BY MICHAEL VALPY
TWO COLOR photographs and a little bit of Canadian generosity illustrate the intractability of the problems African governments face in their failing goal to feed their people.
The photographs are U.S. satellite pictures of Africa1 showing green leaf density on the continent. One is taken in August, 1982, the other in August, 1983. Nothing could be more graphic.
The green is shown as a narrow and shrinkingband across the continent sourth of the Sahara. The rest of Africa--now in its third year of drought--is a baked brown.
The little bit of Canadian generosity is a planned $6-million gift of wheat to hungry Zimbabwe,2 one of 24 African nations facing severe food shortages. However, wheat is not a staple food for Zimbabweans, nor is much grown domestically. Already the Government--and the governments of many African countries--is concerned about increasing numbers of people being weaned away from traditonal diets, becoming attached to foods like bread.
Wheat starts by coming into the country as food aid. Next, people demand that it be imported. Two statistics presented by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which held its 13th African regional conference here last week, show what happens.
In 1970, Africa produced 93.1 per cent of its dietary energy requirements. In 1980, it produced 95.6 per cent. The increase, however, came almost entirely from imports, meaning an outflow of almost non-existent foreign currency reserves.
The dilemma for Canada is that it has surplus wheat, not surplus millet, sorghum and tubers that make up 60 per cent of Africa's staple diet. It either gives what it has or people go hungry.
Last week's conference was an unrelieved forum on food-production problems that cannot be solved. It is probably a tribute to the African agriculture and rural development ministers who attended the conference that they came away so optimistically determined to tackle their difficulties on their own.
First, there is the drought, about which nothing can be done. Second, there is African's population growth, the highest in the world. Third, there is the fact that Africa's export commodities buy only half the imports--manufactured goods and crude petroleum--they did four years ago. Fourth, there are a host of new endemic livestock and plant diseases plaguing the continent. Fifth, there is Africa's appalling lack of trained manpower and technical knowledge.
On one critcial issue, for example--the problem of trying to pay farmers a sufficient incentive price for their produce without pricing food beyond consumers' ability to pay--FAO conference delegates threw up their hands in defeat. Minister after minister told the conference his government did not know what to do, that the government did not have the sophisticated economic knowledge to establish food prices nor the technicians to administer a price structure.
They acknowledged, as well, that the scant technological expertise they possessed was often being applied in ways that were not enhancing food production. It was being applied to cash-crop exports so countries could earn more money, not to improving yields of millet, sorghum and tubers.
The ministers agredd that irrigation must be improved--on a continent where even short-term drought can cause havoc. But how? If governments tried for the quick fix of large-scale irrigation projects for commercial agriculture, there was the risk the projects would encroach on small-scale farming operations. Africa is desperately short of arable land.
While they talked, the FAO secretariat ept circulating the depressing statistics that every African politican must know by heart:
The success of the conference, however, was in the acknowledgement by politicians attending that their governments have given the problems of food production too low a priority in the 20 years of Africa's independence.
They did not go as far as saying what the FAO's director-general, Dr. Edouard Saouma, said: that Africa's independent governments have spent more resources on training soldiers than farmers. But they pointed themselves down the right road.
"Most of our problems could be resolved," said Zimbabwe's2 Agriculture Minister, Denis Norman, "if we just had more knowledge." His fellow ministers agreed that knowledge comes with determination and discipline.3
(article accompanied by photograph of African refugee baby, captioned:
Maize porridge is forced on a baby by a starving mother, one of Mozambican refugees in Zimbabwe.2)
(article accompanied by photograph of Dr. Edouard Saouma, captioned:
Saouma was blunt.)
(text of July 30, 1984 Globe and Mail article)
-1-ANOTHER "U.S. SATELLITE PICTURE OF AFRICA" FIGURED PROMINENTLY IN HOW I PROCEEDED WITH MY "INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC WORK...ON A DIRECT BASIS" RE AFRICA.
TO CONSIDER WHAT THAT U.S. VELA SATELLITE PHOTOGRAPH SUBSTANTIATED IN 1979, TAKE A BRIEF SIDESTEP HERE.
2"IN FOR A PENNY, IN FOR A POUND," AS THEY USED TO SAY (AND STILL MAY IN BRITAIN GIVEN WHAT YOU FIND IF YOU TAKE A BRIEF SIDESTEP HERE RE THE RESULTS OF THE RECENT BRITISH ELECTIONS).
HAVING DRAWN ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU FIND IF YOU TAKE A BRIEF SIDESTEP HERE, WHY NOT ALSO DRAW ATTENTION TO WHAT WAS THE THINKING IN 1986 OF THE PRESENTLY UNSTABLE LEADER OF ZIMBABWE, ROBERT MUGABE?
YOU CAN SEE WHAT HE WAS THEN SAYING IF YOU TAKE A BRIEF SIDESTEP HERE.
YOU CAN SEE WHAT HE IS SAYING NOW IF YOU TAKE A BRIEF SIDESTEP HERE.
3-ON THE ONE HAND, IF YOU'VE GONE THROUGH THE CONTENTS OF MY 1987 CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR DESMOND TUTU AND THE VICTIMS OF APARTHEIDSYSTEMATIC RACISM OF THAT YEAR'S SUBMISSION TO P.W. BOTHA, YOU MIGHT TAKE A SERIES OF (2) BRIEF SIDESTEPS HERE ON THE SUBJECT OF "KNOWLEDGE" IN ONE WAY MR. NORMAN MAY HAVE BEEN THINKING.
THE RELEVANT QUOTE IS ON THE SECOND PAGE IN THE SEQUENCE ACCORDING TO THE INSTRUCTION AT THE TOP OF THAT PAGE.
OR, IF YOU'VE GONE THROUGH THE CONTENTS OF MY 1988 CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR DESMOND TUTU AND THE VICTIMS OF APARTHEID/SYSTEMATIC RACISM OF 'SCIENCE FICTION', YOU MIGHT TAKE A BRIEF SIDESTEP HERE ON THE SUBJECT OF "KNOWLEDGE" IN THE PROBABLE OTHER WAY.
ANY WAY YOU LOOK AT IT, IF THE THOMAS JEFFERSON "PRINCIPLE" AT THE HEART OF WHAT YOU FIND IF YOU TAKE A BRIEF SIDESTEP HERE IS RIGHT--AND I BELIEVE IT IS--THEN WHAT ALSO APPLIES ABOUT "KNOWLEDGE" IS WHAT I TOLD THE CANADIAN AND AMERICAN PRESS AS I PREPARED TO SPEAK BY TELEPHONE IN APRIL, 1986 WITH MY FRIEND DESMOND TUTU FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 1978: WHEN WE HAD DISCUSSED AMERICAN CONCERNS ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF SOUTH AFRICA DEVELOPING NUCLEAR WEAPONS.
THAT IS REPEATED NEAR THE BOTTOM OF WHAT YOU FIND IF YOU TAKE YOUR NEXT FOOTSTEP HERE.