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Food security in Africa: a cross-scale, empirical investigation using structural equation modeling


Despite consistent gains in global agricultural productivity in the last 50 years, lack of food security persists in many regions of the world. Addressing this issue is especially pertinent in Africa where 39 of the nearly five dozen nations most at risk of food insecurity are located. We draw from interdisciplinary research to develop an empirical model that outlines the four interconnected aspects of food security—availability, access, utilization and stability. Given the complexity of this issue, we develop a model that considers agricultural, socio-political, and economic factors as drivers of food security and its manifestations, related in a complex system of relations that includes both direct and indirect paths. We use structural equation modeling with latent variables to specify a model that seeks to determine the primary drivers of food security over 55 years in Africa, West Africa as a region, and for a group of 5 West African countries: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria. Empirical results reveal the critical importance of availability and accessibility for mitigating food insecurity.

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  1. We include theoretically based correlated errors between the three immunization rate variables.

  2. We include theoretically based correlated errors between the three education GPI variables.

  3. Give the large size of our sample a significant Chi-square test is not surprising.

  4. Southern Region: Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland; Eastern Region: Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe; Middle Region: Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe; Northern Region: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia; Western Region: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo.

  5. Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

  6. Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria.

  7. Detailed results are available upon request.

  8. This non-causal relationship was included because of the suspected reciprocal relationship between health status and poverty that we were not able to otherwise include in this model.

  9. The mean for these five countries ranges from 0.006 to 0.090%, while the Africa average is 0.738%.


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Funding was provided by National Science Foundation (Grant No. SMA-1416730).

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Correspondence to Riva C. H. Denny.

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Denny, R.C.H., Marquart-Pyatt, S.T., Ligmann-Zielinska, A. et al. Food security in Africa: a cross-scale, empirical investigation using structural equation modeling. Environ Syst Decis 38, 6–22 (2018).

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  • Food security
  • Undernutrition
  • Africa
  • Structural equation modeling