Washington — Illinois officials call it the largest state-sponsored famine relief effort yet. Gov. James Thompson and the Illinois Department of Agriculture say they hope to raise between 14,000 and 28,000 metric tons of farm commodities for export to Africa by the end of October.
Illinois Agriculture for Africa: Under this program, farmers are asked to make in-kind contributions of 10 bushels of corn or an equivalent amount of soybeans, wheat, or oats. The commodities will then be sold on the open market and proceeds -- combined with financial contributions from individuals, businesses, and civic and religious groups -- will be pooled to buy three high-protein products for export to Africa: corn-soya milk, soy-fortified cornmeal, and regular cornmeal.
The program patterns smaller, private efforts by volunteer organizations around the country. After the products have been milled, processed, and bagged in Illinois, they will be sent to a port in the United States. Transportation from there and distribution in Africa will be paid for by World Vision, a famine-relief organization with headquarters in California.
Illinois officials say they hope the first shipments under the program will reach Africa by late November.
We Are the World: After raising over $50 million for famine-relief efforts through its ``We Are the World'' record and video, USA (United Support of Artists) for Africa has formulated a spending strategy that's won praise from many famine-relief experts.
``They've avoided cosmetic solutions and gone for the long term,'' says one United Nations official.
``We Are the World,'' which features pop stars like Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen, has sold 4 million albums plus more than 1 million singles. Now, USA for Africa has formed two working groups to review proposals and to consult with a wide range of private volunteer organizations and UN officials involved in the African famine-relief effort. The result has been a diverse strategy that has emphasized long-term relief and rehabilitation.
USA for Africa officials say 35 percent of the proceeds will go into relief: truck leasing, road improvements, nutrition programs, and innoculation centers in Sudan; port improvements, trucks and repair facilities in Ethiopia; an airlift of medical supplies to Mozambique.
Another third will go into recovery and development efforts -- seeds, fertilizers, tools, and other items that officials of USA for Africa say are designed to foster eventual African self-sufficiency in food.
Another quarter of the proceeds will go into long-range planning efforts, working through the UN and private organizations and individual African governments.
Officials say they've held $2 million in reserve for a ``rapid response emergency fund,'' plus $5 million to help hungry and homeless people in the US.
USA for Africa officials say they plan to meet next month with ``Band Aid Trust,'' and its US subsidiary, ``Live Aid,'' about joint efforts and possible future events. Band Aid Trust sponsored the simultaneous 15-hour TV megaconcerts in Philadelphia and Wembly, England, on July 13. Contributions are now up to ``$40 million and growing,'' says a spokesman for Live Aid.
News coverage: It has declined in recent weeks but relief officials working on the African famine say the situation is still critical. One story that needs to get out is that despite massive relief efforts, the overall food deficit is worse. Population growth in Africa remains high. Resources are still deteriorating. Foreign debts and weak trade still afflict poorer countries. Political conflict, including civil war, still complicate the distribution of emergency food supplies and undermine the stability needed for long-term agricultural reform.
Relief officials say meeting the need will require more time, money, and effort. Above all, they say, it will require unprecedented sustained public attention.
This column, keeping readers abreast of the famine and relief efforts, will appear most Fridays.