A matter of taste

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Why not simply ship US and European food surpluses to Africa? And, since Africa is surrounded by water, why don't Africans eat more fish?

* Africans have traditional food likes and dislikes. Sorghum and millet are preferred in Niger, Chad, Bourkina Fasso (Upper Volta), and Mali, but the US grows millet primarily as canary food and has to send red sorghum instead.

* Many Africans prefer light-colored or white grain and will only eat yellow maize if they have to. So US corn is largely unacceptable.

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* Mauritanians have some of the richest fishing grounds in the world but, like many Africans, eat very little fish themselves. Some Zairians do eat fish, yet on Lake Tanganyika, neither Zairians nor Tanzanians fish seriously for the sardine-like ndgala fish.

Greek immigrants fish for ndgala using Mediterranean-type nets, and sell to local markets. Comoro Islanders are surrounded by fish - but prefer rice.

* African governments have allocated only $900,000 to develop fisheries in the last five years.

* The European Community (EC) has 150,000 tons of surplus Greek olive oil, which is of little value in Africa, and 1.03 million tons of butter, though butter oil is of only limited use in many areas where vegetable oils are preferred.

The EC also has 957,000 tons of surplus skimmed milk powder and sends some of it to Africa. The US sends dairy products to Zambia and Zimbabwe.

But many Africans have a ''lactose intolerance'': apart from nomadic cattle herders, few can digest more than a small amount of milk, unless it is sour (in the form of yogurt, for example).

* What about Europe's 575,000 surplus tons of durum wheat?

''Well,'' says one Brussels relief official, ''yes . . . but only for places such as Somalia, to make spaghetti. Somalia was an Italian colony you know . . .''

One problem with emergency food aid is that it makes Africans dependent on rice and wheat instead of their natural staples, maize, sorghum, and millet.

Africa still exports many crops for cash. Comments one FAO official: ''Africa produces what it doesn't eat and eats what it doesn't produce.''

Tomorrow: Meeting the Challenge

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