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Africa: Blueprint for survival, part 1, Breaking the drought of ideas. Population growth threatens Africa's gains

Hurtling population growth is literally eating up African food production gains, overloading economic growth, and overwhelming much of the environment. At 3 percent a year, African population growth is the fastest of any continent on earth.

True, many states have large areas and small aggregate numbers of people.

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Yet, say UN officials, people are densely packed into the much smaller areas that are actually livable -- and it is the rate at which they are mushrooming that is formidable.

UN figures show that black Africa is likely to leap from 383.7 million people today to 644.8 million in the year 2000 and to 1.27 billion by 2025. Almost 1 African in every 2 is aged 14 or under.

Africa is the only continent ``failing to keep food production ahead of population growth,'' warns the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome in its 1985 World Food Report.

Although overall food production has been rising, per capita it has dropped by 1 percent a year since 1970.

Lamine N'Diaye of Senegal, chief of the Africa section of the UN Fund for Population Activities, agrees that the population threat is immense, but he nonetheless sees some gleams of hope:

In Kenya, where woman have an average of eight children, President Daniel arap Moi has just announced that no civil servant will be eligible for paid maternity leave if she has more than four children.

Zimbabwe has a vigorous family planning campaign.

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The number of African governments endorsing family planning had risen from two (Kenya and Ghana) in 1974 to 15 by last year.

But progress, experts agree, is still slow.

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