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Local transport conditions slow Western food aid to Africa. US groups quadruple aid to West Africa despite distribution problems

United States emergency food aid to sub-Saharan Africa is being quadrupled to over 2 million tons for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 1985, according to US aid officials at a conference here. Despite the tremendous logistical problems involved in transporting large quantities of grain from the American Midwest, these officials are confident that the food will reach remote, famine-stricken African countries in time.

``Some 1.3 million tons is due to be delivered by the start of the Sahelian rainy season in June, and there should be a steady pipeline of food until harvests start in October,'' says Julia Bloch, assistant administrator of Food for Peace, a US program.

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Yet she recognizes the huge challenge. ``We need almost miraculous solutions in order to move the extra tonnage with the existing infrastructure,'' she added.

African roads take a tremendous pounding from the 40-ton food trucks which head north to the Sahel from West African ports, says Willard Pearson, head of Food for Peace's operation's division.

African trucks are also in short supply.

The increase in food aid has strained the capacity of the aging Abidjan-Ouagadougou railway along which most of the supplies for Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) are carried.

However officials say that the reservation of four special food trains a week should improve supplies for Burkina Faso and nearby Mali.

The five-day US aid conference which ends today is looking at how best to use food and other resources to tackle the longer term food deficit problem in sub-Saharan Africa.

Officials have discussed the challenges of working with African governments which often hold widely differing political viewpoints.

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``We are pleased to note a major change in attitude. For instance, African officials now recognize the need to provide pricing incentives for small farmers,'' Mrs. Bloch said.

Yet aid officials also note there is sometimes a negative effect of providing cheap food. This often discourages farmers from growing and creates greater dependency on outside sources for food.

``A green revolution is needed in Africa, and much more research,'' Bloch urged. Africa currently has one of the world's lowest yields per acre.

In Burkina Faso, US resources are being used to protect the country against future droughts as well as to grow more food now.

Robert Becker, US aid director in Ouagadougou, says that the US government has recently agreed to supply 19,000 tons of sorghum which will be sold locally. The proceeds will be used to finance emergency water, road, and health projects. Small earthen dams are being built and existing ones are being repaired.

In view of the huge cost and logistical problems of transporting food aid from the US to the western Sahel, US aid officials are encouraging ``trilateral cooperation.''

For instance the US and Ghana are plnning to exchange 20,000 tons of corn for 12,250 ton of rice.

The corn will be sent by US aid to Mali and Burkina Faso to help meet their emergency needs.

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