After more than a year of steadily worsening reports from famine-stricken Africa, there is finally a glimmer of good news. In preparation for the opening of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) biannual conference in Rome last week, Director-General Edouard Saouma announced that Africa's best rains in years were producing record harvests in some areas. As a result, only five of the 21 African countries that needed emergency food aid this year--Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Sudan--remain on the list, and in 1986 Africa will need less than half the 7 million tons of food aid it required this year. Still, Saouma was quick to warn that the crisis was not over. "The rains have recovered," he said. "Africa has not."
Among the problems that continue to bedevil Africa are war, inadequate transportation, and shortages of seed, fertilizer and plow animals. Says Robert McCloskey, external-affairs counselor for Catholic Relief Services: "The situation will remain fairly desperate over the coming year. The harvest is better, but the number of people in need will remain high." Another problem is that little has been done to make African agriculture more resilient. Few of the drought-prone countries have grain reserves, and a lack of rain next year could easily wipe out this year's gains. "The emphasis is still on feeding the person, not helping him to produce," says Saouma.
Sudan is a typical example of the good and bad news. The Sudanese needed 1.4 million tons of food aid this year, but a bumper harvest in the country's fertile east has halved the requirements for 1986. In the country's inaccessible western provinces of Darfur and Kordofan, however, famine still afflicts hundreds of thousands. Farm families ate their seed and slaughtered their oxen just to stay alive. When the rains came, they had nothing to plant. Because roads in the area were washed out by the summer rains, relief groups had to organize costly flights to reach the famine victims.
It is no coincidence that, with the exception of Botswana, all the countries faced with continuing food emergencies are racked by civil wars. In Ethiopia, fighting between rebels and government forces in the northern provinces of Tigre and Eritrea has severely limited farming. Catholic Relief Services estimates that 5 million to 6 million Ethiopians still need food aid, and many of them are in unreachable war zones. But transportation in the rest of Ethiopia should improve in December with the arrival of 250 trucks donated by U.S. AID, the Live Aid Foundation and the Band Aid Trust.
None of this assistance, however, will be sufficient unless agricultural production can at least keep up with Africa's 3% annual population growth rate. If long-term food production and population trends in Africa continue, says Mostafa Tolba, chief of the U.N. Environment Program, the continent's population will double to 1 billion by the year 2007, requiring imports of 203 million tons of food a year.
It should be possible to break that trend. The FAO's figures show that this year Africa's food and agricultural production rose a healthy 4%, a rate ahead of the population growth. Sustaining that level is the key to ending famine in Africa. "The land needs irrigation, pesticides, fertilizer and other means of increasing production," says Saouma. "For the rest of this decade and the 1990s, food aid is not the priority issue. Food production is." --By Edward W. Desmond. Reported by Walter Galling/Rome and Alastair Matheson/Nairobi
6 months ago