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close this bookCERES No. 098 - March - April 1984 (FAO Ceres, 1984, 50 p.)
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More manageable aid for Africa

Reports on the food crisis that is afflicting two dozen African countries continue to be alarming. Many areas face the third consecutive year of poor harvests. Requirements for emergency food aid are likely to grow in the next few months, and a foremost concern of the international aid community will rightly be the need for urgent action to reduce human suffering.

At the same time, there is a growing preoccupation, both within the affected countries and in the international community at large, with the need for longer-term measures designed to reverse the decline in Africa's agricultural productivity. The trend, which has gone on for more than a decade, can by no means be attributed entirely to unfavourable climatic conditions. Unquestionably, much remains to be accomplished in the field of agricultural research: in the development of better farming systems for rainfed crops, in enhancing the livestock carrying capacity of grazing lands, in breeding improved varieties of traditional African food crops. It is essential at the same time to strengthen national extension networks so that the results of research are available to producers.

The investment implications arising from all this are sizeable. To attain growth rates in agricultural production surpassing four per cent annually in the second half of the present decade (which would be triple the 1970s level) would, according to the FAO Regional Food Plan for Africa, involve a total investment of $125 billion over 15 years. This was acknowledged as an extremely optimistic scenario, dependent, among other things, upon a high degree of government and external support

There is growing evidence that African leaders and potential aid donors alike are giving more consideration not just to the levels of financial support but also to the policy frame work within which agricultural development programmes must be implemented. Thus, for example, Zimbabwe's Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, Mr B. Chidzero, referred to the economic crisis in Third World countries in an address last year, declaring that "it is not all attributable to the high rise in oil prices of the mid-seventies, nor to the high interest rates, nor to the decline in commodity prices generally.... I also suspect that wrong national agricultural policies have had their share in the tragic tale."

A similar view was reflected three years ago in a World Bank report, Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Agenda for Action. For most of the previous decade, the report said, prices of food crops had been set at below market levels while production of export crops was heavily taxed - all this despite lip service to the ideal of strong producer incentives.

One probable result of the stronger emphasis on producer incentives will be a closer linkage between the levels of external assistance actually made available and the effective application of national policy reform measures. The basic objectives of such an approach appear to fit comfortably with widely held views as to the underlying causes of agricultural stagnation in Africa. But the approach itself touches upon another question of concern to both national governments and external aid agencies: the impact of increasingly diverse and complex aid patterns on the usually overburdened administrative machinery of many African states. Aid inflows to Africa have been growing at nearly 20 per cent annually over the past decade an, there has been a corresponding diversification of aid sources, often exhibiting markedly differing priorities, policies and procedures. Recipient governments are faced With the difficult task of matching the formulation of more rational national policies to the welter of pragmatic considerations involved in maintaining the overall aid inflow from a variety of sources.

Clearly, sovereign states in need of external assistance will want to retain as far as possible their freedom to manoeuvre and to choose among assistance programmes; just as clearly many donors may, for domestic reasons, increasingly attach condition to much of their development assistance funding. That said, the overriding urgency of achieving a revitalization of Africa's agriculture make imperative the maximum amount of support from all governments and agencies concerned for well-coordinated aid programmes that reduce as far as possible the risks of counterproductive and wasteful effort.

Finally, it should go without saying that the concern with these long-term problems and development issue should not become an obsession the distracts attention from the immediate need for more aid to save human beings living today on the verge of extinction by famine.