Doing something about Africa

Development experts in Africa and among the international donor community have been shocked by the evidence of sub-Saharan Africa's serious economic condition.

Documenting these feelings of discouragement and dismay are the statistics on Africa's dismal economic progress to date and poor development condition. A recent World Bank report points out that in the 20 years or so since African countries gained their independence, there has been little or negative economic growth per capita.

Food shortages and resulting malnutrition aggravate already serious health problems for most Africans. Infant mortality is substantially higher in Africa than in Asia or Latin America.

As an African economist said in a recent conference on African development, ''the past strategies of African and donor governments have been a failure; new approaches are needed.''

During the Reagan administration, the Agency for International Development (AID) has tailored its priorities to deal with the African crisis. Agriculture, policy reform, building institutions for technology transfer, and private sector development are the four cornerstones of our assistance policy in Africa. They reflect the belief that resource transfers alone are not sufficient if the condition in Africa is to be turned around.

United States assistance to Africa has increased substantially. The administration's request to the Congress for fiscal year 1983 is 84 percent greater than aid to Africa was in 1979. Much of this growth has occurred under the current administration.

Over half of this asistance is for agricultural development - nearly double the amount available for agricultural programs three years ago. A similar expansion is occurring in reforestation and fuelwood production - an integral part of the agricultural system. Increases in agricultural productivity are basic to African economic growth - to export earnings, employment, and food availability for rapidly growing populations.

The key to agricultural productivity is agricultural research - practical, farmer-oriented research. Until recently there has been little research on African food production as most research programs inherited from the colonial period have emphasized export crops. New production technologies developed in Africa for African farming conditions are vital, but institutional capabilities in Africa are seriously underdeveloped. AID, through American universities and agricultural organizations, is now working in 36 countries on agricultural research and related education and extension projects with other agricultural projects in seven other countries.

Linkage is necessary to the development and application of new agricultural technologies and for successful agricultural production programs. AID has for many years been a major contributor to the international research centers such as the International Institute of Tropical Agricultrue (IITA) in Nigeria. The fruit of the work of these centers come with the ties with national research institutions and their extension to Africa's millions of small farmers - the backbone of African economies.

Over the next several years, AID will be carrying out - in concert with African regional and national organizations and other international donors - a comprehensive approach to developing new technologies for food production and to intensifying their application by African farmers. By linking the basic research and extension services, a sound institutional base can be laid for future agricultural growth. The process will take another 15-20 years, but the possibilities for changes in Africa's economic condition and well-being of the African people are dramatic. In the US, it took 30 years of institution building in research and extension with the land grant institutions to bring about the food production achievements we know today.

Similar progress is being made in health programs in Africa. Closely associated with improved health services will be an expansion of family planning assistance as more and more African governments adopt population policies.

US assistance to Zimbabwe has become a milestone in AID's work in Africa. Since the major commitment of assistance by AID's administrator during Zimbabwe's Conference on Rural Development two years ago, US assistance has made an extraordinary contribution to that country's economy. Using the flexibility of economic support funds, AID designed a program which is achieving the double effect of providing vitally needed foreign exhange for the modern economy while generating Zimbabwe dollars for expenditure in the traditional African areas which have been so badly neglected in the past. It has been possible with these funds to rehabilitate from war damage hundreds of rural schools, clinics, rural roads, animal health centers, agricultural training schools, primary and secondary teacher training facilities. New programs will expand activities in agricultural production among the African farmers and build up Zimbabwe's capacity for training the vast numbers of skilled workers, professionals, and managerial staff required by a growing and more equitable economy.

The rapid pace with which AID has been able to carry out its programs in Zimbabwe has been possible owing to the capable administrative and technical services of the Zimbabwe government. Therein lies the heart of the African development challenge in which AID joins with African leaders. The building of competent African development institutions with African management and technical staffs is the vital task of the next 20 years.

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