Asia and Middle East/North Africa were able to reduce the number of undernourished people by 56.3 percent and 29.4 percent respectively while there was no change in Latin America. However, it is important to emphasize at this junction that poverty plays a significant role in hunger or food insecurity. Runge and his co-authors in their book entitled Ending hunger in our lifetime; food security and globalization, noted that most of those who face hunger are poor in an absolute sense. In South Africa for example, food insecurity has been linked to high level of poverty. In addition to inadequate income, political disadvantage and war have also been given as reasons for lack of access to food by the people. It is therefore obvious that to overcome hunger there must be sustained, robust economic growth combined with a commitment to poverty alleviation.
Thailand is an example of a developing country that has been able to overcome hunger and I am of the opinion that Sub-Saharan Africa should use quality time to study how this was achieved. Between 1998 and 1996, the percentage of the Thai population living in poverty fell from 32.6 percent to 11.4 percent. The incidence of mild malnutrition among preschool children fell from 35 percent to 8 percent between 1982 and 1998 while moderate malnutrition declined from 13 percent to less than 1 percent. In addition, severe cases of malnutrition decreased from 2 percent to an insignificant level according world bank report. The big question is how did Thailand achieve this?
Although Thailand was lucky to have had a rapid economic growth (like what many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are having today), the country had a strong orientation toward investing in people, emphasizing agriculture and directly tackling poverty. According to World Bank report of 2001, Primary school enrolment was 92 percent in 1980 and secondary school enrolment was 47 percent in 1997. Adult literacy rates were 97 percent for men and 93 percent for women in 1998. Thailand was also excellent in terms of basic investments in her people’s health. 94 percent of the urban population had access to improved water sources in 1990 and 88 percent in rural areas. Furthermore, annual growth in agricultural value added averaged 3.9 percent for 1980 – 1990 and 2.7 percent for 1990 – 1999 possibly because the importance of growth in the agricultural sector was not overlooked. Also, Thailand’s well-organised poverty alleviation program which included combined nutrition surveillance, supplemental feeding of young children, access to primary health care, and the production of nutritious food was initiated in 1982, starting in the 286 poorest districts in the country becoming nationwide in 1984.
Sub-Saharan Africa remains the world’s most food insecure continent, with relatively low levels of agricultural productivity, low rural incomes, and high rates of malnutrition,however sub-Saharan Africa may be able to overcome hunger if Thailand’s model is judiciously implemented.