By Maina Simon

The food security in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) region comprising Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan, is worsening.

This was noted during the launch of the IGAD regional food security crises report for the year 2023 in a hybrid meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.

According to the 2023 Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC) Regional Focus on IGAD Member States, the population facing acute food insecurity in the region has rapidly increased since 2020, by over 10 million additional people each year.

In 2022 a staggering 258 million people worldwide were facing high levels of food insecurity and what is worrying, 55.45 million of them were within seven of the eight IGAD countries.

The number of people in catastrophe, which is the most extreme form of food insecurity was 301,000 in Somalia and South Sudan alone.

Further, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan had the largest population facing high levels of acute food insecurity in their seven-year history with Kenya leading with the biggest year-on-year deterioration with an 84 percent increase from 2021 – 2022. Somalia and Sudan also had 61 percent and 20 percent increase respectively.

The report notes that there are global drivers of food insecurity in the region including the economic shock linked to the combined effects of high international food, fuel and fertilizer partially due to the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic. Currency depreciation and extremely high debts taken to try and cope with Covid-19 are key factors.

Both political and resource-based conflict and insecurity also led to food insecurity by limiting humanitarian access such as areas of Tigray and adjacent areas of Afar and Amhara. In Somalia it led to population displacements disrupting livelihoods, markets and economic activity, however, displacement can be a driver and an outcome of food insecurity.

Additionally, the unprecedented three-year drought in the Horn of Africa and record-breaking flooding in South Sudan led to poor agricultural production, severe livestock losses, reduced livestock productivity and ultimately, the devastation of many livelihoods.

“With all these profound challenges it is important for IGAD member countries to incorporate the challenges to their programs and policies moving forward. Member countries must adapt and respond to the evolving nature of food crises in order to effectively combat them,” urged Guleid Artan, IGAD Climate Director.

The report notes that food insecurity in the region has been on the rise since 2010 and to curb this Member States must prioritize anticipatory action, early warning systems, contingency planning and early response mechanism must be strengthened and integrated into the IGAD mechanism. However, such measures are effective but the implementation remains limited.

Additionally, the report recommends that Member States must shift towards sustainable food systems to reduce dependence on imports by reducing harvest losses.

It notes that by harnessing resources sustainably, promoting investment and creating an enabling environment for the private sector, the IGAD region can unlock potential for economic growth, security and ensure a brighter future for its people.

“This report should serve as a wake-up call for us to take immediate and collective action to change our ways of working to address the root causes of food insecurity. The recent three-year drought across the Horn of Africa highlights the urgent need to upscale and institutionalize anticipatory action and climate adaptation strategies to prevent, rather than just respond to, future climate emergencies,” said Dr. Chimimba David Phiri, Food and Agricultural subregional Coordinator for East Africa and Representative to the African Union and to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

“Meanwhile, food insecurity caused by conflicts and the knock-on effects of global economic shocks highlights the critical need for efforts that sustainably build peace, increase domestic production, and reduce post-harvest losses in the IGAD region.”

Addressing the dire food crises in the region requires urgent and coordinated efforts from international organizations, governments, the private sector, regional organizations, civil society, and communities.

However, with all the measures put in place, the report notes profound challenges in 2023. Out of the five countries with food security projections for 2023, Kenya and Somalia are still facing sharp deterioration in acute food insecurity.

In Sudan, the impact of the ongoing conflict on food availability and access is expected to drive a rapid deterioration in the food security and nutrition situation, with Khartoum and the region of Darfur worst affected.

The recovery from a three-year drought will be slow given the magnitude of livelihood losses and population displacements mainly in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.