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Mastering world hunger

WHILE hunger at the moment is commanding much of the world's attention, it is a condition not beyond mankind's capacity to master. Grain and other foods now are flowing into African ports in substantial quantities, though immense short-term challenges remain. The generous outpouring of foodstuffs reflects mankind's true concern for the less fortunate.

But in the long run Africa's greatest need is to experience a green revolution similar to those of South America and Asia in the past two decades, as pointed out in a series this week by David K. Willis in this newspaper. The final article appears today (Page 24).

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African nations must move from severe food dependency to self-sufficiency. One essential element is continued attention and generosity from the world's relative breadbaskets. Their aid will be essential for years to help African farmers improve methods; to train young Africans in agricultural, marketing, and management techniques; to insist that often-reluctant African governments make internal reforms; and to continue to provide foodstuffs until Africa can meet its own demands.

In some areas of the continent improvements are beginning. Research is under way into the development of potatoes, maize, and other crops with increased yields. In several African nations reforms - often under pressure from world agencies or donor countries - are in process, aimed at putting national economies more in order, or improving the efficiency of agricultural systems.

Yet far more is required to permit Africa, now the poorest continent, to follow in the agricultural footsteps of Asia and Latin America. Africa's hunger is much deeper than for food. It is a hunger for that which is new - in thinking , freedom from old ways, cooperation with donors, research, crops, and confidence.

Far more research should be undertaken to develop sorghum and millet - staple African food plants - which resist drought better and provide higher yields.

African governments should pay farmers more money for their crops and permit additional private initiative in farming and the distribution of food. Inefficient government monopolies of grain sales and distribution must be ended.

African farmers require better training, enabling them to practice such water-conservation measures as terracing in place of age-old techniques, many of which hasten rather than suppress topsoil erosion during drought. More efficient use of farm lands is one reason why much of South America has become self-sufficient.

Farms should grow more food for African mouths; despite the continent's widespread hunger today, much fertile land is carefully farmed and irrigated to grow berries and other food for export. Systems of incentives ought to be established to produce such a result.

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More irrigation canal projects should be undertaken in dry regions of Africa to bring water efficiently and sometimes from long distances to now-dry fields. Equally important: Africans must be trained to run these projects; many completed projects are no longer used because they are not maintained.

Family-planning efforts must be accelerated, in this fastest-growing of the continents. At present population gains are far outstripping any food production increases.

Despite the challenges, the successful examples of Asia and Latin America are there as beacons. They have gone from dire dependency to virtual self-sufficiency in only two decades. With the rest of the world's help, Africa can, too.

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