NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Conflict Over African Agricultural Policies

December 3, 2002

Norman E. Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who saved millions of Asians from starvation in the late 1960s by developing highly-productive crops for farmers and promoting the use of fertilizer, pesticides and modern farming methods, is at loggerheads with the World Bank and Western donor countries. At issue is which policies are best to stave off starvation in African countries.

Up to 38 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are threatened with starvation in coming months, according to the United Nations.

  • The World Bank and Western governments say that through private sector development of export crops and tourism Africans will earn enough money to import the food they need.
  • On the other hand, Borlaug promotes production of food crops in Africa, and says grain production could be doubled or tripled within three years.

But food sufficiency would require financial support from Western aid donors and local governments, so that farmers will have access to credit and can sell their products in markets without price controls.

Furthermore, rich nations -- particularly the United States -- aren't following the free-market policies they preach for Africa. The U.S. paid its own farmers subsidies amounting to $311 billion last year alone. Subsidies not only protect American and European growers from low world-market prices; they also depress global prices by encouraging overproduction.

The World Bank has estimated that if rich nations eliminated their farm subsidies and agricultural import restrictions, rural income in low- and middle-income nations would jump by $60 billion.

By contrast, agricultural development assistance from rich nations and international lenders dropped by half in the 1990s and amounts to less than $5 billion a year. Furthermore, world grain prices have fallen more than 50 percent over the past two decades.

Source: Scott Kilman and Roger Thurow, "Africa Could Grow Enough to Feed Itself: Should It?" Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2002.


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