Hope for Africa

AFRICA is suffering from a drought of historic proportions. Millions are facing an extraordinary food crisis. At least 24 countries are suffering major food shortages caused by severely curtailed harvests.

Africa is prone to droughts, but even in years of adequate rainfall food production is insufficient to generate buffer stocks for the poor years. In fact , per capita food production declined 20 percent between 1961 and 1982.

Fundamentally, Africa's most vexing problems are indigenous structural ones. African economies have not developed the flexibility to respond to the ever-evolving global environment.

Policy reform - establishing economically rational policies - is the most important step toward Africa's long-range development. Despite the continent's great size and diversity, all African economies are gripped by a continental crisis caused by policies which do not promote development and which is made worse by drought.

In the early post-independence years state enterprises emerged and marketing boards proliferated. Prices were controlled. This had an adverse impact on farmers, the backbone of every African economy. They and the private sector were taxed more to pay for burgeoning bureaucracies. Maintaining low official food prices to protect consumers resulted in prices too low to stimulate production.

Virtually free education and health services, however laudable in theory, cannot be adequately financed by nonproductive economies. The result is the opposite of the intended. Health and education systems do not penetrate very far into rural areas, and often there are no textbooks or even simple medicines. Frequently, the outcome of this intervention is higher budget deficits, growing external debt, inflation, and declining investment. In such an environment there is little prospect for sustainable development.

But just as emergency food shipments do not answer basic food problems, short-term financial solutions do not lead to development. Africa's economic problems require imaginative and comprehensive solutions.

In fiscal year 1983 the United States gave 157,000 metric tons of emergency food aid to Africa, valued at $55 million. We have already, in slightly more than half of fiscal year 1984, approved 350,000 metric tons of emergency food aid valued at over $130 million. This is in addition to our regular fiscal year 1984 food program in Africa, which totals about $225 million and provides over 800,000 metric tons of nonemergency food aid.

On Jan. 30, the Reagan administration announced it would seek two additional assistance programs for Africa: $90 million in supplemental food aid (which was voted by the Congress and signed by the President into law on March 30) and a multiyear Economic Policy Initiative (EPI).

The EPI has two objectives: first, to provide additional support for those countries most willing to adopt more dynamic, growth-oriented economic policies. To do this, the administration expects to ask Congress for $500 million additional assistance over five years with an initial appropriation of $75 million in fiscal year 1985.

Second, EPI is intended to strengthen and streamline the international assistance framework for Africa by improved donor coordination at the country level.

The EPI will be directed toward those countries that can establish a comprehensive policy framework to ensure expanded production incentives. Funds will help African governments implement specific strategies and reforms, a process often difficult because of institutional, manpower, and other structural bottlenecks.

There is hope. Improved policies and donor coordination will be catalysts in making the billions of dollars donors provide in traditional assistance to Africa more effective. There is a growing awareness and willingness among Africans to undertake needed policy reform. The next few years will be crucial.

The Economic Policy Initiative signals to Africans and other donors alike the commitment by the United States to help African countries achieve a better life for all their people.

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