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Facing Up to Africa's Food Crisis
Carl K. Eicher is Professor of Agricultural Economics and Director of the African Rural Economy Program at Michigan State University. He has worked and traveled widely in Africa for 20 years. He is coeditor of Agriculture in Economic Development, Growth and Development of the Nigerian Economy, and coauthor of "Research on Agricultural Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Critical Survey."See more by this author
The most intractable food problem facing the world in the 1980s is the food and hunger crisis in sub-Saharan Africa-the poorest part of the world. Although the crisis follows by less than a decade the prolonged drought of the early 1970s in the Sahelian states of West Africa, the current dilemma is not caused by weather. Nor is the chief problem imminent famine, mass starvation, or the feeding and resettling of refugees. Improved international disaster assistance programs can avert mass starvation and famine and assist with refugee resettlement.
Rather, Africa's current food crisis is long term in nature and it has been building up for two decades; blanketing the entire subcontinent are its two interrelated components-a food production gap and hunger. The food production gap results from an alarming deterioration in food production in the face of a steady increase in the rate of growth of population over the past two decades. The hunger and malnutrition problem is caused by poverty-i.e., even in areas where per capita food production is not declining, the poor do not have the income or resources to cope with hunger and malnutrition.
Twenty-two of the 36 poorest countries in the world are African. After more than two decades of rising commercial food imports and food aid, the region is now experiencing a deep economic malaise, with growing balance-of-payment deficits and external public debts. The world economic recession has imposed a severe constraint on Africa's export-oriented economies. Prospects for meeting Africa's food production deficit through expanded commercial food imports thus appear dismal. African heads of state have held summit meetings to examine their economic, food, and hunger problems, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Organization of African Unity (OAU), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), World Bank, World Food Council, and African Ministers of Food and Agriculture agree on the alarming magnitude of the problem.