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What countries have no food security?

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (UNFAO, 1996). Conversely, food insecurity exists when people do not have adequate physical, social or economic access to food as defined above.

Achieving food security and adequate nutrition for all is still a major global challenge. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), an estimated 821 million people were undernourished in 2017. The vast majority of these hungry people live in low and lower-middle income countries, where 12.9% and 9.5% of the population were undernourished, respectively.

Many factors contribute to food insecurity around the world. These include poverty, population growth, climate change and weather events, political instability and armed conflict. Countries with prolonged conflicts and civil unrest tend to have very high rates of undernourishment.

This article examines the countries that currently face the biggest food security challenges. It provides an overview of food insecurity issues globally and in specific nations and regions. The article also discusses factors driving food insecurity in these vulnerable places.

Global Overview of Food Insecurity

According to the UN FAO’s “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018” report, the number of undernourished people in the world increased from around 804 million in 2016 to nearly 821 million in 2017. So after a prolonged decline, world hunger appears to be on the rise again driven by conflict, climate events and economic downturns in some parts of the world.

Africa remains the continent with the highest prevalence of undernourishment, affecting almost 21% of the population (more than 256 million people). The situation is particularly severe in sub-Saharan Africa, where the undernourishment rate stands at almost 24%.

Asia has the highest number of undernourished people, over 515 million. Yet the prevalence of undernourishment in Asia is lower than Africa, at around 12%. Southern Asian countries including India have made good progress in reducing hunger. The Western Asia region still has significant food security challenges with over 12% undernourishment.

Latin America and the Caribbean have achieved the most progress in reducing undernourishment over the past decades. Still 6.1% of their population (over 39 million people) lack adequate food access. Due to severe economic downturns, food insecurity has risen again in South America.

Developed regions including North America and Europe have very low rates of undernourishment at less than 2.5%. Yet problems like obesity are growing public health concerns as access to cheap, high-calorie foods increases.

Countries with the Highest Undernourishment Rates

The following table lists the 20 countries with the highest prevalence of undernourishment according to 2017 UN FAO statistics:

Country Undernourishment Rate
Haiti 53.4%
Zambia 47.8%
Central African Republic 46.8%
Namibia 42.3%
Madagascar 42.0%
Botswana 38.8%
Democratic Republic of the Congo 38.2%
Liberia 37.7%
Mozambique 36.2%
Rwanda 35.2%
Malawi 33.5%
Sierra Leone 32.5%
Somalia 32.1%
Zimbabwe 29.4%
Lesotho 25.3%
Niger 25.0%
Kenya 24.4%
Swaziland 23.4%
South Sudan 23.3%
Sudan 20.3%

It is worth noting that the majority of these countries with the highest hunger rates are located in Africa. More than half are found in sub-Saharan Africa specifically. The only non-African nations on the list are Haiti, Yemen and Afghanistan.

Regions with Severe Food Insecurity

Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa consistently has the highest undernourishment rates in the world. Factors driving food scarcity here include:

  • Poverty – Many sub-Saharan nations are among the poorest in the world, limiting food access.
  • Population Growth – High fertility rates result in rapid population growth in sub-Saharan Africa, increasing demands on food supplies.
  • Low Agricultural Productivity – Farming tends to be subsistence based and reliant on inefficient methods. Infrastructure limitations also constrain production and trade.
  • Environmental Factors – Recurrent droughts, soil erosion and degradation diminish harvests.
  • Conflict – Violent strife has severely damaged food production capacities in places like South Sudan, Somalia and Central African Republic.

These factors combine to make hunger a chronic long-term challenge across much of sub-Saharan Africa. Even traditionally prosperous and stable countries like Botswana and Namibia struggle with undernourishment.

Southern Asia

While Southern Asia nations like India and Bangladesh have achieved good progress at tackling hunger, the region still has serious food security challenges. Undernourishment affects over 280 million people here.

Poverty remains widespread, with large portions of rural inhabitants subsistence farming. Diets rely heavily on starchy staples like rice and wheat, while access to micronutrient-rich foods is limited. Natural disasters like floods frequently damage crops. As population grows, these vulnerabilities place increasing pressures on food supplies.

Western Asia and Northern Africa

This region encompassing the Middle East and North Africa has significant pockets of food insecurity. Countries with high undernourishment rates include:

  • Yemen – 17.5% undernourished
  • Syria – 12.2%
  • Iraq – 22.5%
  • Afghanistan – 29.8%

Conflict and instability linked to waves of regime change and armed interventions have severely damaged agricultural capacities and food access in nations like Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Ongoing unrest continues to disrupt production and trade, while displacement of populations has increased humanitarian food needs.

Latin America and Caribbean

Undernourishment has risen again in South American countries like Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela due to economic downturns. Food price inflation has reduced poor people’s purchasing power. Political turmoil in Venezuela has also damaged food security.

In the Caribbean, hunger remains a serious problem in Haiti where over half the population cannot access adequate food. Poverty, low farming productivity, soil erosion and natural disasters all contribute to undernourishment.

Factors Driving Food Insecurity


Poverty is a fundamental cause of food insecurity in most nations. When people live in extreme poverty, they simply do not have enough income to purchase or produce the food they need. This forces them to compromise on quantity and nutrition quality.

According to the UN World Food Program, someone is considered extremely poor if they live on less than US$1.90 per day. Most of the world’s poor and hungry people live in sub-Saharan Africa or Southern Asia. Poverty reduction through economic development is vital for improving their access to food.

Conflict and Displacement

Wars, civil conflicts and political instability severely undermine food security by disrupting production, trade and livelihoods. They often force large displacements of populations who become dependent on humanitarian assistance.

Countries with prolonged conflicts like South Sudan, CAR and Somalia have very high hunger rates. In the Middle East, conflict has ravaged agricultural capacity in nations like Syria and Yemen. Efforts to improve food security are impossible without restoring peace and stability.

Climate and Weather Events

Climate change and severe weather events like droughts, floods and storms can devastate local agriculture and trade. Smallholder farmers with limited capacity to adapt are especially vulnerable.

Droughts have contributed to rising hunger in parts of Africa, Haiti and Afghanistan in recent years. Floods regularly damage important rice crops in Southern Asia. Extreme weather looks set to become more frequent with climate change.

Unsustainable Agriculture

Low productivity and unsustainable agricultural practices limit food production in many developing nations. Heavy reliance on inefficient subsistence farming techniques constrains harvests. Over-cultivation, overgrazing and use of marginal lands leads to soil erosion and degradation.

Lack of infrastructure like irrigation and storage facilities also reduces production capacities. Agricultural development programs are needed to improve productivity and resilience.

Population Growth

Rapid population growth in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia outpaces increases in food production. This results in more mouths to feed from limited resources. Malnutrition and hunger rates are higher in families with many children.

High fertility rates and large population sizes look set to continue driving food insecurity in fast growing developing countries.

Effects of Food Insecurity

The lack of access to adequate food and nutrition causes tremendous human suffering. Impacts on undernourished populations include:

  • Starvation and malnutrition
  • Increased childhood stunting and wasting
  • Higher morbidity and mortality
  • Lower labor productivity and incomes
  • Social and political unrest

Food insecurity also impedes broader economic and social development in affected nations. Hungry children struggle to learn and develop properly, limiting future opportunities.

Governments and aid agencies invest billions of dollars in emergency food assistance. Long-term development gains will require structural efforts to improve agricultural systems and address root causes of hunger like conflict, poverty and unsustainable population growth.

Responses to Food Insecurity

Increasing Food Production

Increasing domestic food production through improved agriculture is a key priority in most food insecure nations. Measures to raise productivity include:

  • Expanding adoption of resilient crops and farming methods
  • Investments in irrigation, machinery, fertilizers, infrastructure
  • Better access to markets and value chains
  • Farmer education programs
  • Sustainable land management practices

Foreign development assistance to build agricultural capacities is often vital. Long-term investments and commitment are required to nurture progress.

Boosting Incomes and Reducing Poverty

Raising the incomes of the poorest through rural development and employment creation expands their access to food. Cash transfer and social protection programs also help vulnerable groups afford nutrition.

Macroeconomic and governance reforms are needed in many nations to promote broad based economic development. However, political challenges often slow poverty reduction efforts.

Humanitarian Assistance

Food aid programs provide vital short-term relief to hungry populations impacted by emergencies like war and droughts. The UN World Food Program is the world’s largest humanitarian agency delivering food assistance.

However, food aid is rarely a long-term solution. Development of local production capacity and income opportunities is more important for lasting food security.

Nutrition Interventions

Access to diverse, nutrient-rich foods is important alongside calories. Nutrition programs help improve health and development through:

  • Micronutrient supplementation
  • Promotion of breastfeeding and nutritious foods
  • Targeted interventions for mothers and infants
  • School meal programs

Countering undernutrition early in life helps break intergenerational cycles of poverty and food insecurity.

Outlook for Global Food Security

Sustainably overcoming food insecurity remains a huge challenge across much of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. Alarmingly, climate change looks set to put even more pressure on food systems in vulnerable regions in coming decades.

Ending hunger will require large ongoing efforts to promote income growth, agricultural development, education, social stability and women’s empowerment in poor countries. Even with major investments, progress is likely to be gradual given the structural nature of the issues involved.

Food security should be a top priority both for national governments and international development organizations. Only through long-term collaborative efforts can meaningful progress be achieved in ensuring all people have access to adequate nutritious food.


Food insecurity remains a severe global issue holding back progress and prosperity for vulnerable populations concentrated in Africa, Asia and parts of the Middle East and Latin America.

Extreme poverty and low agricultural productivity are major drivers of hunger in most nations. Conflict, climate shocks, high population growth and unsustainable farming practices exacerbate these problems.

Sustainably overcoming food insecurity will require coordinated long-term efforts to foster economic development, increase incomes, improve agriculture, restore peace and stability, empower women and adapt to climate challenges in vulnerable regions.