HL Deb 18 December 1985 vol 469 cc847-78

5.39 p.m.

Lord Walston rose to call attention to the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Overseas Development, entitled UK Aid to African Agriculture: and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the object of this short debate is to call attention to the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Overseas Development entitled United Kingdom Aid to African Agriculture. I would particularly draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that this is an all-party parliamentary group. The report which has been produced is the result of work of Members of both our Houses and Members of all our parties, including a most distinguished Cross-Bencher. Therefore, there can be no question of it being in any way party political or biased in one way or another.

The study of this problem started when the Ethiopian famine was fresh in our minds. I want, however to emphasise at the outset that the report does not deal in any way with famine; rather, it puts forward proposals for preventing future famines and, above all, what we in this country can do in that respect. In the long term—the very long term—the essential thing is to raise the standard of living of those who actually produce the food so that they have better lives. They will then remain on the land in order to produce food for their fellow countryman. This means better education, better medical services, clean water supplies, electricity, better communications—all things that normally in the third world are found only in urban areas. These matters are, however, very long term. We must press ahead with them, but the report does not concern itself with those matters. We must do all that we can to ensure that they are not neglected. But we must turn our minds also, and this afternoon in particular, to those things that will yield quicker results.

At one time, the United Kingdom was a leader in aid, not only in ideas and in study but also in actual cash contributions. Now, alas, we are falling far behind. It is perhaps of some significance that the two worst countries, when aid is expressed in terms of percentage of gross national product, are the two largest, the United States and the Soviet Union. At the top of the league, on the other hand, we find Norway, one of the smallest countries, which gives 128 dollars per head of its population and a fraction under 1 per cent. of its GNP. The Netherlands gives a fraction over 1 per cent. of its GNP and a total of 88 dollars per head of its population. In comparison, the United States gives 0.24 per cent. of its GNP and the Soviet bloc as a whole gives less than 0.2 per cent.—in fact 0.18 per cent.

I am afraid that the United Kingdom is not very far from the bottom of the league table of DAC countries. It is, in fact, third from the bottom giving 25 dollars per head of population and one third of 1 per cent. of our GNP. What is more, that amount is now 4 per cent. less in real terms over the last five years and it is still falling. This is not a record of which we can be proud. Let me say straightaway that we cannot look, as the Government will sometimes have us look, at private enterprise to fill this gap. Private investment is not making good the balance. Private export credits, direct investment and bank lending from this country have fallen from £4.5 billion in 1980 to only £1.3 billion in 1984.

During that time—four or five years—conditions in Africa have steadily worsened. There has, of course, been a drought about which all of us know—a drought which in Sahel has been going on for decades and which hit Ethiopia and the headlines two years ago. In certain areas, such as Ethiopia, the drought has been exacerbated by war and by civil unrest.

At the same time, earnings from agricultural exports have fallen by half what they were in 1978. If that was not enough, the debt service of these countries now totals 8 billion dollars. And, according to the director-general of the FAO, it will probably double over the next two years. The outlook is therefore not very bright.

The report makes simple and concrete proposals on how to improve the situation. I should like to go over it in detail but time obviously does not allow for that. I shall pick out some of the more important proposals that it makes. Of course, more resources are needed. Especially, we believe, a higher proportion of available resources must be given to small farmers, the subsistence farmers. They are the people who actually produce the food that their fellow countrymen want to eat. What is more, they produce it close, if not contiguous, to the areas where the hunger exists in its worst form. That obviates the necessity of lengthy and costly transport often over roads that are impassable at certain times of the year and often to areas that have no roads whatever, as we have found in the Sudan.

Plantation farming has its uses. It is very valuable and, in particular, it is an earner of foreign exchange. Often, when operated by the Commonwealth Development Corporation, with its satellite farmers and nucleus plantation, it is a valuable means of improving techniques and teaching new techniques. But, on the whole, the plantation farms do not actually grow the food that the people need. It is the small farmers who do that. Therefore, there must be more resources for small farmers.

Secondly, there is a need for more research. We have always been one of the leaders in research for tropical agriculture. But, again, alas, funds are now being reduced. Not many funds are needed. A million pounds produces enormous results. We have many good scientists who have been working on these matters and who can continue to work and add enormously to the knowledge that is essential if more food is to be grown.

Not only must high priority be given to more research but this must also be on a long-term basis. It may take anything from 15 to 20 years for the results of research really to become apparent in the fields themselves. If that research is cut off half way through, all the work already done is wasted. Thirdly, there must be understanding of the social conditions including all forms of local customs that exist in the countries that we are anxious to help. The projects must be geared to the capacity of the farmers themselves, to the capacity of the local officials and to the capacity of the experts in those countries. There is no point in having high-flown and extremely impressive projects which ignore local customs, ignore local habits, and require a far higher degree of training, sophistication and material than is available in the places where they are to be carried out. One must have, therefore, a very intimate knowledge of the social, economic and educational conditions of the countries where help is most needed.

Then, there is the question of stable prices—an essential aspect of this whole matter. I know that the EC has introduced an admirable scheme—what they call their Stabex system—to attempt to stabilise prices for certain amounts of commodities. But it has not been the resounding success that those of us who supported it in the early days hoped that it would be. In the case of sugar where it comes into play, there is the whole question of the sugar regime of the EC with the enormous overproduction, the dumping of the European surpluses on the world market, and thereby the drop in world prices of sugars to the lowest levels that have been known for many years, with devastating results on the balance of payments of these countries.

Then there is the need for more technical co-operation. There has been a very rapid decline recently in technical co-operation. It is very sad that that should be so because we have plenty of experts in tropical agriculture who are only too anxious to go out and help once more in the countries in which they have learned their jobs; and those countries are anxious to have them—there is no feeling against ex-patriates. We must therefore be prepared to supply and to pay for more technical co-operation in the shape of expatriates from this country to the third world.

Finally, I do not think that I can do better than to quote two of the paragraphs which come at the end of the report. We write there: We believe that the ODA should maintain a specific long term development aid programme which is inviolate. It should be equipped with a small provision for emergencies and when a larger response is needed"— as, for instance, in the case of Ethiopia— this should be funded on the basis of additionality from one Government's contingency reserve and not from departmental funds". The report goes on to say: The success of Live Aid and the established voluntary development agencies in fundraising is evidence that there is now strong public support for measures to relieve suffering in developing countries". So the Government need have no fear of electoral unpopularity, even if they were influenced by such things, by making more money available for the ODA.

Finally we write: In such a climate of concern we feel that ODA would greatly enhance its reputation as a development agency if it could set out clearly its views on that range of complex issues such as 'food crops versus cash crops' and 'famine relief versus development aid' which currently befuddle so much of public and parliamentary debate".

I recommend this report to your Lordships. I hope that many of you who have not already read it will take the report as compulsory reading over the Christmas Recess. And I hope that the Government will pay particular attention to this—and again I underline it—All Party Parliamentary Group and its recommendations. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.54 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships would wish me to express appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for mounting this debate and introducing it in this way, and for all the work which he has done on this All Party Group and for his part in the production of this most valuable report.

It is perhaps significant that we are debating this just one week before Christmas. It was last Christmas that we saw horrific pictures on our television screens. Christmas is traditionally a season of caring and sharing, and its powerful message extends far beyond the ranks of those who go to our churches. It comes home to us all. There was indeed a massive public response to those pictures which appeared on television, as we all know, and to which reference has been made. Live Aid has been just one example of this. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, is surely quite right to point to this as showing that there is a real "head of steam"—if one may use that phrase—behind the need to give more in the field of development, and not simply famine relief.

There are of course some in our country who feel that the Christian ethic, or any religious ethic, applies to individuals only and that it ought to be individual charity which really matters. But others recognise that there are fundamental issues of justice involved if we are to have a better world.

Some of your Lordships may have been at the House last October when we had this mass lobby on world poverty when more than 20,000 people from all over the country turned up outside the Houses of Parliament at the invitation of the aid agencies. I am sorry to say that that great lobby was disgracefully ignored by our leading quality daily newspaper, and indeed did not get the public coverage which it should have had. But I think that that showed, among many other indications, that many people in this country are now prepared to look in longer terms. Is it not true to say that this is always a fundamental difficulty in political life; and that politicians have to be aware that people think in terms of self interest, quite naturally, and normally short-term self interest? However, it is the task of politicians and statesmen frequently to point to longer-term self interest. If we are to have a better, more just, and more ordered world, we have to do a great deal better than we have done recently in the distribution of the world resources taking account particularly of the vast continent of Africa and the kind of problems which it now faces.

It is in that context that we can surely all give a very warm welcome both to the setting up of the All Party Parliamentary Group on overseas development which will carry on its good work; and to the fact that it has chosen as its first subject United Kingdom aid to African agriculture, and has produced what I would think on any showing is an excellent report. It is well condensed, not too long, and makes some very important points.

The noble Lord, Lord Walston, has already indicated that we are not debating famine. There has been a foreign affairs Select Committee which has reported on some of the implications of the terrible disaster of famine. But the report quite clearly recognises that famine has long term and deep rooted causes. In the opening page I read these words: our concerns are much more with the longer term problems of developing Africa's natural resources … The UK has a wealth of resources and expertise to offer in this field, much of which can be directed to help avoid future famines and contribute to the process of development and of economic rehabilitation.". The report recognises clearly that there is a connection with famine because, after all, many of these countries live on the edge of starvation. It needs very little in the way of adverse weather conditions to tilt them over the edge in that way.

As your Lordships might almost expect me to say, I believe that there is a theological dimension to this because, properly understood, God places into the hands of mankind new ways of meeting the kind of natural disasters which have always affected human life most devastatingly, although never before have we lived in a global village when the consequences of these disasters were brought on to the television screens of our living rooms. All of us were caught out by the severity of the famine, the drought, which occurred a few months ago. But there were many warnings of it; and, indeed, the overseas agencies were warning people in this country. It is a matter of some wry surprise to them that it was not possible to take account of these warnings with greater vigour and speed until the pictures appeared on our television screens. Yet from the evidence that was given to the committee there is a quote from the FAO estimate of April 1984—already out of date—that every third African does not have enough to eat; that 150 million people are at risk. The evidence submitted by Christian Aid and CAFOD (two Christian bodies) on this points out that the problems are more widespread than is often recognised and have sometimes been concealed by governments reluctant to acknowledge their inability to cope. The African traditions of extended families and hospitality to strangers have absorbed the deprivation, turning it into a slow degradation, unseen until hunger and malnutrition culminate in death.

That I think is a true picture of what is happening in Africa today and is not simply something that happened some time ago. It is encouraging to see a change, and yet we must take with the encouragement a warning. The change is there. Western governments are accepting the need for development aid, and there are some indications of this on the agricultural front. The report makes that clear. It also makes clear that most African governments are now much more fully prepared to engage in a dialogue with donors on their overall policies.

Therefore, there is some hope that problems will be met in a better way in the years ahead. Yet we must always be careful not to be complacent. Some of your Lordships may have read the report in The Times yesterday from Nairobi from the Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, Mr. Saouma, who pointed out that although bumper crops are now being harvested in a number of African countries, this must not hide the urgent need to develop better farming and marketing systems if the disastrous drought and famine of 1984 is not be repeated. Mr. Saouma expressed his regret that donor countries which have generously supplied food and emergency aid to Africa are "rather less interested" in providing agricultural supplies to improve the efficiency of African farmers.

I should like to pick up this point; it is often said in this country about development aid by the man and woman in the street. They point to the enormous problems of rapidly increasing populations which are facing African countries. This is an aspect to which the report does not really give attention, although on a cursory reading I may have missed it. In the evidence (from which I have already quoted) that was given to the Committee, there is a section about population which is important. It states: With the population of sub-Saharan Africa growing at a rate of 2.7 per cent. per annum (the highest growth rate of any continent), some commentators have focused on population growth as an explanation of the food crisis. Christian Aid and CAFOD reject this theory as a diversion from the real underlying causes. It is poverty above all which is the cause of the high birth rate. Such birth rates have been a feature of every society, including Britain in the age of Malthus, where impoverished parents have had cause to fear for their babies' chances of survival", and so protection of course for their old age.

Perhaps it might lighten the atmosphere a little at the end of the afternoon if I quote a very vivid Kenya memory of the Kenya Family Planning Association, which produced a most beautiful poster which began to appear all over the country to make the point about the need to have fewer babies. One half of the poster showed a beautiful hut with a well-dressed husband and wife sitting outside in the evening sun and two beautifully dressed children playing there. The other half of the poster showed a very dilapidated hut with a man and his wife sitting outside on packing cases in rags with some 10 children, equally in rags, playing around them. They had to withdraw the poster because word was going around that people were simply saying, "Look at that poor chap, he's only got two children"! I think that that makes the point that you need to see the population issue in the context of the social conditions in these countries. It is indeed a factor of the poverty which we are considering.

Population is certainly no excuse for not helping African countries, particularly because of our historic links with many of them. Therefore, it is encouraging to read from this report the account of the very positive view which they have of the quality of British aid. Many noble Lords will have read on one page of the report what is said in this context: we found that existing aid is of fine quality and that it represents a firm base on which a future expansion can be built". I ask your Lordships to notice the phrase, "future expansion" because as the noble Lord, Lord Walston, pointed out, deep disappointment is expressed in this report at a run-down of the aid programme, and it can only be described in that way. One section of the report states: The impact of the UK's bilateral aid has, however, been progressively reduced by recent spending cuts. Aid projects of direct benefit to farmers have been run down and virtually no major new initiatives have been taken in this field in recent years, partly as a result of the general squeeze on the bilateral aid programme but also due to the demands from other areas of aid expenditure. I am perfectly aware that Ministers in this House sit here debate after debate listening to pleas for increased public expenditure on every side. We live in hard times and all of us would be most unwise not to recognise that. Nevertheless, a very strong case indeed—many of us would believe an overwhelming case—can be made for an exception of this kind in the case of the aid programme. I shall listen with great interest to what the noble Lord the Minister says about this run-down in the aid programme, which is commented on so adversely in this report.

There is an argument of course that in some way private capital can take up the slack; but the report deals with that very effectively. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, has already pointed to this. There are reasons why it is impossible for private capital to pick up the tab, so to speak, of any run-down of official aid to African agriculture.

The report calls for a clear statement of policy in order that we may know more about what the Government's thinking really is and the direction in which we are progressing. Put simply, it declares: there appear to be susbstantial areas of inconsistency between what the Government says it is doing and what it actually does", and they call for a statement which would very clearly indicate what the direction will be for the Overseas Development Administration in the years ahead.

There are points in this report which are of great value and which would repay very careful study. One is the need to concentrate on subsistence African agriculture and not to be diverted by other projects which can be seen to be more attractive and which undoubtedly have a value. I am particularly interested in what is written in the report about a certain road on which I travelled some 10 years ago. I can assure your Lordships that it was a very uncomfortable journey by Land-Rover. One side of me was delighted to read in the report that the road from Makumbako to Songea in Tanzania has been built and improved as a result of a major effort of expenditure. However, the other side of me was disturbed to find that, for example, this took up 80 per cent. of the aid given in this field to Tanzania in 1983. Indeed, it has been a very expensive project. It can be justified on agricultural grounds because it has enabled certain crops to come out of this area near the lake where the rainfall is good and where agricultural production is high. Yet when we look at Tanzania as a whole and at the enormous needs of subsistence farmers, which are frequently referred to in the report, we must be disturbed at the amount of aid which goes on a project of that kind.

The report comments that: little UK aid is directly supporting the majority of African farmers in drier regions [in Tanzania] who grow primarily food staples for domestic consumption using primitive technology (often the handheld hoe)". Therefore, it may be that projects like that become more attractive because of the commercial considerations and particularly because in certain areas our own factories can be kept busy on the production of goods for projects of that type. We should like to be assured that at all times the priorities in United Kingdom aid to African agriculture are determined by the real needs of those countries themselves and particularly of subsistence peasant farmers who live so near the edge of starvation if things go wrong.

There is a vast range of possibilities for increased aid: technical research, water schemes, improved seeds, fertilizers, soil conservation, experiments in mixed cropping—the possibilities are almost endless.

The report points to the key role of women in agriculture. This is something which may change in African countries in the years ahead because it is concerned with social systems, as we well know, and yet undoubtedly at the moment educational efforts should include or even be directed at women who play such a key role in this field.

May I say how glad I was to hear the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Walston, to the role of fairer terms for trade and the debt burden which faces many African countries, because the effect of any aid programme could be vitiated unless sensitive and imaginative measures are taken in that whole field.

Perhaps I may end by quoting the current Christian Aid slogan, which seems to me to apply very well to the subject of our debate today: After Christmas are you going to let the world's poor have the same old new year? That surely applies to United Kingdom aid to African agriculture today.

6.11 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, 30 years ago I was engaged with the late and much lamented Tommy Balogh in trying to persuade Kwame Nkrumah that it was far more important to develop his northern region, which is the main agricultural region, than to build things like independence arches and stadia in Accra. We failed, and we failed largely because Nkrumah's system was already in the hands of the American combine, Reuther, which was determined to pursue the Volta River Scheme, with its electrification and its creation of a new industrial town in Tema.

From the beginning of the 1960s Tommy Balogh and René Dumont and I were working along the road that René Dumont's leadership had paved, which can in simplistic terms be reduced to "hoes before tractors". We worked in Tanzania, where we had considerable success. We worked in Zambia, where again the bureaucracy was in the hands of the great copper companies, and failed there. I remember writing a report for President Kaunda in 1968 commenting on the draft of his new five-year plan, and pointing out how this was going to increase the economic development of the line of rail and continue to neglect the vast areas of the country which were inhabited by the rural poor. That is still the case today.

We tried in Sierra Leone, and there we came up against the demands of the diamond merchants and the diamond companies. It has not been totally a story of failure, but it has been largely so; and it would be patronising to suggest that the Africans are simply the victims of Western and capitalist forces. They are not. But a great proportion of the development that has come from the West over the past 40 years has tended to be in conjunction with those forces, those new forces in African countries, which have developed a consumer society, an industrial society, and an urban society at the expense of the vast majority of the people who live and depend on the rural areas. Indeed, I would suggest that both the capitalist philosophy and the communist philosophy are wrong for Africa because both of them, from their different directions, base their philosophy on the necessity, above all, for industrialisation to the neglect of the agricultural sector.

We received in his excellent introduction from the noble Lord, Lord Walston, a new report on African agriculture. It is only one of several which have been published at roughly the same time. There is the report to which he has referred, the United Kingdom Aid to African Agriculture; there is the Commonwealth secretariat's report, African AgricultureBuilding for the Future; there are new briefings from Oxfam; there is the FAO report of this week; and only today there is the cri de coeur of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, which apparently had no budget at all last year but is hoping that the deficit which it today finds from the United Arab Emirates may be made up in order that it can continue its work.

The lesson of the report introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and of almost every other report issued over the last few years, is that this Government have abandoned African agriculturists. The figures that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, gave have been given many times in this House. It is a disgrace that this country, which, as he said, was once in the lead in the provision of overseas aid in the pursuit of international justice, should have fallen almost to the bottom of the league, and that while other countries—other countries such as he has listed but also including, for example, Finland, which has made the largest percentage increase in overseas aid of any country in the past year—have been increasing their aid to the poor this Government have been steadily whittling it away, and indeed slyly cutting it behind the back of the public until the public finds out.

As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, 20,000 members of the public came to our Palace last October in order to try to stimulate our consciences into what this country should be doing in contrast to what the Government have been doing. Perhaps that demonstration had the effect of preventing some of the cuts that the Government were intending to make in the aid budget, but the forecasts for the next few years indicate that almost certainly in real terms the aid budget as a whole will again be cut.

As this report points out it is not simply the total aid budget which is being cut, but it is particularly that part which goes to African agriculture and which goes to the poorest of the poor countries. Accompanying this lamentable record has been the supine following of President Reagan's anti-internationalist policy, particularly in relation to United Nations agencies.

We have been through this before. I personally do not like all-party reports. I do not like them because although they contribute, as this report certainly does, to the knowledge of the general public of the problem of aid and our responsibility to the world village, as the right reverend Prelate described it, and while they make a specific and valuable contribution to that, one feels after so many years that we have been here before.

We can criticise the Government, and we can criticise the policy of this Government and of the United States Government, but this does not seem to get down to any of the roots of the problem. After all, when we were in Government up to 1979 the aid programme was much larger than it is now, but we did not solve the problems of African agriculture.

I suggest that in the rest of the time that I have this evening we ought to be considering a new dimension in the whole development programme and concept of aid. I suggest to your Lordships, in addition to the compulsory reading that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, urged your Lordships to do during the Christmas Recess, a lesser known publication, The Ecologist, Volume 15, Nos. 1 and 2 of this year, in which your Lordships will find a very different approach, an analysis of the problems of African agriculture. From my personal experience I know this to be not the truth but a new approach which can perhaps, with the assistance of the aid agencies, do something that we have so far failed to do in raising the level of African agriculture. There is now less food produced in total in Africa than there was 30 years ago, despite the fact that the population has increased exponentially: the new population is not producing more food but much less food per head.

When I say that I do not like all-party reports it is because they tend to produce the facts and give good illustrations of factual situations without being able, because of their all-party nature, to contest the roots of policies. The Government have consistently told us that they believe that they cannot afford any more aid. That argument has been totally destroyed, both from the point of view of self interest and in comparison with our major competitors in a similar economic situation. Also they have said that they believe in private funds rather than public aid. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, has met this in stating amounts, percentages and proportions.

The Government have also said that they believe in the application of free market forces. I want to consider the impact of these two philosophies. It seems to me that both have led to the creation of large-scale projects, very largely of a nature that is useful to the industry of this country rather than to the immediate medium- and long-term needs of the recipient countries. The result of this has been that the steel mills and power stations, and even the bridges that they did not get contracts for, are remote from the ordinary people, particularly those in Africa. But it has a spin-off effect which has encouraged, stimulated and commanded an even greater spread of urbanisation, so that people are coming off the land faster and faster leaving the land barren and swelling the shanty towns of the cities. They are leaving the rural areas to decline into still deeper poverty.

It is the market forces that brought forth the great bank lending era, when there were petro-dollars to be thrown all over the world and when the banks were persuading African governments to borrow with very little chance of repayment. As the force of this industrialisation, the growth of urbanisation and the consumer society and the financial exchanges took place, so the growth of corruption and the distortions of African economies had an inevitable effect on rural decline.

Many of these industrial schemes, the ranching schemes and the large farm schemes have, we can now see, and have been seeing for many years, led to an expansion of the deserts of Africa, to an increase in soil erosion and to an accompanying growth of consumer societies. Where did this come from initially? It came from the compulsion on Africans to grow for export rather than for consumption, to lay out great ranches to export the beef or the cattle of large landowners. There was the supplanting of food growing by cotton growing in West Africa, by ground nuts, by coffee in East Africa. The consequence has been that feeding in Africa has declined, malnutrition has increased and social dislocation has become inevitable. I suggest that we have to consider the whole dimension of the development programme in conjunction with the Africans in their own country, particularly in the rural villages.

It is a remarkable fact that today many Africans in Tanzanian villages are eating better than they were two or three years ago. Why? Because their national economy has declined because the price of their exports has declined, so the African villages have been forced back into growing for their own consumption. This cannot go on indefinitely, but it indicates that Africans can grow food for themselves; they always have done. They need assistance in marketing, but, if the accent is put on marketing, a decline will occur in the nutrition of the people so that the country can export their goods and crops to pay the interest on the debts they have accumulated.

When I say that I do not like all-party reports, it is because, to my knowledge, no party except the Labour Party is looking seriously at the roots of this problem today. I know this because I am a member of the policy committee that is doing this work. Only the Labour Party would do this; it said so and showed that it could do so between 1977 and 1979. First, we would screen the United Nations and multilateral organisations, because much of what I have been describing has been the policy of the World Bank and the IMF. However, we then come to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, with a tiny budget, and one that was destroyed last year. The United States showed its antagonism to the new arrangements for budgeting last year, and this Government apparently did nothing. The International Fund for Agricultural Development is surely the finest multilateral agency for the very issues that we are discussing this afternoon. It has the lowest of all United Nations administrative costs. It has proved itself to be efficient in helping the small farmer.

Thus, we would screen the international organisations that a British Government should support. We would also pledge ourselves, and we have pledged ourselves, to achieve the United Nations objective of 0.7 per cent. of our GDP within the life of one Parliament as our contribution to international aid. We would recreate the Ministry of Overseas Development, as the central agency of Government, to investigate, supervise and collaborate with the recipient countries as it had begun to do before 1979.

This is a coherent policy, though not by any means a complete one. We are still looking at it very closely, in conjunction with the representatives of other countries. However, what I am suggesting is this. While the Government consider aid as a charity, and the Liberal Party and the SDP, to their credit, regard it very much as one of the non-governmental issues in the conventional sense, this desperately dangerous situation in Africa, in relation to the rural areas, agriculture and the provision of food has to be looked at radically, and I believe that we are the only people who are doing so.

6.32 p.m.

Lord Seebohm

My Lords, first of all, I should like to say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for allotting this particular lucky dip that he had in the ballot to this subject. I should also like to thank him, on behalf of the committee of which I am afraid I was a very poor member, for his tremendous energy in going abroad and finding out the facts for himself. He has not been talking in any sense from an academic point of view.

Naturally, the appalling history in recent times of starvation and a million deaths in Africa has aroused strong feelings of dismay and indignation that such things could possibly happen in the contemporary world. Our report looks very closely at only the British aid policies of the last five years and considers whether they have been directed towards preventing these kinds of tragic events. It is necessary to stress quite categorically that, although the impending disasters were foreseeable, and in fact were foreseen five years ago, nothing that could have been done in that time span could have prevented them. However, if the countries concerned had had the political will to do something more about it, they could, with help from the aid-giving countries, have greatly mitigated the enormity of the disaster.

What happened in the Sahel area was clearly and dramatically forecast by Barbara Ward over 20 years ago. Joseph Rowntree, in setting up his various trusts, said in a memorandum in 1904, addressed to the trustees: much current philanthropic effort is directed to remedying the more superficial manifestations of weakness or evil, while little thought or effort is directed to search out their underlying causes. For example, it is much easier to obtain funds for the famine stricken people of India than to originate and carry through a searching enquiry into the causes of the occurrence of these famines". Nothing much has changed since 1904. Mutatis mutandis, that memorandum could be written today. However, to my mind, the blame must not be allowed to rest entirely on the aid policy of this country, as we have never been in a position to dictate policies to be adopted by the independent countries concerned.

I myself have been interested in this problem ever since my first tour of West Africa in 1954, and have been continually frustrated at the lack of any political will, except perhaps in Malawi. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, I have had long conversations with Nkrumah, with Abubakar Tafewa Balewa, Kaunda and Nyerere. They all expressed agreement with everything I have said but they never did anything about it. It is easy to look backwards and this report may appear highly critical. However, this is not its intention. The objective is to open up discussion on the most effective way of using such resources as are available, rather than concentrating on the actual amount of money involved.

I warmly welcome the policy of natural resources aid, described in a note we received from the ODA. This indicated that priorities will now be given to support policy planning in the agricultural sector; agricultural research with special reference to mixed cropping systems; "on farm" adaptive research and crop production reforming systems, more emphasis being given to improving financial viability and the returns to the farm family. I believe that one of the most important things to have happened has been to raise the price of food in these countries in order to get more food produced. When the IMF saw Obote in Uganda they said he must double the price of food. He refused to do so; but some months later did so, and within 12 months food production increased by 140 per cent.

Owing to the serious financial position of the third world countries and the clear consequences now revealed as a result of neglect of this sector, there seems to be a changing environment. This committee believes that the conditions which effectively govern the implementation of these policies are at last improving. If this is really so, then we would wish to see a genuine stepping up of aid in this sector. We firmly believe that the general public has been so moved by the horrors of famine that an increase would be entirely acceptable, even if it meant positive sacrifices in other directions. Now is the time to reassure the LDCs, as Mr. Pisani did a few years ago, that if such policies were accepted the developed world would be firmly behind them. This is something that I think one has to say.

Meanwhile, much aid has gone to what is called programme aid. This is perhaps more important than we indicate in the report, as much of it is designed to maintain and repair installations and equipment that would otherwise be useless. An example of this was a grant of £500,000 this year to Kenya to supply spare parts, thereby bringing back into production 200 Land-Rovers which were lying idle. Much of this aid is disbursed through multinational agencies and there appears to have been a positive policy of moving away from bilateral aid, presumably in the hope that it will be more acceptable for helping development in what have been so far less politically popular areas. I am not sure how efficient these multilateral agencies are in disbursing aid, and I believe it is a mistake to reduce the bilateral element as much as we have done. This is (quite apart from the economic advantage to this country in providing the supplies needed) likely to be more effective in the Anglophone countries because of our special relationship, which on the whole remains.

United Kingdom technical co-operation we believe has declined much too rapidly in recent years. It will be interesting to know more precisely what the Government's plans are for this, particularly in the agricultural sector. An example was given by Oxfam in oral evidence, that research of food staple production on drier regions had been seriously neglected and, as Sir Roger Swynnerton explained, the major need in agricultural research is for continuity and patience. He felt that a 15- to 20-year time scale was appropriate, rather than the relatively short commitments, and the staff discontinuities, that have characterised our projects such as the Dryland Farming Scheme in Botswana. There is no place for "stop-go" practices in this field of operations. Some of the damage, such as "desertification", can never be repaired; but much can be done in semi-arid areas to restore land that has been abandoned.

To sum up, we must be realistic. The fact that recovery of cereal production in most countries is now assured for the coming year must not be taken as an excuse for reducing aid in the Sahel. Not only is there a vast area for rehabilitation programmes but the problems of transport and storage remain. Therefore, there will certainly be pockets of famine remaining to be dealt with. The long-term programme for prevention must now start.

Success, in my view, depends on four main features. First the political will of the local governments to see this policy implemented. Secondly, competence—greatly increased technical aid will be necessary, which means not only cash but personnel. Thirdly, integrity. Perhaps this is not quite so important in the agricultural sector but I am afraid that we have evidence that very little progress in the elimination of corruption is taking place in the countries that we are most trying to help. Fourthly, and most important, there is need for a policy from the developed countries of support over a long time span of from 15 to 20 years, to which we must commit ourselves.

As I said earlier, it is very easy to look backwards and we certainly do not wish to give the impression that British support for agricultural aid in Africa has no successes or strengths. We say that it is obvious that its successes outweigh its weaknesses and disappointments. But there is a strong argument for increasing our contribution once we are satisfied that it can be usefully applied. This, for my part, applies to the agricultural sector. I hope that this report will receive serious study both at home and overseas, particularly in other aid-giving agencies.

6.41 p.m.

Lord Vernon

My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Walston for introducing this debate. The working party report tells us a lot about how British aid to Africa is dispensed. It tells us that the quality of that aid is of a very high order, that it is satisfactory. Its principal conclusion, which I think is supported by what your Lordships have said this afternoon, is that we should step up the amount of aid which we are providing both in agricultural terms and overall. What, surprisingly, the report does not say, and what surely is of special interest to donor countries such as ours, is whether the aid is being really effective. Are the African recipients of aid becoming more efficient in agricultural terms; and are they producing more food for their people to eat? That, after all, must be the object of the exercise.

It is a little surprising that there is no appendix to the report giving an indication of trends of production over, say, a 10-year period, taking account of the good years as well as the bad. The only clue that I could find on this was the ominous reference on page 51 of the report to the vast problem of declining per capita food production in Africa. Then there is the rather revealing mention on page 39 of the difficulties of generating improvements in semi-arid regions under population pressures.

It is not just the semi-arid regions of Africa that are under pressure. The whole of Africa is under the severest possible population pressure. The population crisis in Africa is one of mammoth proportions, and I must tell my noble friend that I find it astonishing—and in this, I think, I agreed with the right reverend Prelate—that this vital aspect which has such a bearing on agricultural production should have been virtually ignored. If I understood him correctly, the right reverend Prelate and I would disagree on the result of the population growth. He seemed to suggest that it was poverty that was the cause of the famine and the lack of food, whereas I believe that the poverty is caused not by the present population but by the rate of population growth.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

My Lords, may I venture to interrupt on a point of explanation so as to make clear that what I was saying was that population and rapid growth in population are caused by poverty? The illustration which I gave shows how the attitude to having large numbers of children in these societies is because of insecurity, particularly of people in old age, or high rates of infant mortality in the past and things of that kind. I was simply trying to make the point that it is no good targeting population as the cause of poverty when it is the other way round.

Lord Vernon

My Lords, I do not think that I was targeting that as the sole cause but as one of the causes. In a sense, it is a chicken-and-egg situation.

One of the African countries highlighted in the report was Kenya. According to the latest figures, the present Kenya population of 20.2 million is likely to double within the next 17 years. Another 20 million people will have to be housed, educated, provided with employment and fed in less than two decades. That is the daunting task facing the Kenya Government today. And what is happening in Kenya is happening in virtually every country in Africa.

I am not saying, of course, that Africa cannot support these numbers: it can. The problem lies in the speed with which the growth is taking place and which gives African governments insufficient time to build up their agricultural infrastructures and agricultural skills to cope with the crisis. If one looks again at the matter of African agricultural production, what appears to be happening is that production in absolute terms is growing only slightly. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, was a little more depressing than that, if I understood him. He said that in fact agricultural production had gone down in absolute terms. But according to the figures which I see (and which are World Bank figures) African agricultural production has been going up annually and is still going up, although it is going up at a much slower rate.

To take again the example of Kenya, for instance, in the 1960 to 1970 period it was going up at the rate of 3.6 per cent. It is now going up at 2 per cent., and that is the overall production. If one looks at the per capita production, the situation is far more gloomy. It was going up at 0.7 per cent. in the 1960 to 1970 period, and it is now going down at 1.2 per cent. per annum. I shall not read out any more figures because they are all very similar.

What all this amounts to is that for the last 20 years African agricultural per capita production has been falling dramatically. Unless something can be done to reverse this trend, it is likely to do so at an increasing rate in the future. The lesson which I would suggest to your Lordships is obvious. It is one of which I hope the Government will take careful note. Money spent on reducing family size will in the final analysis produce far higher living standards for the bulk of the African population than any other aid we can give. Certainly, let us continue to give some of the high-quality agricultural aid that we have given to date, but let it be given in tandem with family planning aid and in accordance with detailed strategy worked out and monitored with the governments of the countries concerned.

My Lords, I should like to end my speech by quoting from a speech given by Mr. Robert McNamara to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research on November 1st 1985. This is what he said: In sum, overly rapid population growth strains virtually every component of a developing society. It expands the labour force faster than new jobs. It rings the cities with slums. It overstrains the food supply and the ecological life-support system. It entrenches illiteracy, malnourishment, and ill health. And it perpetuates a culture of poverty. Even in a vigorously prosperous environment, coping with such demographic pressures would be difficult. In the weak economies of sub-Saharan Africa they will be overwhelming. If appropriate action is delayed—if procrastination is prolonged—then we can be sure of only one thing: the problem will eventually be dealt with, but at an immeasurably higher cost. By famine, perhaps. Or by violent civil unrest. Or by draconian coercion in a context of public repression and private brutality. It has been suggested that there should be some compulsory reading in the Christmas vacation. May I suggest that the full text of Mr. McNamara's speech should also be read.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, I, too, should like to congratulate the authors of the excellent all-party report which we are discussing this evening. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for his very clear summary of its findings and recommendations. Our topic this evening, as many noble Lords have pointed out, concerns a major part of what is perhaps the most important unsolved problem in the world today: how the first—and, we hope, one day the second—world can help the third to get on to its feet. Our colonial legacy is still very much with us and there is much evidence that we are now exploiting our colonies more effectively and at less cost than when we maintained garrisons and administrations in Africa. It is in this context that we should look at our aid programme.

We still get remarkably cheap commodities from the third world—so cheap, as the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lord Hatch have pointed out, that it has become impossible for the debtor nations to pay off their foreign debts. Some economists have suggested that the stabilising of commodity prices at about double their present level would be the biggest single measure towards helping the third world to become self-sufficient. The report that we are considering states: In many cases—e.g. coffee and sugar—the world price is now so low as to offer no hope of effective export earnings remuneration unless prices could stabilise at much higher levels. But this could still leave many people in dire poverty and with insufficient food, because the economies of developing countries are not directed to helping the majority of the population who live on the land practising subsistence agriculture. Concentrating on cash crops for export has been the aim of governments in the third world, of many overseas companies with investments in the third world and, as my noble friend Lord Hatch pointed out, of many aid projects, very often to the neglect of the smallholder and the farmer.

In Africa and the third world generally, rural poverty is very much the rule, with migration to the outskirts of the cities, which are swollen by ramshackle shanty suburbs. African governments are often accused of keeping food prices low to feed those in the towns "who are their political masters". Another way of looking at it might be to say that if food prices were not kept low there would be starvation and riots, because most city dwellers are also extremely poor. But, if the farmers were to get better prices for their products, we should perhaps see a reversal of this drift to the cities and a repopulation of some of the rural areas.

To allow higher stable prices for farm produce is desirable, to provide incentives for farmers and to redress the imbalance between town and country, but it is politically and economically not quite so simple as it sounds and it needs to be done in stages. As the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, pointed out, when it was done in Uganda it had amazingly quick results in increasing food production. In China it has also been done, as noble Lords are aware. It caused some resentment among city dwellers, who now see farmers in the country perhaps rather better off than themselves. This change has had considerable success, with a great improvement in food production. Some farmers in China have become very rich and have set up a variety of small industries and other enterprises. I am sure that other less socialist countries could do the same and, at the report points out, they are now more willing to consider doing so. This kind of internal change is suggested in the report so that African agriculture can get on to a sounder basis with opportunity for farmers to invest in good seeds, fertilisers, implements, suitable pesticides and storage and transport facilities.

All these hopeful aims are some way ahead, but African agriculture has a great future. Africa is potentially an enormously fertile part of the world. It has been calculated that there is more potential for rain-fed agricultural production than in the whole of Asia. It could become very rich, provided that the country is nurtured and cropped wisely, mainly, I think, in the ways that the old African farmer understands. Some of the methods now being used are leading to degradation of the land and—that awful word—desertification through the clearing of forests, overgrazing and eventual erosion during those short-lived torrential rains which occur even in semi-arid zones.

There are enormous problems ahead in changing agricultural practices which are harming the delicately poised semi-arid lands of sub-Saharan and East and Central Africa. But, as the report points out, there is no country more richly supplied with experts in this whole complex field than Britain. The report brings that out clearly. But it also states: we received unanimous agreement that UK agricultural research aid was insufficiently supported in terms of long-term commitment of funds and staff"— a quotation similar to the one which the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, has already given us.

We have experts in this country who are willing and very able to go out and give valuable and much appreciated guidance to help get a whole continent on its feet, but they are having to remain at home or to work in other countries. I am sure that they are not idle. They are the very people who would be most willing to get on their bikes. The report goes on: UK technical co-operation is also a most valuable element in the aid programme and one which has declined much too rapidly in recent years … we believe that an expansion of manpower aid could easily be achieved (especially with respect to the willingness of competent trained personnel in tropical agriculture to take up appointments) once increased levels of funding are made available. I wonder whether the noble Lord who is to reply will answer a question of which I have given him notice. How many institutions specialising in tropical agriculture does the United Kingdom fund in whole or in part; what have trends in funding been over the last few years and what is envisaged for the future? This is an area in which we have a unique opportunity to contribute both to the advancement of science and to the benefit of the African farmer.

In Africa, my own experience has been not in agriculture but in tropical paediatrics, especially the care of young children under five, but there is a very strong connection between the two. Wherever there is poverty, young children suffer most, especially those between one and two years old at or around the time of weaning.

Most children born in Africa today pass through a critical phase of under-nutrition at around that age and are likely to become very ill or die from common infections such as measles, pneumonia or gastroenteritis, which were the bane of this country in prewar days, whereas a well-nourished child will easily throw off these infections. It is possible to help mothers to feed their children with good, locally available foods in Africa to avoid this critical phase of under-nutrition. But it is necessary to provide suitable, simple clinics. These are springing up all over Africa providing maternal and child help and primary care.

This help on a local basis is much more effective if it can be part of an integrated rural or community development scheme which includes agricultural extension, adult literacy campaigns and encouragement of local enterprises—small enterprises, with appropriate technology. Many of these are growing up in Africa. Perhaps Asia is showing the quickest speed in advancement here. These require a very sustained effort, and they may take a long time to be established. Market and transport needs should probably be part of the scheme at the same time, but even isolated self-sufficient communities can be greatly helped.

The noble Lord, Lord Vernon, mentioned over-population, which is compounding the difficulties of improving the status of the poor in Africa, but experience throughout the world—and here I would most strongly agree with the right reverend Prelate—suggests that it is only when development occurs that the birthrate starts to come down. The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right in saying that poverty underlies excessive population pressure. It is only when parents see the likelihood of their children surviving that they will begin to have incentives to cut down on the size of their families. It comes when economic development penetrates right down to the lowest levels of society.

In regard to rural development, the report says: Many rural development schemes are necessarily small and slow spending but represent far more than the book value of the Government's financial contribution". This is obviously in human and in long-term economic terms. There are also many non-governmental organisations, such as the Save the Children Fund, Christian Aid, War on Want and Oxfam, which have helped to develop such small rural projects. I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply—and I have given him notice of this question—how much aid or subvention the Government give to such non-government organisations in Africa. What have been the trends over the past few years, and how do they see the future of such co-operation?

It is often the case that these organisations have established good co-operative relations with local communities and can accomplish a great deal. They could accomplish even more with extra funds. When we last looked at this problem in the debate in March on third world starvation initiated by my noble friend Lord Hatch, the report which we are discussing tonight was still being put together. It is very sad to see that some of the very measures that were suggested by many noble Lords on that occasion as being the most important ones to reverse the downhill path of African agriculture are the very ones whose funding, the report shows, has been cut most. I refer, as many noble Lords have already done, to measures offering help and encouragement to the African farmer and smallholder at a local level. I refer to things such as access roads, simple water supplies, agricultural extension and community development, credit, particularly for seeds, fertilisers and implements, and help—(this is particularly important, and it also seems not to be forthcoming) in training extension workers and others to help farmers to improve their methods.

It is quite useful to look at the detailed appendices of the report. For example, in Kenya expenditure on rural access roads fell from £377,000 in 1981 to £42,000 in 1983, an 89 per cent. drop. In Tanzania, aid for rural water supplies fell from £1,169,000 in 1980 to £32,000 in 1983, a 97 per cent. drop. Total aid for agriculture in Tanzania, excluding the major Songea Road which the right reverend Prelate mentioned, fell from £3½ million in 1981 to £312,000 in 1983, a 90 per cent. drop. Aid for fertilisers in Africa as a whole fell from £600,000 in 1979 to zero in 1982 and 1983. As the report says: Little United Kingdom aid is directly supporting the majority of African farmers in drier regions who grow primarily food staples". This is the quote which the right reverend Prelate gave earlier in which the use of the hand-held hoe as one of the most commonly used agricultural implements was mentioned.

I am fully aware that there is aid for Africa other than the United Kingdom bilateral aid, which is the main focus of the report. There is aid through the multilateral agencies—the World Bank, the EC and United Nations agencies—but rather like some other noble Lords who have spoken, I am not sure whether this aid is getting through to where it really matters. I echo the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, in saying that it is a great pity that the International Fund for Agricultural Development is so poorly supported. This helps small farmers directly with seeds, fertilisers, credit, extension services, draught animals and appropriate technology—the very things the report makes clear are needed.

I read recently that this year—this has already been pointed out by the right reverend Prelate—has been a very good one for African agriculture, but an article in the New Scientist giving the findings of Trevor Page, the head of emergency operations at the World Food Programme, says that despite this good crop it may well be wasted unless the good grain crops can be bought and moved to where they are needed. If this cannot be done the farmers will lose the money which they could be getting and it is possible that their will to succeed again next year will be sapped.

A very simple way of assisting improvement would be for the Government to help African Governments to pay their farmers in order to buy this surplus crop from them so that they would have a good return for their work and good luck, instead of letting prices slump so that the farmers remain impoverished and disheartened.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, would personally like to find extra money for African agriculture—money which this report shows is clearly necessary. The noble Lord may well have his hands tied. Where is the money to come from without increasing taxes or increasing the public sector borrowing requirement?

Perhaps it could be found by reducing another large section of our budget. A recent calculation has been made that if world expenditure on arms for six months only could be diverted to peaceful use, then there would be enough to pay for a 20-year programme, which would be sufficient to satisfy permanently all the food and health needs of the third world. Put another way, an amount equivalent to less than 2½ per cent. of arms spending per annum would, over a 20-year period, give the same result. I believe that we could spare that small cut in our defence budget in order to turn the nuclear sword into a million ploughshares.

7.10 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I shall not detain the House too long. Many arguments have been put at fair length to the Government and I think that the very able Minister on the Front Bench opposite should sit up and take notice because, although no one from the Back Benches of the Conservative Party has thought fit to speak on this important subject, four extremely influential members of the committee and the chairman are members of the Minister's party and are seized—as I am sure he is—of the importance of this subject.

Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, I like all-party committees. I do not believe that all wisdom resides on the Back Benches of the Labour Party. However, I am very glad to see that they are making the policy now, and not the Front Bench. It might even be better. I noted the unfortunate travels of the noble Lord, Lord Hatch. It seemed to me that wherever he went failure followed his efforts to convert the leaders of those countries to sensible policies. I am not surprised at that but it must be very disheartening for him.

The great feature about this report is that the committee showed tremendous enterprise. Furthermore, we should take note of the fact that banks have backed it. Banks are in many cases enormously foolish, but in some cases they are really quite sensible. Barclays have quite a good knowledge of Africa. The whole report is extraordinarily practical. I would have thought that practical Tories in particular would like the attitude shown on page 12 of the report, where, in dealing with the revitalisation of peasant agriculture, it refers to: aid linked to government policy reforms in the receiving country". And later: Conversely, aid can be suspended in the event of inadequate Government action to promote such reforms". I have always thought that such was common sense. I have never worshipped the sacred cow surrounding incompetent recipients—that is, governments who divert the money to themselves and not even to industrialisation. In the examples quoted, they diverted that money purely to prestige objects. For us, the donors, to insist upon competence is only common sense and it is the kind of condition that can really help the poor of the countries concerned.

Neither can we say that agriculture is everything. One does not really get riches until one gets industrialisation. There are many examples from the past of competent agricultural countries where, nevertheless, it was only after people were taken off the land and put into industry that there really was a build-up in the wealth of the people. Especially because I am a farmer I realise that if one is to prosper as a farmer one must have customers.

The point that I like most about the report is the concentration on the peasant cultivator, the man who will actually produce the food. It is the essence of the report that, without him, one will not secure the rise in production per head that is required in Africa. It is only a question of competence because there is much more rain-fed land fit to be cultivated in Africa than there is in Asia. As we all know, the Indian sub-continent is now in a position to export food.

So it is a question of organisation. It is a question of security for the farmer. It is a question of pricing. It is also a question of protection. They need to live in a high tariff situation. In any developing country that is the traditional road to development and it must be right. So they need marketing and they need capital projects—dams, roads, and all the other developments that we know have been and can be successful in a great many places.

Above all, they need the long term the basic education and trust that can only be built up if the colleges of agriculture—and I am quoting from Scotland now—and the other educational units serving the farmers are there and are there for good. It takes a long time to build up that trust. One first has to build up trust in the institution and then in the people who are actually advising the farmers. There must be demonstration farms. The neighbouring farmers must be able to see that it will pay them to follow advice and that they can get away from subsistence agriculture, which is a grinding poverty in many cases, and make enough money to buy some of the things that other people have. Our bilateral aid can be used most usefully in this field—more so, probably, than in any other.

I believe also—and I should like the Minister's views on this—that the Government should be examining what we ought to do about (to use this appalling word) "desertification". Anyone who has flown over the deserts of North Africa will know that one comes across marvellous buildings and signs of the old granary of the Mediterranean. Now it is desert. That process is advancing at the most incredible speed. It can be stopped, but it can be stopped only by tree planting on a massive scale. That must be a multilateral job if ever there was one. It is one that we must tackle if we are to stop the whole of that area of the sub-Sahara from gradually expanding as desert. It is not true to say that there are cycles that will occur whatever happens. There is no question that cycles are occurring more frequently. If there are no trees and no vegetation then of course there will be less and less chance of the rains that are at the moment securing bumper crops in some places there.

The case is very strongly made for British aid doubling to the figure set by the United Nations. That is long-term common sense. If we are seen to be doing a good job there and we achieve improved prosperity, then that must be a good investment for Britain. The Government have been so short-sighted in the way they have handled the overseas students in this country and the harm that did. Surely the sensible Minister who is sitting there writing busily—great thoughts, I hope—will see the sense of the arguments that have been put from this side of the House and will give a satisfactory reply.

7.19 p.m.

Lord Oram

My Lords, perhaps at the outset I should declare a special interest in this report. Certainly it is not a financial interest, but I am privileged to be the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Overseas Development which initiated the study which led to this report. In view of what my noble friend Lord Hatch said earlier I feel a little tempted to enter into a discussion with him about the value of all-party work but I only point out to him that in addition to this report, which I think he acknowledges is a very valuable contribution to the study of the problem of Africa, we have had a whole series of meetings over the past year in which we brought distinguished speakers to considerable and influential audiences "upstairs" which have increased the understanding of the very problems to which my noble friend Lord Hatch called attention.

Having said that I am the chairman of the committee, I wish to take no personal credit whatever for the report that we are discussing this evening. That was the work of a working party presided over by Mr. Jim Lester, and the credit goes to him and his colleagues who served on the working party, and particularly of course to the noble Lords, Lord Walston, and Lord Seebohm, who were on the working party and who have spoken in today's debate. I congratulate them both on their speeches and on the work which they did in the working party.

The working party was set up during the time when Ethiopia was on everyone's lips and it was when the drought in sub-Saharan Africa was calling for the sympathy of millions and a great deal of practical financial aid as well. It was in those circumstances that the committee decided that it was necessary to look well ahead, beyond the immediate crisis of the famine, and try to make a contribution to the problem of avoiding similar tragedies occurring in the future.

The value of the report I think owes much to the willingness of the members of the committee to assemble the opinions of the impressive list of consultants, set out on page 62, but also, as has been referred to, by travelling and seeking first-hand information in the four countries mentioned in the report. To me, that part of the report which deals with the studies of the four countries, and particularly the conclusions which are drawn from those four studies, form perhaps the most important part of the report. As my noble friend Lord Hatch pointed out, it is one study among a number that have been taking place over the past year. He referred to the report issued by the Commonwealth Secretariat, and of course others have been studying the problem—the World Bank, the Organisation of African Unity, and so on.

However, from our point of view I think that what distinguishes the report that we are discussing this evening, and what makes it particularly pertinent and valuable to us, is that it is the report which directs our attention to the record of the United Kingdom in relation to the African agricultural problem. It would be presumptuous of me to attempt to add very much to the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Walston, and Lord Seebohm, concerning the substance of the report. All I will attempt to do is pick out a few of the issues which interest me in particular.

First, the essential message that I think comes through, particularly from the earlier part of the report, is that the amount of British aid going to African agriculture has declined over recent years. It is not just that aid to Africa has declined, but within that declining volume of aid the amount that is devoted to agriculture in Africa has declined to a serious degree. This decline has been allowed to take place in the face of the growing public pressure which has urged upon the Government and all concerned that more, not less, should be done in facing this problem.

There has been, as we well know and as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, an upsurge of expression of public opinion on this matter and it may be, as my noble friend Lord Hatch suggested, that the massive lobby of a few weeks ago stopped the cuts in overseas aid which were previously threatened. I believe that may have been the case and it should encourage all of us to continue to pressure the Government to make sure that they do not go in the wrong direction once again.

The second point that I wish particularly to mention, and to which others have referred, is the situation of subsistence farmers who, after all, are the major element in this problem. The report, on page 32 and elsewhere, reaches the conclusion that all too little United Kingdom aid gets through to those subsistence farmers in the villages. That, surely, presents the major challenge to us. I suggest it requires us to re-examine the methods by which aid to agriculture in Africa, or elsewhere for that matter, is applied in practice.

I refer to the several passages in the report concerning the work of the Commonwealth Development Corporation because I believe that important lessons are to be learnt from that organisation. It does not mean that the results of its work are always those that we would wish to see, but I believe that, by and large, it has instituted methods of agricultural development which ought to be examined and applied in different ways. In particular, I have in mind the way in which the Commonwealth Development Corporation works through nucleus estates whereby central services—warehousing and processing, and so on—are provided by the corporation centrally and production by the smallholders in the district around the central services is encouraged and improved by the advice and technical assistance which comes from the corporation. I believe that to be a most important clue as to what should be done about Africa's food problem; because if subsistance farmers are left unorganised and without central services they will remain subsistence farmers and when natural calamities occur, as in the recent drought, they have no reserve or resources to resist the adverse forces of nature.

I think that we should also note that what I have said about the CDC relates almost entirely—although some changes are taking place—to export commodities: tea, coffee, tobacco, and so on. What seems to me to be necessary is to apply the principle of their organisation not only to those export commodities but to food crops for local consumption. That, I believe, is what is needed in the present situation regarding food for the population of Africa.

In this connection, I would suggest that the organisation of agricultural co-operative societies is an important policy that we should look at more closely. Like the Commonwealth Development Corporation, co-operative societies can provide the central services while encouraging their individual members, the smallholding members, to increase their production from their own plots of land.

I know only too well that co-operatives in some parts of Africa have been having a bad press, and I believe that the main reason for this is that in some cases governments have mistakenly imposed pseudo-co-operative forms of organisation on the peasant populations, producing unfortunate reactions. My point is that they are not true co-operatives, because the essence of co-operative organisation is that it is based on the voluntary participation of the members of the co-operative. But that should not deter us from doing the job properly, and we ought to be providing technical assistance. We have great knowledge in our co-operative marketing societies in this country, and we ought to be providing technical assistance to help that form of organisation.

In another connection, my noble friend Lord Rea instanced what is happening in China, and I think that noble Lords will do well to study the situation in that country, as I have had the opportunity of doing on two recent occasions. There, co-operatives are being reorganised and strengthened on the basis of true co-operative principles, and the result—as I have seen and as is now increasingly being reported—is a staggering increase in agricultural production. If it can be done in China, it can be done in Africa. Over the last five years there has been a tremendous change in the fortunes of the peasants of China, and I believe that, given the proper leadership and the proper technical understanding some similar results could be achieved in Africa.

In conclusion, I should like to echo what has been said by several noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Walston, in his opening address—and the noble Lords, Lord Seebohm and Lord Rea, also made this point—about the need for much increased resources for research and technical assistance in relation to the problems of African agriculture. After all, we have built up in this county a great reputation for research in this field and we have great knowledge of what is needed in the way of research and technical assistance.

It was depressing for me when I read the report to read of the lack of resources found in this field by members of the working party, and I thoroughly agree with their recommendation that resources should be very much stepped up in this respect as well as in technical assistance. Perhaps the most depressing of the statistics that the report brings forward is that on page 20, relating to United Kingdom manpower, where there was a decline over the decade between 1972 and 1982 from 7,402 down to 1,782. In the natural resources sector, in 1972 there were 740 manpower units—a figure which was reduced in 10 years to 183. That seems to me to be a really tragic decline. I make the point—the all-party point if you like—that that period covers governments of different colours. In this respect we are all guilty.

I can assure the noble Lord the Minister that if he now sees the light and if he is going to turn over a new leaf, then he will have all-party support in moving in that better direction. I hope that the effect of this report will be that the Government will re-examine their attitude to many of the problems which are brought out so effectively in this report and I hope that the noble Lord, when he replies, will tell us that the ODA is proposing to meet the challenge which this report presents to us.

7.35 p.m.

The Minister of State for Defence Support (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for tabling this Motion. It has provided a further and most welcome opportunity to debate development issues and to look ahead to consider how countries in Africa might best be helped through agricultural development to reduce the risk of drought and famine in the future. I think that it has been an interesting and constructive debate, opened so ably by the noble Lord and supported by so many others.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Overseas Development is to be congratulated on their report on United Kingdom Aid to African Agriculture. While the report is critical of some aspects of the Government's past performance and current policy, overall the report is reasonably fair and balanced, and the Government welcome it.

I shall deal first with those parts of the report that appear to question the Government's commitment to agricultural development in Africa. I acknowledge that the real value of our assistance to agriculture and related activities in sub-Saharan Africa fell between 1979 and 1983. But during that period, when there were constraints on the overall aid programme, and in particular on bilateral country programmes, the proportion of all bilateral aid to sub-Saharan Africa for agriculture and related activities actually increased. Agricultural development is at the heart of our bilateral aid policy. It covers a wide spectrum, from plant genetics to feeder roads. In developing our programmes we have to take account of the priorities and wishes of aid-recipient countries but we aim to increase the agricultural content of these programmes where we can.

To judge by some of the articles in the press when the report was issued, one could be forgiven for thinking that it was highly critical of the Government's policy on agricultural development in Africa, but a closer reading reveals much common ground and endorsement of current policy. For example, while the report mentions the decline in aid spent directly on agriculture, it recognises the aid spent on projects which indirectly benefit the sector, including the rising allocations of programme aid. The Government welcome the endorsement that the report gives to this growing emphasis on programme aid.

The report also draws attention to the need for rural development projects to help African farmers and herdsmen. The group has in mind the rather complicated integrated rural development schemes designed to help bring forward entire rural areas. These schemes were very much the fashion in the late 1970s but they have generally not worked well. We are now being very much more careful about putting new money into such integrated schemes. But we are still making some investments, and I think that the Parliamentary Group have not taken into account a number of rural development projects agreed in 1984. For example, my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development approved commitments last year some £5 million to the equatorial region agricultural project in Southern Sudan, which is aimed at benefiting smallholders and building up agricultural services; and nearly £2 million for a settlement project for peasant farmers in Zimbabwe. Proposals for new allocations for rural development in the Sudan, Kenya and Zambia are under consideration at present.

The group recommended an increase in the overall level of the aid programme. A number of noble Lords echoed that sentiment. Your Lordships will already be aware that the Government have recently announced just such an increase. The planned aid allocation for 1986–87 will be £1,187 million, some £57 million more than the provision for 1985–86. For the two subsequent years the aid programme will rise to £1,230 million and £1,270 million respectively. These additions mean that, on present forecasts of United Kingdom inflation, aid will have more than maintained its real value since 1982–83.

This, I believe, demonstrates the Government's firm commitment in this field. We are also determined to maintain, and where possible improve, the effectiveness of our assistance, and I am grateful to the group for its recognition of the value of Britain's bilateral aid programme. We have a very clear policy in providing aid to Africa. It comprises three elements: first, fast-spending programme aid to support economic policy reform; secondly, manpower and training assistance, including consultancies, to strengthen local institutions; and thirdly, assistance to key sectors of the economy, focusing upon rehabilitation and maintenance. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and one or two other noble Lords were particularly interested in our activities in the area of manpower and training assistance. Each of these elements has direct and indirect implications for food and agriculture which are vital for economic growth and the relief of poverty in Africa.

The group has expressed concern that the Government's policy of taking account of commercial considerations when allocating aid funds: tends to direct funding opportunities away from the agricultural sector and also away from Africa as a whole". This is not the case. The share of bilateral aid going to the continent of Africa has remained broadly constant at around 40 per cent. since 1979. Our country programmes there, as in the rest of the world, reflect the spending priorities agreed with recipient governments, and take account of what other donors are doing and what Britain is best able to provide in terms of technical expertise, training, goods and services. Our starting point remains the individual developing country and its particular requirements. Our fundamental objective is to promote economic and social progress in developing countries and to alleviate poverty. Experience has shown that there is no inconsistency between this and the Government's obligation to help British firms realise the legitimate commercial benefits from the aid programme.

I turn now to agricultural research, an activity in which the report recognises the highly successful United Kingdom efforts. We very much agree that a long-term approach is needed, and our continuing and increasing support for the international agriculture research centres illustrates this. Five such centres are located in sub-Saharan Africa. Even so the impact in Africa has so far been less than in Asia, but this is to be expected in view of the formidable scientific and technical difficulties, let alone the other factors responsible for famine. In recent years we have contributed nearly £10 million to three of these centres.

Perhaps I may mention in parenthesis a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, about the trend of our aid to international agricultural research centres, which is one of the points upon which he was good enough to give me prior notice. In total our contribution to the international agricultural research centres was £4.16 million in 1984 and rises to £4.9 million this year. It is expected to reach £5.33 million in 1986. I hope that those figures will reassure him of our support for these centres.

In addition, there are the national research projects undertaken within our bilateral African country programmes. These take the form of technical co-operation projects carried out in the country concerned and so, we hope, have the additional advantage of strengthening local skills and capacities through training and example. That again was a point in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Walston.

Many research projects are commissioned under our functional research programme. For example, the Department of Soil Sciences at the University of Reading is determining the ability of different varieties of barley to withstand drought. The results will be used to develop a screening technique for use by barley breeders, and the technology will be extended to cover other crops of semi-arid areas such as sorghum, chickpeas and lentils. We also help African agriculture through our financial support for a number of British institutions which give scientific and technical help to developing countries—for example, the Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine of the University of Edinburgh and the Tsetse Research Laboratory of the University of Bristol.

ODA's own scientific units—the Tropical Development and Research Institute and the Land Resources Development Centre—play a vital part in the Government's continuing response to African needs. For example, TDRI has an international reputation for its work on pests. Important progress is being made in the control of armyworm, the grainborer, and a number of other major scourges of crops, livestock and indeed man.

No debate on this subject would be comprehensive without a reference to the role played for many years by the Commonwealth Development Corporation, to which the noble Lord, Lord Oram, referred. Indeed, the report we are presently debating paid special tribute to the work done by CDC in the production of export crops and its pioneering of nucleus estates and outgrower schemes in Africa; and the noble Lord mentioned those, too. For those who are not familiar with the nucleus estate concept, the system enables farmers to grow cash crops for centralised processing and co-ordinated marketing while also growing food for their own and local consumption. Such projects have been particularly successful in countries which have adopted realistic pricing policies and have allowed a reasonable rate of return for the producers. Currently CDC has investments and commitments of £117 million, including funding for 11 nucleus estates in Africa involving 37,000 smallholders growing crops such as palm oil, rubber and sugar. I recall visiting some CDC-funded rubber plantations in the Ivory Coast in 1981.

While the sort of projects I have just described normally involve the growing of crops for export, CDC has also promoted and is managing two projects in Africa concerned exclusively with food for local consumption. In Zimbabwe, a project is being developed which provides services to a smallholder dairy settlement and produces a wide range of food crops. In Tanzania, CDC is involved in a substantial maize and bean project. The corporation is also participating in two other food projects managed by British companies.

I should also like to mention CDC's achievement in establishing in 1972 the Mananga Agricultural Management Centre in Swaziland which trains nationals of developing countries to plan and run agricultural ventures, including irrigation projects. This work has, of course, taken on special significance in the light of recent tragic events.

While this is a fine record, CDC is constantly seeking new ways of assisting agricultural development in Africa. Given its long association with the continent, both in the management of large-scale projects and in the motivation of small farmers, it is, perhaps uniquely equipped to do so.

All of us must be concerned at what the recent famine has shown up—that is, the longer-term trend towards degradation of the environment, especially in the dry and semi-arid areas, which is reflected in soil erosion, deforestation and the advance of the deserts. Perhaps I may reassure the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, that the phrase "and the advance of deserts" was inserted in my speech earlier this afternoon to replace the word "desertification" to which he took such exception, with which I agree. These are partly the result of environmental and climatic changes.

There seems to be a general trend towards falling rainfall in much of the Sahel region, although happily we can expect intermittent years of good rain like this one. The effects of this are magnified by Africa's fast-growing population and the consequent greater pressure on marginal land that tends to be farmed by poor traditional practices. Meanwhile, nomads are pushed into poorer land that cannot support their animals. This vicious circle leads to deforestation as bush and trees are cut down and burned for farming and firewood. We must do more to protect and where possible regenerate scarce natural resources. But this cannot have any lasting effects unless the people in the area concerned see its importance to them and can adapt their traditional way of life and their pattern of labour accordingly.

Work is continuing on local and exotic trees, bushes and grasses, which can help to meet people's essential needs for fruit, browse, shelter and firewood. But more research and propagation must be done. One of our major projects in Kenya is on soil and water conservation and forestry development. We are also looking at a social forestry scheme in Ghana. If your Lordships wonder what "social forestry" is, the answer is the provision of firewood.

I turn now to some of the other points raised during the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, during his most illuminating opening speech, raised the question of the proportion of our aid that goes to the poorest countries. In fact, 80 per cent. of United Kingdom bilateral aid goes to countries with an income per head of 800 dollars or less, which is the International Development Agency eligibility threshold. Many of these are, of course, Commonwealth members. But all of our aid to the poorest countries is provided as grants rather than loans. I believe this to be the right policy in that particular area.

As for our aid performance overall, it is true that aid as reported to OECD was 0.33 per cent. of GNP in 1984. But there are fluctuations in donors' aid performance unrelated to changes in actual aid expenditure. In aid-spending terms, the figure for 1984, like 1983, was 0.35 per cent. As for our performance compared with that of other donors, our aid programme, as a percentage of GNP, is below that of France, Germany and Japan among the major donors but ahead of that of the United States and Italy. In absolute terms, we have the sixth largest aid programme, and within the European Community, the third largest.

I turn now to some of the remarks made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. The right reverend Prelate referred to the road project in Tanzania. This will open up fertile lands to the benefit of Tanzania and the small farmer. It was conceived many years ago not for commercial reasons, but different priorities might now well prevail. We are generally moving away from such large capital projects in Africa. I doubt whether many such projects will find a place in our programme in the future.

The right reverend Prelate referred also to the question of population growth. He was echoed in this by the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, and I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, also touched upon it. Population growth must be seriously tackled by African countries. In a country like Kenya, with a growth rate of 4 per cent. a year, the population doubles every 17 or 18 years. We are helping African governments to tackle these problems. The cause is not poverty alone; nor is the relief of poverty the only remedy. One approach is helping to reduce infant mortality so that parents can be confident that their children will survive. Another approach is to encourage the education of women to provide them with employment opportunities as an alternative to child bearing and to promote knowledge of, and access to, methods of family planning. Overall, our assistance to population-related activities has increased from £1 million in 1977 to £12.3 million last year.

The noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, implied that the Government had apparently said that we believe in private aid flows rather than Government aid. That is not so. We recognise the important role of both of these. We have indeed facilitated the flow of investment overseas by abolishing exchange controls and encouraging host governments to be more receptive to foreign investment. But our policy is to seek solutions to the debt problem on a country basis. We support the role of the IMF and the World Bank. Through change in policies, particularly of the middle income countries, the confidence of the international capital markets can be restored. Aid should be concentrated primarily on the poorer developing countries. That is the policy and the practice of the Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, asked about our policy towards Tanzania. Aid to agriculture in many countries is not justified when the policies that the country pursues would make it ineffective. I am afraid that this, sadly, is our view in regard to Tanzania. As for government aid to the voluntary agencies, we believe that much of the best work in rural development, particularly on small schemes, is done by the so-called NGOs. These have shown that they can often work effectively with rural communities. In the two financial years 1983–4 and 1985–86, our support for NGO projects through our joint funding scheme doubled from £2.4 million to £4.8 million. We shall maintain support at a substantial level. In addition, we collaborate with agencies in their relief efforts and meet a substantial share of the costs. We also support 1,100 British volunteers working in developing countries.

It is vital that we understand that the main responsibility for development in Africa—in agriculture as in other sectors—must lie with African countries themselves. The report rightly recognises that: there is limited scope for providing agricultural aid effectively where the overall policy environment is adverse". Recipient countries must adopt policies, particularly in the pricing and marketing of agricultural produce, to encourage increased output. They must invest more in the peasant sector. They must preserve and regenerate natural resources. They must seriously tackle the population problem.

This debate has given me a welcome opportunity to outline how the Government are playing their part in the areas addressed by the report. And we are pleased that the document recognises the fine quality of the support that we can give. Indeed, in 1984 British aid to agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa amounted to £66 million. We are looking at ways to give more. But if our aid is to be effective, we depend on African countries making the necessary reforms in their economic and agricultural policies. The problems are certainly difficult, but I believe that with the right policies and the right help they can be successfully tackled.

Lord Walston

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. They have been most stimulating and to a certain extent controversial, and I must say that I am tempted to embark upon a lengthy argument in respect of some of the points put forward by some of those who have spoken. That, however, would not be a very popular move. It would not be consistent with your Lordships' well-established custom. I shall therefore not embark upon that. I shall do no more than repeat my thanks to those who have taken part. I wish your Lordships a happy Christmas. I wish, too—I hope, on behalf of your Lordships—a happier new year to those people living in Africa and other parts of the third world than they have experienced recently. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at eight o'clock.