HL Deb 20 March 1991 vol 527 cc635-76

3.31 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge rose to call attention to the problems of food shortage, the environment and over-population in developing countries, with particular reference to the present famine in parts of Africa; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to turn the attention of the House from the undoubted pleasures of political controversy to the horrors of real life. In particular, I want to draw the attention of the House to what I believe to be an impending famine of very large proportions.

The very idea of a whole community of all ages wandering from place to place in search of food and slowly starving to death seems to me almost unbearable. Yet there is a growing realisation that that is about to happen. There is a real threat of widespread famine for some 15 million people, half of whom are children. In this case, I am speaking in particular of the Sudan and Ethiopia, as they seem the nearest to total disaster, though not the only places very seriously at risk. All the main non-government organisations, who are the people doing the work on the ground, have made it starkly clear that existing measures will not be enough to meet the crisis by something not far short of a million tonnes of food. Nineteen Members of Parliament in the other place signed an Early Day Motion to this effect about a month ago. I thought it was time to ask the Government to tell us how they thought the crisis could be averted.

The first objective of this debate is therefore to find out where the necessary urgent action is to come from. The second is to discuss what can be done in a longer term way to prevent such disasters coming upon us once or twice every decade, not only in the Sudan and Ethiopia but in all the many developing countries which are at risk. I shall devote most of my speech to the first problem, appealing for immediate action, and I shall leave my colleagues and other noble Lords to pursue the second, the long-term and slow-moving effort to help people to help themselves.

I want to know how it can be that, with our technology so brilliantly demonstrated in Iraq, with our great wealth and with our ruinous agricultural surpluses, the West can allow the approach of famine to grow so dangerously near to these 15 million human beings. The Gulf War has taken our eyes off it. There seems now to be a lack of political will.

Let me try to give a picture of the two crucially affected areas. I have been briefed here by the Save the Children Fund, and as it is actually operating there, I think we can rely on its information. The area affected by food shortages in the Sudan is huge—some 400,000 square miles; in Ethiopia it is about 150,000 square miles. Both populations are what we used to call peasants—small men, in other words—earning, in good weather, a bare living from their few cattle and small patches of land, and in bad weather, half starving. When things get bad, they begin to move, wandering elsewhere in fruitless quest for food, ending up as displaced persons in temporary camps in Khartoum and other centres. The wandering is terrible for the children and pregnant women. In both areas infant mortality is high and rising, and deaths from starvation have already been recorded in the Sudan.

A second year of drought has followed poor harvests in 1989 in both countries. The harvest may fail totally through lack of rain in the Sudan, where the price of sorghum, the staple food—I think a kind of grass—is already up by 600 per cent. There are some 2 million people in make-shift camps in Khartoum; 1 million in the Red Sea hills; 2 million in the province of Darfur, where things are especially bad due to lack of drinking water as well as food; another 3 million further south and in Kordofan, with nearly 1 million wandering in from Ethiopia.

Ethiopia itself is no better, with 2.5 million in Tigre, a province controlled by rebels; 2.25 million in Eritrea, also largely controlled by rebels and also short of drinking water; and 1 million elsewhere, all on the edge of disaster. The latest news is that another million has just come in from Somalia—all in all this constitutes some 15 to 16 million souls in this same huge area.

On top of all that, there is steady fighting, which has been going on for years, in both areas. In the Sudan the civil war is concentrated in the south, where the non-moslem Sudan People's Liberation Army has been fighting the moslem government for the past eight years. In Ethiopia the government are fighting on four fronts—a 29-year old war against the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, which now controls most of Eritrea; a 15 year war against the Tigre People's Liberation Front in the drought stricken provinces of Tigre and Gondar; and two other continuing struggles further south.

The constant fighting makes local distribution far more difficult, expensive. irregular and dangerous. Meanwhile, cattle are raided and the workers are hindered in their growing, sowing and harvesting. But even so. the local distribution seems to go on pretty well. Both governments are glad to have food brought in and to co-operate. The basic organisation is done by the non-government organisations, known locally as NGOs, such as Oxfam, Save the Children Fund, CARE, CAF0D—which is the Catholic body—the International Red Cross and the Sudan Council of Churches, to mention only some of them.

These bodies co-operate seemingly without a hitch or a breath of competition, taking, if I may be tiresome for a moment, a liberal rather than a Tory view of the advantages of co-operation over competition. It is a wonder that anything gets delivered at all, and we must take off our hats to the NGO employees who are out there trying to organise transport in such appalling circumstances. But all parties assert that, if the stuff arrives, they will get it to its destination. Fuel is desperately short, particularly since the Gulf War. Much used to come from the Saudis, but the Sudan Government's strong support for Saddam Hussein makes any renewal uncertain. Perhaps the Minister can let us know whether this source is likely soon to be reopened.

Everything comes in through three ports, Port Sudan in the north; Assab in the south; Massawa in the middle. The latter was bombed last year but has been in operation since January. Their intake is limited. If supplies do not bunch and are properly spread they can be handled. So neither ports nor local distribution seem to be breaking down. The vital factor will always be the supply of food and its cost.

The main sources of supply are the United States surpluses and the EC surpluses. In 1989 the United States supplied 700,000 metric tonnes. It was expected to supply 300,000 tonnes this year; but it is feared that Sudan's support for Saddam may have halted this—at any rate there is no news of such a delivery. Once again, perhaps the Minister has some information. This year the EC supplied 110,000 tonnes, including 60,000 tonnes direct to Darfur via the Save the Children Fund. I understand that the food is available, and I am assured that all that is needed could be not only supplied but also delivered if the necessary cash was forthcoming.

The question seems to come down squarely to cash. Sudan is some 600,000 tonnes short of its requirements at the moment and Ethiopia is 400,000 tonnes short of its needs, making a deficit of 1 million tonnes between them. At a rough reckoning, it costs about £200 a tonne to buy, ship and move the food to its eventual destination. The cost before us is of the order of £200 million. If there are gaps and delays in its arrival. deaths will begin. I emphasise that the food can be made available, shipped, unloaded and distributed in trucks; and, despite the fighting and many other troubles, it will get there. But this will not happen without this huge sum. From where is it to come? The British Government have spent more than £9 million in emergency aid to the Sudan in 1989 and pledged £3 million in 1990. For Ethiopia the Government have committed nearly £13 million since the beginning of 1990, with a further commitment of £5 million. But these figures, though far from ungenerous, are chicken food in relation to the real needs. From where is the rest to come? I believe that, had it not been for the Gulf war, the powers-that-be would somehow or other have come up to scratch to save these lives. I hope the Minister will he able to say something encouraging.

Let me turn now for a minute to the longer term problem, illustrated, oddly enough, by a letter yesterday in The Times. Many people, some in your Lordships' House, have devoted their lives to helping one or other of the developing countries to solve their own problems. But judging from the particular crisis that I am considering today, little progress has been made. In 1984–85, 150,000 died of starvation in the Sudan. In 1988, 250,000 people died of starvation in Ethiopia. Now it is all beginning again. Fighting has paved the way for famine all through history, and today mankind seems as determined as ever to quarrel and kill. It is like the Hundred Years' War, with larger populations and greater killing power, but famines just the same. Efforts to improve general conditions are constantly set back by fighting. Improvements like terracing or water conservation are particularly vulnerable. Nothing is easier to destroy than a large water tank.

Nevertheless, we must keep on trying, and I hope noble Lords will talk about population and its very difficult problems; education; agricultural training; water conservation; and all the other measures which might in due course make these ghastly food migrations ending in death from famine at least less regular in their occurrence.

Above all, I want to hear from the Minister that he agrees that the relief of famine is an imperative international obligation that cannot be shirked, and that the Government will not rest until the full £200 million has been found, wherever it may come from; the food bought, moved and distributed; and the lives of so many saved. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.44 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, for tabling this important and timely Motion and for his compassionate speech which has set the scene for our debate. There are many aspects to this vast problem and the noble Lord has touched on many of them. I should like to draw attention to a number of issues which I believe are central to any debate on the current famines haunting many African countries. These are: the massive scale of the problem and the inadequacy of the international community's response; the causes of famine; and, finally, I shall make some comments on the issues raised in the noble Lord's Motion and in his speech.

Exact figures are difficult to come by but all the agencies involved estimate that between 20 million and 30 million people are affected. Our own Government have estimated that 29 million people are affected. That is the equivalent of more than half the population of the United Kingdom. These people are spread over many countries in Africa, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, indicated. In Ethiopia more than 6 million people need aid, in Sudan more than 7 million, in Mozambique 2 million, in Angola 2 million and in Liberia more than 1 million. Those are the principal countries affected. Yet others too need help. Somalia is in turmoil with refugees fleeing from Ethiopia. Poor harvests have also caused problems in many countries of the Sahel from West Africa to the Horn. We must be prepared to assist them all and we must be in the lead to ensure that the international effort matches the crisis.

Let us consider how the international community has in fact responded. After a decade of famines and uncertain harvests in the Horn, it could be expected that the international community would have been ready and waiting with a smooth emergency response mechanism. The fact is that agencies such as the World Food Programme report that pledges of food aid from donor communities have been inadequate and that the actual delivery of the food in some cases has been "woefully short". That is a depressing picture. Out of an estimated total of 4 million tonnes of food aid needed, only 1.7 million tonnes have so far been pledged.

We know that it takes months between food being pledged and food being delivered. United Nations agencies and non-government organisations emphasise that the crisis in Africa is taking place now, that food must be delivered urgently because time is running out for countless people, and yet major donors such as the European Community and the United States have still to make major commitments. While the ODA has pledged food early—we appreciate that—we could still do more, particularly in the EC where we have a major influence.

I am greatly concerned that the ODA is paying for this year's food pledges from next year's budget. I am even more concerned that the European Community may he prevented from responding by lack of funds. What is needed is a firm commitment from the Government and from other governments to provide new additional money to both the EC and the ODA. I urge Her Majesty's Government to take the opportunity of today's debate to announce new funds to meet these demands. The Chancellor made some concessions in his Budget but he did not seem to be aware yesterday of the magnitude of the problem we are discussing here today.

Let us turn to another aspect. Why have these famines occurred? Why does harvest failure lead to such distressing levels of suffering? The answer, of course, lies in the context in which the failures occur. An obvious underlying theme in all the principal countries affected is conflict. A less obvious theme is poverty. If communities and governments had greater access to wealth they would be less dependent on food aid. If conflicts could be resolved, then refugees could be resettled and harvests would not be disrupted. I shall give one example. In Mozambique and Angola the conflicts originating in the fight for independence, and subsequently fuelled by South Africa as part of its policy of destabilisation at the time, may be nearing their end as peace talks take place and, as we hope, apartheid is abolished.

The cost of those conflicts has been enormous. Mozambique is now among the poorest countries in the world. Ninety per cent. of the population live in poverty and 60 per cent. in absolute poverty. Two million people in Mozambique have been forced to leave their homes as a result of this conflict to become displaced people within their own country. Over 2 million people have become refugees in neighbouring countries. It is a tragic scene.

Perhaps I may now turn to another facet of the problem; namely, the Horn of Africa, which my noble friend dealt with. As noble Lords are aware, conflict in that area is much more difficult to unravel, although even here there may be some cause for hope, especially in Ethiopia. We know that the people of that country have suffered from a wickedly incompetent government over several years. However, changes in the Soviet Union could mean that the Ethiopian Government will receive less military aid. The establishment of relief roads, particularly through the port of Massawa, which was referred to by the noble Lord, has brought the combatants together and may lead to further talks taking place. If' there is any possibility of that occurring, I hope that the Government will do all they can to encourage such talks. Perhaps I may add that we warmly welcome the announcement by Mrs. Lynda Chalker on Monday as regards the additional food aid for Ethiopia to be channelled by Her Majesty's Government through Oxfam.

Conflict is both caused and exacerbated by poverty. Throughout Africa massive external debts, lack of appropriate aid, both in absolute terms and in quality, and over-rigorous implementation of structural adjustment packages have all prevented economic growth and development designed to alleviate poverty.

Obviously, Africa's development problems cannot be laid at the door of the industrialised world, but even allowing for the deficiencies of many African countries, it is appalling to note that the 1980s—the decade presented by the Government as one of growth and prosperity in the United Kingdom—should have become a lost decade for development in Africa. Throughout the 1980s the average income per person in Africa fell by 1.7 per cent. each year. Investment, exports and commodity prices fell thus weakening many African economies. That weakness was turned into economic disaster by huge external debts caused by massive lending by the industrialised world in the 1970s and high interest rates in the 1980s.

Noble Lords will be aware that debt repayments often equal or exceed export earnings. Throughout much of the last decade the net transfer of capital was from the South to the North. For example, in 1988 Africa paid the industrialised countries more than 21.7 billion dollars—that is more than the continent received in aid or in loans.

The situation is slowly changing but crippling damage has been done. We have supported the Government's actions on official debt, in particular the "Trinidad terms" recently proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We also urge the Government to look at debts owed to commercial banks and multilateral agencies. It is extraordinary that United Kingdom banks receive tax relief in debt exposure, and yet do nothing about the debt itself. Last year—I shall be grateful if the noble Earl can confirm this fact—the Government lost more in tax revenue through these procedures than they gave in financial aid to the developing world. It would be farcical were it not so tragic.

I should now like to address the wording of the noble Lord's Motion which indicates that food shortages are linked to environmental degradation and over-population in developing countries. The issues of population growth to which he referred and the environment are principal themes of much policy analysis about third world development.

Time prevents me from going into great detail, but in conclusion I urge the Government to take the following action. They should provide new sources of funding for urgently needed food aid from the United Kingdom and the European Community and should urge other major donors to do likewise, especially our friends in the United States of America. Speed of delivery is vital if mass starvation is to be avoided. Almost as important is long-term support for poverty alleviating development. The Trinidad terms for official debt must be implemented. Commercial and other debt relief must also be introduced. Greater financial aid must also be provided. The economic and political reforms currently being undertaken by many African countries are expensive. I believe that we in the United Kingdom must take a lead in ensuring that fragile democracies in Africa must not be undermined through economic difficulties. As I said during our recent debate on South Africa, most important of all is the need for peace. The peace process needs all the support it can get.

In 1984 we all watched with horror as thousands of people were dying. On our television screens we watched the reports of what was happening. We said that it must never happen again. However, it will happen very soon unless we move very fast and on a massive scale. The Gulf war has just shown what can be done logistically. The battle for life and humanity is as challenging as the Gulf crisis. Voluntary organisations like Oxfam and Christian Aid do their very best and often put us to shame. Let governments and the international community respond with at least equal vigour and commitment.

3.55 p.m.

The Earl of Selborne

My Lords, I too should like to begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, for giving us the chance to debate this issue today. I should like to confine my remarks to longer-term food security for Africa and specifically to the issues which we in this country should be addressing if we are to make a contribution to what clearly in the long run is an essential strategic policy.

What is so worrying about the developments over the past 20 years in Africa is that they have not just occurred in the countries which have been at war; even in the countries which have not been so directly affected the ability to secure basic food supplies seems to have deteriorated. We have already heard about many countries which are either at war or which, like Somalia, have suffered because of a war in a neighbouring country. Of course, the population projections suggest that even if there is no further disruption by war, the likelihood of many countries in Africa being able to provide even their basic food needs becomes ever less likely.

It must be evident that there is a need for a major international and co-ordinated research programme, probably stretching well into the next century. All of us in the developed and the developing countries must sit down together and work out just what resources can be brought to bear to deal with the matter and how specifically we may contribute.

I have a background as a farmer and I have been involved until recently with agricultural research in this country. I should like specifically to look at how our own agricultural research can contribute to the third world, and especially to Africa. However, I am not so naive as to imagine that agricultural research by itself can do anything very much. We have already heard that if a country lacks any degree of political stability or of economic management, then the best endeavours of any scientist will be disrupted. Therefore, we are looking at an important and perhaps key contribution, always assuming that a number of other parameters will be put in place. One has only to look quite close to home in Eastern Europe to recognise the fact that where science and technology have been present, there have nevertheless been food shortages simply because of the lack of incentive for producers or economic stability. Therefore, it is not surprising that this is such a difficult problem to solve in other parts of the world.

Again, I do not think that we in this country, or those anywhere else in the developed world, should assume that we can automatically set out the agenda. It will be for others who understand much better the resources in the countries concerned and those who understand the constraints of climate, of soil, of labour and of power. Those people will have a major role to play in setting out the strategic agenda.

However, all funding organisations—that clearly includes our own Government—having established the strategic objectives, will then have to determine together how they can best co-ordinate their resources. Again, it is most important to prevent ourselves being accused of what may be described as "scientific imperialism"; that is, the feeling that we in our more sophisticated research establishments have the ability to resolve problems which cannot be solved locally. That may or may not be right. However, it is certainly not an assumption which should be made. I repeat, it will be a partnership between the developed and the developing worlds. They will put together the strategic agenda.

I should now like to look specifically at the United Kingdom's contribution. It was salutary to note the evidence from the ODA which was given to Sub-Committee 1 of your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology when it reported in January 1990 on overseas aid. That evidence drew attention to the reduction in resources in this country for overseas agricultural research which arose from the very considerable cuts in agricultural research for this country.

Sadly, when those cuts—I shall not seek to justify or criticise them for domestic purposes today—were made, no one stopped to ask whether there were implications for the ODA and overseas aid. That was a serious planning fault. We lost for all time many scientists with experience of overseas aid. With a little extra expenditure, or no expenditure at all, and a great deal more planning, that resource could clearly have been saved. I therefore hope that when we look at our overall resources for agriculture in this country we shall always remember that the ODA should be one of the sponsoring departments.

Within the ODA there is a natural resources division which has a 10-year research strategy which is reviewed every three years or so. It does some fine tuning or increases priorities at each review. It is good to see that the problems in Africa, for example, are to be given a higher priority. I feel that the ODA is handicapped by being very much a bystander. There arc the universities and the research councils in the shape of the ARC, and within agriculture we have the Priorities Board for Agricultural Research and Development. The ODA is never at the table when the major issues are discussed, and so the natural resources division for which I have a great respect nevertheless tries to put together an ad hoc policy for which it does not have command over the available resources.

Again I make the plea that the ODA be given a central role in planning the use of civic research resources within this country where they might have a relevance overseas. We need strong scientific leadership within the ODA. It must be proactive rather than reactive. I hope that the philosophy of bringing together the resources we have in this country be duplicated internationally. Those of us who are players in the agricultural research league throughout the world will all be pooling resources, determining for ourselves how we can help countries with special needs and consulting, with a degree of humility I hope, those countries to which we are offering help; and then, having determined the policy, we should be prepared to be extremely proactive and not wait just for things to go wrong.

4.2 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Sheffield

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, for his remarks about the contributions the voluntary organisations make in Africa. It is of their contribution in this country that I wish to speak a little. Over the years my commitment and interest has been in Christian Aid, which the noble Lord omitted from his role of honour. What he said applies to CAFOD, the Save the Children Fund, Oxfam, and, I am pleased to say, many many others.

The more we look at the situation in Africa and elsewhere, the more we see that the basic problem is poverty. It is poverty that causes famine to be a disaster. We consider the underlying causes of that poverty as apparently insoluble. Not least, there is the apparently insoluble continuation of civil wars which are a special worry. Faced with those apparently insoluble problems and the recurring cries of disaster and crisis, we are tempted to respond with the time-honoured skills of the ostrich: we do not want to know and we do not want to be told. Those of us who have been involved in making door-to-door collections for Christian Aid and similar organisations, realise that there is a growing apathy. We have, in the Biblical phrase, grown weary of welldoing; we feel that we cannot do anything, that it is not worth trying, and so we do not want to know.

The organisations about which I and others have spoken are important if only because they stop us giving up. They act like a goad—sometimes an unwelcome goad—to prevent us giving up the struggle to do good. It is easy, and often done, to scoff cynically at the readiness of the British people to worry about the peoples of Africa and the problems of distant nations and distant places overseas. Given a choice between a nation that cares for others and a nation that cares only for itself, I know which I prefer. Those organisations ensure that famine remains on the agendas of ordinary people, and especially the ordinary churchgoing people of this country. I am glad of that.

It is important not to underestimate the readiness of people to do good and to give up doing good. Debates like this, and every other opportunity which comes our way, must be seized to encourage us to continue making the effort to show our concern as human beings for our fellow human beings in acute distress. One of the reasons that tempts us to give up is the legend, so assiduously broadcast, that there is nothing that we can do.

The second of the important contributions that those organisations make is that they show us that there are things that can be done. It is astonishing —the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, told us this—that at a time of civil war it is possible for the agencies, working as channels for food and longer-term aid, to help bodies such as the Eritrean Relief Association and the Relief Society of Tigre, in Eritrea and elsewhere, to get things done. There are the practical needs of ensuring that the starving are fed and providing the long-term skills which enable small farmers to grow nutritious local staple crops without overloading the land. They can give training, cheap loans, and support programmes designed to prevent the further erosion of the land.

In Eritrea, Christian Aid funds a terracing programme for four villages. What are four villages among thousands'? That programme enables hundreds of families to return to the homes they left during the 1984 famine. Similar work would enable thousands of other families to do the same if resources were available. We should not despair. On a small rather than megascale those programmes enable conditions to be created in which people do not starve. We should rejoice and continue to give our support.

It is perhaps in a third area that those organisations can make a major contribution in this country: in creating a public opinion that wants our Government to be in the forefront of taking steps to improve matters in the short term and the long term. A good deal has already been said about short-term needs. There is a need for food. The food exists in our Western world. It must surely be a government priority to ensure that the food reaches where it is needed and to see that the organisations of which I have spoken ensure that it is not wasted. They must ensure that all the legends about the food being dropped into the sea, and all the rest of it, have no foundation.

In the longer term, I cannot see why steps are not taken by the international community, working through the United Nations, to bring peace to that troubled area. Basically, it is not an area of starvation. Through the centuries it has been self-supporting in food and can be again, given peace. Arising out of the Gulf conflict we talk of a massive conference to bring peace to the Middle East. The problems of Africa are minimal compared with those of the Palestinians; that is, the political problems standing in the way of peace.

I should like to see high on the agenda of Her Majesty's Government some demand, some planning, some programme for a peace conference for Africa. In that way, somehow or other, political decisions can be taken, agreed to by the nations and peoples involved. Thus, there may be a beginning of the end of the problems of poverty and so an end to the problems of famine.

4.10 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I was interested to listen to the right reverend Prelate. I followed him entirely until he deprecated the problems of the Horn of Africa as opposed to those of the Palestinians. The latter have received a great deal of attention over the past 20 or 30 years. Purely in numerical terms, it is a comparatively small problem compared with the tens of millions of people who at the moment face starvation in the Horn of Africa.

The Lord Bishop of Sheffield

My Lords, I apologise. What I meant by that reference to the Palestinians was that in this context I, as a layman, look at the problem of finding a settlement to the difficulties of Palestine which look almost insuperable politically. To find a settlement to the political problems in the Sudan and Ethiopia does not appear to me, speaking in this context as a layman, as of the same order of magnitude of insolubility. It was only in that connection that I made the reference on the spur of the moment to the Palestinians.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I am obliged to the right reverend Prelate. For somebody from that Bench to speak as a layman is an entirely fresh experience in this House. I shall not proceed with the point, but I should like to communicate privately with the right reverend Prelate about it.

I feel privileged to speak in the debate because since the age of 25—and as your Lordships appreciate, that is fairly historic—I have taken an interest in what were then the backward countries, trying to draw the attention of the civilised communities to the problems of people who were in a desperate situation. I am glad that the vocabulary has improved from "backward countries" to "developing countries" then to "newly developing countries".

In the Horn of Africa we are faced with a quite desperate situation. The whole area is riven with internal disputes. In Somalia there is a dispute between the Liberation people and the government of President Barre. Similarly, in Eritrea and in the Sudan there is the persecution of the Christians by the ruling Al-Bashir regime. Sometimes I despair about the situation because when faced with the recurrent problems of drought in the Sahel and the shortage of food which people face, one is almost thrown back to Thomas Malthus and his bizarre idea that the population of the world would be controlled by disease and death through shortage of food.

In this civilised and advanced state of humanity, we cannot accept this. I return to the idea of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the United States during the inter-war depression. President Roosevelt looked at the problems which the country faced: the dust bowl where the soil had been eroded by over-cultivation. He put up the Tennessee Valley Authority as a pilot scheme for socialism in the United States if the project did not succeed. It succeeded and that means that the western world has the expertise to grasp the situation by the scruff of the neck and to resolve it.

I decided to speak in the debate when I heard the Whip announced last Thursday, but I was comforted by the article in today's Telegraph. I apologise to my colleagues on the Front Bench for quoting that newspaper, which mentions the Prince of Wales saying that: Fifteen million people in Africa face death because of an apparently unbreakable cycle of drought and environmental degradation".

I happen to support the actions of the Government in dealing with the recent situation when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The success of that military enterprise must be built on, but not in a military sense. I was brought up during the war and, to my great disappointment, soon after the war I found that the Russians, who had been our great allies all through it, suddenly became our enemies. I believe that Lady Churchill was the prime mover in the fund for aid to Russia.

Now, at last, the Russians have dropped out of the equation in the sense that they were always blocking proposals. We only made progress in the Korean war because they happened to be absent from the Security Council when the UN decided to support South Korea against North Korea. We now have a chance through the United Nations to tackle these problems on an international scale. I believe that in East Africa, with the problems of Somalia, Eritrea and the Sudan where there is a persecuted Christian minority, we should seek to intervene on an international scale. I believe that if we did that, it would be accepted because it would not be regarded as some belated colonial enterprise, but would be in the interests of the people concerned.

It is a coincidence but I do not feel it is inappropriate to draw attention to the Unstarred Question of the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, today about global warming. As we know, global warming involves anxiety about the changes in the climate because of the release of gases into the atmosphere through industrial and domestic burning. We now have a major superstructure of international agencies concerned about the problem and examining it. Why can we not translate it into an international superstructure, through the United Nations, to examine the whole subject of poverty in East Africa. It is not a coincidence. If we are concerned about global warming, it is because of the climatic changes which we have generated through our own efforts.

Also in the Sahel there is the spread of the desert. I am sure that problems there could he examined by scientists so that we could come up with an international solution to get out of the persistent cycle of drought, poverty and death for large numbers of people who are themselves virtually victims in the situation. I urge your Lordships to think seriously about the proposal. Those of us who are lucky enough to live in an environment which is comfortable and civilised have a great responsibility to those in other parts of the world who are not so fortunate.

4.20 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, for introducing this desperately important subject. Like the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, I wish to concentrate on some of the long-term agricultural aspects of the problem in the context of one small country in Africa, Malawi, which I know reasonably well. Although the climate in Malawi is not the same as that in the Horn of Africa, the problems of Africa south of the Sahara are comparable in many respects.

When I first went to Malawi about 35 years ago the country was covered with secondary forest and bush. In the bush there were patches of cultivation, and in certain areas there were tea plantations. However, the country was mainly covered by bush. It was occupied by Malawians who practised a shifting agriculture; that is to say, they had a rotation of crops which consisted of about three years of maize followed by about 25 years of bush. That rotation maintained the fertility of the soil and prevented it from being washed away.

The last time I flew over the highlands of Thyolo district in Malawi, it was possible to see small patches of emerald green denoting the tea plantations, but the rest of the countryside was entirely covered with food plots. The plots were poor, the soil was eroded and the crops were poor because the natural rotation was no longer possible. The peasant farmers are still trying to farm on the old system where nature renewed the fertility of the soil. However, as there is no more land to move to, they are stuck in one place and therefore the fertility of the soil degenerates rapidly.

When one looks down from the aeroplane, one sees around the tea estates a little spot of green here and there. The reason for that is that if one is an intelligent tea worker, one fills one's pockets with fertiliser before going home and one puts that fertiliser on one's own maize crop. Therein lies the clue to what we should be doing about that situation—by "we" I mean the Malawians, the West and the aid agencies—in supporting and trying to develop the agriculture of Africa south of the Sahara.

Over the years since the war we in this country have developed an agricultural system which, in terms of cereal crops, produces something like four times the yield per hectare that was possible in 1939. That has been achieved through the development of sustainable, high input, high output agriculture. Now the farming community is heavily criticised because it is alleged that that community produces too much. That is a matter for another debate, but I do not believe we are excessively overproducing. We are producing a little too much, but in Africa they are producing a great deal too little. What they need is a little of our medicine, and perhaps we need a little of theirs.

The problem is one of soil exhaustion, soil erosion and poorer and poorer crops. That situation leads to hunger and to the drift to the towns. I am not one of those who criticise our colonial regime, but I believe we made one terrible mistake in that we stopped the babies dying without thinking of the consequences. It is a simple matter of mathematics. If one moves from a situation where one baby in three was dying to a situation where three per thousand are dying, in the first 16 years there will he a rapid increase in population. After that period an exponential rise in population will occur as the additional babies start to become parents.

What is needed is, first, to develop a sustainable high input, high output agriculture which will produce, as far as possible, the food that is needed by the larger population. Secondly, and almost equally important, is the need for education and what the Americans call extension work; that is the need to pass on the information and to ensure that the peasant farmer not only understands how to do the job but is also motivated to do it. In this context—this is perhaps just an aside—we should not ignore the great importance of educating women as trainers. In many traditional African societies today it is still women who are responsible for farms. Therefore women are needed to train others how to manage the farms.

There is one other point on which I wish to touch this afternoon and that is the impact of AIDS. Officially there is no AIDS in Malawi. However, informed sources believe that approximately 30 per cent. of the population is HIV positive. That is a terrifying figure, and it is made even worse if we consider that the percentage is not evenly spread across the population. The worst affected are the middle classes and the educated people who are the natural leaders of the community. We must look ahead to a time when many of the natural leaders of the community will be tragically removed by this scourge, at the same time as the population explosion continues unabated among those who are least able to cope with the problems. There will be a desperate need for help from the rest of the world over the coming decade.

4.27 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, one of the great tragedies of the Gulf crisis and war was that the attention of too much of the world was turned away from the crisis in Africa. As has already been said, many more millions are in danger of dying in Africa than the number of people who died during the Gulf war. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, who introduced this debate, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this matter. I entirely support those who have called for emergency food aid to be provided quickly and efficiently to those Africans who face death over the next few months.

However, I do not wish to address the House this afternoon on the emergency issue. Such emergencies have occurred before. Only four or five years ago the famine in Ethiopia was headline news. Those natural and human disasters are increasing during our lifetime. It is surely time that we looked at the root causes and attempted to find methods by which such disasters do not attack the peoples of our world. I wish to concentrate on that point this afternoon.

What are the causes of famine? As my noble friend Lord Cledwyn has pointed out, one cause of famine is war, and particularly civil war. Such civil wars are often fuelled by outside powers. My noble friend mentioned South Africa, but in addition to South Africa, the United States is still supplying arms to UNITA in the civil war in Angola. In the past the Soviet Union has supplied arms although that supply seems largely to have dried up now. Famine is caused by war and the environmental decline of many areas. Again, this is often accelerated by the depredations of outside logging companies.

Above all, there is the declining production of food by Africans themselves. I have been privileged over many decades to work with third world governments, particularly in Africa, along with people like late and greatly lamented noble friends of mine such as Lord Balogh and Lord Kaldor, and also with that remarkable French agronomist, René Dumont.

We have been trying for a matter of 40 years to get the African governments to concentrate on the development of their own agriculture and we have very largely failed. But that is not entirely their fault. I agree that there has not been sufficient conviction put into agricultural policies in African countries, but when they have tried to put them into effect they have met very grave economic hurdles, and it is the whole structure of the world economy which is responsible for these periodic outbursts of famine across the continent.

It has often been said, and was said, in particular by your Lordships' Select Committee on Overseas Trade five years ago, the Aldington Committee, that trade with the developing countries is even more important than economic aid for them, but also for us; that this is a joint venture, and should be seen as a joint venture; that we can profit by recognising that Africa is a part of the world economy and that Africans are our partners in the march forward towards a better world.

But this is not happening. In the last decade, exports from the United Kingdom to the developing countries fell from 27 per cent. in 1979 to 19.4 per cent. in 1989, and imports from the developing countries fell from 20.8 per cent. in 1979 to 14.2 per cent. in 1989. I suggest that, along with what my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition said in his opening speech, along with the transfer of resources, this is raising an immense barrier to the development of African economies and, in particular, to the development of their agricultural base, because they are forced by their position within the world economy to export primary goods whose price has declined severely during the last decade. They are forced to concentrate on exports to the neglect of their own economies and, in particular, of their own agricultural economies.

Moreover, right at the moment we are in the middle of discussions on the next GATT round, the Uruguay round. What is this doing for developing countries, particularly in Africa? Surely it can be seen that the whole debate on subsidies is leading to the dumping of agricultural products from Western Europe and North America into the developing countries. Yes, my Lords, that is essential as an emergency measure; but in the long term that is undermining the agricultural development of those countries, and they are being penalised and prevented in some cases from subsidising their own agricultural development.

I have spoken often in this House about the interaction between this country and developing countries, and I bring to your Lordships' attention one small matter which seems to me to illustrate in current form the possibilities that exist. The question is not just one of producing food. Also needed are houses. Those noble Lords who have been to the recent Ideal Home Exhibition may have noticed in one small corner a special project for the building of a £100 house made from tiles and building blocks. That is the kind of housing which could form the basis of industrial activity in this country, providing for the immediate needs of millions of people in the African Continent. It could provide employment here. It could provide shelter and the opportunity for economic development in African countries.

Finally, I should like to ask the noble Earl who is to reply two questions, of which I have given him prior notice. The first deals with the immediate emergency. To what extent have the British Government contributed resources above the ordinary ODA budget, which we know has been cut drastically over the past 10 years, to meet the immediate famine challenge in the African Continent, and when will those resources be available? Are they available now? Have they been provided? Or is it the case, as has been suggested, that they will not be available until after the end of the financial year next month?

Secondly—and here, again, I come back to something that I have often mentioned before in this House—what is the British Government's contribution this year to the International Fund for Agricultural Development? That is the most efficient and most constructive agency of the United Nations, providing the basis, the investment and the infrastructure for the development of agriculture in the developing countries. It has always had a tiny budget which is a scandal, but I should like to know what is Her Majesty's Government's contribution to the budget this year. What is that budget, and how do the Government see it as the base for building the future collaboration between this country, and the African countries, which is essential for our future and for the future of the Africans?

4.38 p.m.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Donaldson for introducing this subject for us to debate. I particularly thank him for his analysis and request to us in this country and the world to help combat the famine in Sudan and Ethiopia. I do not know how many noble Lords saw the programme on breakfast television this morning of grain arriving in Port Sudan. My noble friend seemed reasonably relaxed about the distribution problem in Sudan. I am afraid that I do not feel quite as optimistic as he does.

The distance that this grain has to be transported is, on the average, 2,400 kilometres away from Port Sudan. That is about 10 days' drive with a lorry. We are approaching the time when it will soon, we hope, start raining in that part of the world, but then the lorries are often no longer able to get through. If I were one of the starving people in Sudan and Ethiopia I would ask myself: how is it that the United Nations coalition was able to move equipment and hundreds of thousands of men into the Gulf in no time at all? I ask the Minister: is there not a possibility that in order to help these people we could use heavy load-carrying helicopters and all the other equipment that could reach the starvation area in time to combat the famine that is going to take place? I know that it might be difficult to negotiate such an arrangement but it must be considered .because if the aid is taken by road, I believe that it will not reach the people in time.

In a few words I want to concentrate on the over-population problem. I had a very salutary experience some years ago when I was in India and had the privilege of taking tea with Mrs. Indira Gandhi. That was a couple of months before she was assassinated. She was tremendously concerned about the over-population of India. She said, "Do you realise that when India was independent we had 375 million people?" At the time I was visiting her, which of course is now some years ago, the population of India was approaching 790 million. Mrs. Gandhi said, "If we had been able to stabilise our population we would have been the economic miracle of the world." That is true. India has an industrial economy and would have been able to produce an economic miracle; but over-population destroyed that.

I believe that the place of women in society is really at the heart of development and of population control in Africa as well as in the rest of the underdeveloped world. On the whole, the women of these countries are responsible for subsistence agriculture, for bearing and raising the children and for doing all the domestic labour. For that they get virtually no support and, as a result, most of the time their own health and that of their children suffers. It also results in population growth, high child mortality, poor agriculture and a deteriorating environment. While the only way that a woman can assert herself in these societies consists of having more children than the woman next door the problem will not go away.

What is needed is a complete re-think to make investment in women a development priority. First, there must be adequate availability of family planning. It has been estimated that during the next decade 350 million couples will wish to use contraceptives. Can we supply and distribute what is needed? A much greater involvement by men in the problem of family planning in these societies has to be encouraged. Not enough attention is given to this by the aid societies. Persuasion must be increased and it must be proved to the men that the health of mother and child can be improved if they themselves take an interest.

Secondly, the improvement in the provision of education for girls, with a consequent increase in employment opportunities, would among other things help to postpone the age of marriage and so reduce the pressure on population. I think all of us are aware of the tremendous benefits that would follow from improved education possibilities for women. But that would not be of immediate help for certain types of women in the underdeveloped world. Something must also be done for the enormous number of women who live in remote villages far from any improvement in educational opportunities in the normal sense. For many of them it will come much too late and will not improve the situation. They need help now. We need to make certain that integrated into the provision of family planning and mother and child health care is provision for craft education. That would enable the women in the villages for the first time to become at least partially economically independent.

I saw a wonderful example when I was in the Gambia, where a new unit for the provision of child care and family planning was integrated with the opportunity for women, when they came into the clinic, to be taught certain crafts that they could perform in their own villages. That was wonderful and it was very helpful, but that kind of provision is no good unless at the same time you help them to market the produce they make. The women often live a very long way away from a centre where they can market their produce. Therefore, a marketing exercise is also needed in order to help them.

A change of attitude is required not only on the part of the developing countries but also on the part of the financing countries and the lending institutions. As the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, pointed out, partly because of the enormous burden of servicing their debts to the developed world 37 of the poorest countries have, sadly, cut their health spending by 50 per cent. and their education spending by 25 per cent. in the past four years. That is a long way from improving the standard of health and education for all; but particularly for women.

Improving the services for women will obviously not solve all the problems of the underdeveloped world but I believe it would be one of the most effective ways of promoting a reduction in the growth of population and that it would help in the development of sustainable growth in these economies.

4.48 p.m.

Lord Thurlow

My Lords, first, I strongly endorse the appeals that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and others, to Her Majesty's Government to do everything they can to support the international initiatives to seek emergency urgent action to relieve the immediate famine prospects that are on the horizon, and which are indeed already facing East Africa. I do not propose to develop that particular aspect but to concern myself with the long-term problem of the causes of shortages in Africa and the possibilities for solution.

May I say at the outset that I do not endorse the view of the right reverend Prelate that the problems of poverty in Africa are insoluble. I believe that we can see our way to helping the Africans to solve their own problems if we can only pursue the right strategy and supply the relatively modest resources that may be required to prime the pump. I am sure that there is enormous unexploited potential in Africa, south of the Sahara, to grow vastly greater quantities of food. As has been said, production of food has been declining for a variety of reasons which can be identified, but the physical potential of soil and climate make it possible to visualise, with the right co-ordination of action, enormous increases in the capability.

The various factors to which noble Lords referred —food production, health, family planning and debt relief—all interact. At this stage, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, emphasised, the basic problem is food production. There can be no advance in Africa south of the Sahara without an enormous increase in food production. But how can that he achieved? It certainly cannot be achieved by relying on massive increases in international aid. I warmly support the various appeals that have come from this House in the past year and more for greater resources to be given to the Overseas Development Administration. But overseas aid is only a means to prime the pump. The problem of production in Africa has to be solved, can be solved and I hope will be solved by the Africans themselves.

If international aid cannot do more than prime the pump, how is the rate of increased production to be achieved in a time-scale that is relevant to the danger? The population surge is such that Africa south of the Sahara is rushing toward a stupendous disaster. One of the greatest authorities on population, who for a time served as head of the population division of the United Nations, has predicted that with present trends the population of Africa will reach between 2 billion and 4 billion in the 100 years between 1950 and 2050. Already the first 40 years have gone and the trend certainly justifies the prediction. That gloomy forecast may even be too conservative. Judging from the rates of increase of population with which I have been acquainted in countries in Africa in which I have served, and which I have visited in recent years, I believe it possible that the rate of increase could be even faster. Africa may be moving toward a population of 5 billion by the year 2050.

Is it conceivable that such a population could be fed? If so, how? What is the means by which the present states of inertia can be overcome? The problem of food production is basically one of getting through to the peasant farmer how to utilise and apply the results of research which has already been done. The means have already been achieved to grow five blades of corn where at present one grows. So the problem is one of a kind of adult education.

In the past the vehicle for bridging the gap between research and the peasant farmer was the Agricultural Extension Advisory Services, which is an expensive piece of bureaucracy, though that is rather a pejorative term. The organisation does magnificent work but it is a salaried service and the resources are not there to multiply services of that kind on a scale which can meet the needs of the time-scale.

Is there any other way? I venture to believe that there is. There has been a significant breakthrough —an important innovation—in the field of accelerated education. It is the achievement of this country. It is still pretty well under wraps. The research is being conducted at various universities. At the London Business School important work is being done to examine how new methods of crash, accelerated education can be applied in various fields; for instance, in relation to the problems of producing new skills in Eastern Europe to cope with the transition from a command economy to freedom. There is research into management training and also—this is very important—in relation to the possibility of finding a vehicle for crash education in Africa which may bridge the gap between the results of research and the practices of the peasant farmer.

Is that just a utopian visionary dream? No. Serious work is being done. I mentioned the London Business School but there is also a new unit in the University of Glasgow and specialised work being undertaken at the University of St. Andrews. The research is going ahead and the intention is to apply it to pilot projects in Africa at a comparatively early date. If the pilot projects are validated I believe that this will be a form of new adult education which can spread very rapidly throughout Africa.

I shall not try to describe to noble Lords how the new system works. This House is not a school or university. However, in a nutshell, one can look forward to a time when in communities and villages in Africa, with the full support of the whole community, there will be units for relatively short courses covering mainly two separate aspects of this education: first, the agricultural and pastoral methods of the peasant farmer and, secondly, the education of women in hygiene, appropriate technology and family planning. I believe that that is the way ahead. When the research has reached the point of asking for support in its application I hope that the necessary support from Her Majesty's Government will he forthcoming.

5 p.m.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, from what we have heard in the debate it is obvious that we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, for raising the subject. In my opinion it is one of the most important that faces the world.

I wish to go back to 1930. With my father, I took over a farm on which the previous occupant could not sell his potatoes. He left me to get rid of them. I used a few tons to feed some cattle and the remainder I drove into an empty quarry hole. At the same time my elder brother started farming a dairy farm. He could not sell all his milk; he was pouring it down the drain. I visited Glasgow to buy cattle. From the station to Merklands Wharf, where the cattle were sold, the bus stopped twice, each time at a long queue at an employment exchange. Badly-dressed and obviously badly-fed men were waiting to collect, I think, 16 shillings a week to feed their families. I wondered, "Could they not use my potatoes and my brother's milk?" It made me feel that something was very wrong. It was the first time that I took an interest in public affairs.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, I watched the Nine O'Clock News on television this morning. A portion of it was devoted to Jonathan Dimbleby's visit to the Sudan. It was pathetic to see what was going on there. He showed photographs of a woman who walked three miles to fetch a bucket of water to steep poison cherries in for a week to feed her children. Imagine that on the scale on which it exists, my Lords. Not many weeks ago I watched a programme about another area which showed children with arms not much thicker than my thumb. The situation must be looked into.

This morning, I received a letter from the Scottish NFU enclosing a document which stated: Dilemma. So we have a real dilemma: too much food is being produced".

I was watching the programme yet reading that too much food is being produced. I thought then, as I did 61 years ago: something is wrong. An hour later I picked up the telephone and put my name down to speak in this debate.

Not long after I came to the House in about 1981, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, spoke in a debate on this subject. I tried to look it up in Hansard. He spoke about teaching the thousands of people then starving to grow their own food. That is essential; it has been much referred to. He also made the point that we should be getting the food to those starving thousands. However, what impressed me—the point was made 10 years ago—was his emphasis that both are long-term problems. How right he was. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, made that point, too: it takes a long time to educate under-developed countries in how to increase their food production.

Ten years later we are still not growing enough food and millions instead of thousands are starving. The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, may have been a little optimistic, but there is no doubt that with education of the people, with modern techniques and so on—he stated that it takes a long time to educate on such matters—food production in such countries as Africa, with a reasonable climate, good land and so on, could be increased. Those countries could do as we have done: since 1930 we have more than tripled food production in this country. We should not be too pessimistic, although it is a long-term programme.

I realise that a huge population explosion has upset plans for food production in some countries. The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, mentioned India in particular. Other noble Lords have given figures. The world undoubtedly failed to stop that enormous population explosion. Some figures recently given by experts have suggested that by the end of the century world population will be 8,000 million and that by 2020 the figure will be 10,000 million. I am not an expert. I do not know how one educates in birth control. However, we should assist in that effort in every possible way.

Whether or not we can help in that area, we can produce more food and get it to the pathetic starving men, women and children whom we have seen on television. It seems to be the women and children who suffer more than the men. The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, was right to emphasise the importance of attending to the rights of women.

How do we get the food to them? Reference has been made to Oxfam, War on Want, Christian Aid and other bodies, including the specific organisation mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. I refer to it not so much because the right reverend Prelate mentioned it but because if my wife knew that I had missed it out I should be in dire trouble. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, about getting the food to the starving people. There are numbers of ships lying rusting in ports which could be used to get the food to them. An enormous problem is distance. Jonathan Dimbleby emphasised it this morning. The food has to be transported distances of 1,200 miles on lorries. As the noble Baroness mentioned, there are plenty of transport planes to carry bombs and death-dealing equipment weighing hundreds of tonnes. Could those planes not be used on a life-saving mission for a change? I do not know about the airfields situation but there are transport helicopters nowadays. When one considers what money is spent on, something along those lines could be undertaken.

It has been asked, "Who will pay us for this?" Quite frankly, I suggest that if we undertake a major effort to help the starving people immediately—there is no sense in fiddling about—we should not worry about who will pay us. I suggest that salving our consciences would be ample payment.

5.8 p.m.

Lord Walston

My Lords, like all other noble Lords who have listened to the debate, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, for giving us the opportunity to take part. As he and the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, pointed out in a most moving way, the situation in the Sudan, and more particularly in Ethiopia, is horrifying and terrifying. The fact that I shall not deal with that aspect does not in any way mean that I do not share their very deep concern. However, I believe that sufficient has been said on that subject to bring home to all of us the situation in those and other countries.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, pointed out that a similar situation exists in many other countries; for example, Mozambique, Angola and Liberia. The exacerbated reason for that is the absence of peace. In all those countries there is a war of one kind or another which has made the production and distribution of food virtually impossible in many areas. I was particularly struck by the analogy made by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, with the Hundred Years' War, when the whole of Europe was in turmoil. It was almost impossible for farmers and peasants to produce food and when it was produced it was almost impossible for the town dwellers to use it. That is happening today in many parts of Africa but on a much larger scale. As the right reverend Prelate rightly pointed out, peace is an essential factor in bringing these appalling crises to an end.

I turn to the long-term aspects of the problem. Even in peaceful countries in Africa hunger will continue to exist unless there are drastic reappraisals and alterations to their situations. First, it is essential that we should do what we can to instigate the redistribution of wealth. Far too much wealth is concentrated in the developed countries and there is far too little in the developing countries. They do not have the money to buy food even if it is produced. Nor do they have the money to provide incentives, including raw materials, to the farmers to grow the foods of which they are capable. The developing countries have an appalling burden of debt. They borrowed money from rich countries at high interest rates. They must now repay that money and therefore cannot spend it on their own countries.

We in this country place an emphasis on the market economy. If one wants more food produced one must offer more money to its producers. That will cost money and although it is difficult to achieve it can be done. However, the answer is not so simple when one is dealing with people who are accustomed to a subsistence economy rather than to a market economy. I give your Lordships an anecdote from Malaysia. A new variety of rubber tree had been developed and the authorities wanted its growth to be spread among the peasant rubber planters. A meeting was held in a remote area and a distinguished scientist spoke to the people. He was warned that the whole village would follow one old man who would be sitting in the front row. If the speaker could get the old man on his side he would win his case. Therefore, he directed his remarks to the old man who smiled and nodded his approval. At the end of the speech the old man rose and said that he was sure he could speak for the whole village which he said was grateful to the distinguished gentleman for travelling such a long way to explain how to produce more rubber. The old man said that he would follow the advice because he would need to grow only half the number of trees to have the same amount of income. He would do that and have a more leisurely life rather than a richer life.

Until we change such mentality we shall have an uphill struggle to get more crops grown. We have plenty of knowhow; for instance, we know about terracing, water conservation, new varieties and so forth. However, not many experts know about the people who will implement such knowhow. We must understand the people.

I give another anecdote to illustrate the importance of my argument. The Commonwealth Development Corporation decided to set up a new oil palm plantation in certain parts of Papua New Guinea. There were two sources of extra labour—the coastal people and the mountain folk. Both groups were in need of more work. The people were happily installed and they began work. The corporation decided to give them an incentive to work harder. They approached one or two of the bright young people among the mountain folk and suggested that if they made use of new techniques and used new varieties of plants they could make more profit and would go up in the world. That incentive was avidly accepted by them and worked extremely well. The corporation put the same proposal to the coastal folk but it was met with a complete refusal. The reason was that the coastal folk lived as a community and no one wished to be a leader or to be richer and more prosperous than the other members. They all wished to share and share alike.

Until one knows the people, what makes them tick and what incentives to offer, a great deal of effort will be wasted. I urge upon all those concerned with overseas development to appoint to the extension services not only people with diplomas in agriculture and a knowledge of terracing, fertilisers, disease control and so forth but also people with experience of local customs and local habits. It is not easy to find such people. In the old days the district officers were admirable at such tasks but now, unfortunately, they no longer exist. However, if we can appoint such people it will be possible to institute and promulgate a whole variety of basic reforms and provide incentives to grow more. Basic reforms such as the privatisation of the land and enclosures led to a great upsurge in agricultural production in this country. We must endeavour to get people to realise that cultivating their crops well instead of wasting the land and eroding it will increase the productivity of the land and its long-term potential.

I urge a long-term policy that concentrates on the technical aspects of agriculture and does not forget the enormous importance of knowing what is an incentive to the grower to produce more food and to follow eagerly and happily the advice of the scientists.

5.20 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, listening to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, tell the story of the elder in the village in Malaysia who felt that he would rather have twice as much leisure than twice as much rubber, I am not sure that he does not have the right idea. Perhaps we should learn from him rather than take up the position that we can teach him a lesson.

From the wording of the Motion, it may be held that population pressure is the main reason for the hunger in the developing world. It is easy to blame food shortage on overpopulation, especially in the Sahel and Horn of Africa where there is a precarious ecological balance. In those circumstances the felling of trees and the increased cultivation of marginal lands is associated with the degradation of the environment and "desertification"—I prefer the word "desertisation". To blame all that on overpopulation would be to oversimplify the problem.

As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, pointed out, at the time of colonisation of most of the tropical world, populations maintained their numbers at a stable rate with almost maximal birth rates which compensated for very high death rates in infancy and childhood due to endemic tropical diseases, particularly malaria, on top of the normal range of universal diseases such a diarrhoea, measles, pneumonia and so on. Many societies lost half their children before they reached the age of five. For a variety of reasons, northern technology has cut that death rate by 50 per cent. or more even without easily accessible health services. That still leaves many areas —mostly in Africa—with child mortality rates of 15 to 20 per cent. For that reason, there is still a strong desire among women to have large families to ensure the survival of at least some of their children. There are other social, economic and religious pressures tending in the same direction.

For millenia in Africa those with large numbers of children were considered fortunate and favoured by the gods. The work of those promoting family planning in the teeth of such deeply held beliefs is unlikely to succeed. Many noble Lords may have received a briefing about family planning in Ethiopia from Population Concern which describes the reasons for local resistance to family planning.

However, looking at countries or states with very low per capita income, some have succeeded in dramatically reducing fertility rates in the space of one generation or less. I point to China, Cuba, Sri Lanka and Kerala, a state in the south of India. There are four main similarities in these otherwise very diverse cultures: first, a universally available free primary medical care service which has led to greatly reduced infant and child mortality; secondly, major efforts to eliminate illiteracy, especially that of women; thirdly, a recognition of the status of women and the realisation that that needs to be upgraded so that women can play a greater role in the life of the community; and fourthly, a more equitable land tenure system than in most of the developing world. Family planning facilities are available as an integral part of the primary health care service.

Rapid population increases are not the only—or indeed the main—reason for overcultivation and environmental degradation in the third world. Other factors also create the poverty and land hunger which perpetuates malnutrition, high child mortality and high birth rates. That makes for a vicious circle. As I said, high child mortality makes women want to have more children, hence large families.

As my noble friend Lord Hatch pointed out, development policies to date have concentrated on major projects which have helped to increase cash crops for export. They have not been of much help to small farmers growing food crops for local consumption; quite the reverse. The farmers and their families have often been displaced from the best land, low prices have been fixed for their produce and cheap food has been imported from the north. Africa, once a food exporter, has become a net food importer.

World Bank and IMF loans to countries with economic difficulties—possibly because of gross mismanagement—have until now insisted upon adjustment programmes. These have made serious inroads into already meagre social programmes which have been supporting food subsidies and health and educational facilities. It is true that recently the World Bank has realised that the measures may have gone too far. However, I have not read—I should be interested to know if other noble Lords have—of any loan where a condition has been the maintenance or augmentation of provision for the social sector. To do that would ensure a wholly logical investment. It would provide the basis, through education, for diversifying the economy and, through better nutrition and health, lay the basis for health and family limitation.

As several noble Lords have pointed out, African countries must run in order to stay still and most are moving backwards. Some 286 billion dollars net has been transferred from the developing countries of the south to those in the north in the past decade in debt repayment and increasing interest rates. There seems to be little hope that most non-oil African countries will ever work themselves out of the debt trap. That is a disastrous prospect for Africa and not much better for us since those countries have no foreign exchange with which to buy our goods and services, a point brought out clearly by my noble friend. There is now a growing awareness that the debt trap must be ended. But how is that to be done?

The problem is explored most constructively by Susan George in her book A Fate Worse Than Debt. To put her suggestion in a nutshell, the debts of the poorest countries—mainly those in Africa—should be transferred to development agencies within each country and the debt should be paid off to those agencies in local currencies within a 10 to 20-year period.

The development agencies should be internationally overseen using such bodies as the International Fund for Agricultural Development and also local and international non-government agencies. Susan George calls that the 3D solution—debt, development and democracy. In that way, funds could be channelled to help local farmers through loan schemes to improve land, to buy fertilisers and to build small dams and water development projects. Non-government organisations and international organisations could be involved. There are enough examples of good local development schemes in Africa to show that that is by no means a pipe dream.

A crucial aspect of the problem is the impact of military spending on civil war in Africa. That has been made more devastating by the export of arms by both the East and the West over the past two decades. Not only in the Middle East, but universally, arms sales must now be controlled and restricted.

The overseas debts of sub-Saharan Africa stand at about £100 billion. When the total cost of the eight-month Gulf war—taking into consideration the loss of oil, the rebuilding of Kuwait and the cost of putting out the oil fires—has been calculated, it will probably amount to twice as much as that. I do not believe that anyone has yet done the sum.

It should surely be possible over a period of several years—not months—for the wealthier nations of the world to invest the same amount of money in rescuing a whole continent from increasing poverty. At the same time it would give our industry a shot in the arm. To provide the £100 million necessary to avert the current famine crisis should be possible when we and the United States were able to go round cap in hand and obtain £100 billion in contributions to the Kuwait war. UNICEF feels that £100 million is required for the famine of East Africa; that is only 0.1 per cent. of £100 billion.

5.30 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, for introducing this important and critical debate. Whereas, as noble Lords mentioned, world attention has focused on the Gulf war, the very scale of the problems in developing countries, particularly in Africa, call for ongoing and urgent action.

A brief analysis of the numbing statistics can hardly mirror the extent of agony and misery for those involved. I say that as a South African, although I am of British descent. As a South African I have not experienced the famine and poverty of the Ethiopian and Sudan situation. However, I have certainly spent much time in Malawi and Zimbabwe. I intend before too long to take the trip from Cape Town to Cairo.

It has been estimated by various aid agencies—as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos—that between 20 million and 30 million people in Africa are facing starvation and famine. That equates to almost half the population of the United Kingdom. It is feared that the scale of the disaster will be worse than that experienced in the 1984-85 famine in Ethiopia and the Sudan.

Today's debate calls attention specifically to the problems of food shortage, the environment and over-population. By inference it relates those topics to the present famine in Africa. However, central to what I have to say today is the premise that famines are not just caused by changes in environmental conditions and a decline in food supply, but to a large degree by the absence of effective political accountability in the worst affected countries.

Oxfam released this week a brief headed, Famine in Africa, in which it highlighted Ethiopia, Sudan, Mozambique, Angola, Malawi and Liberia, where a combination of drought and conflict has left over 20 million people facing hunger and starvation. The only country amongst those which is not in a state of civil war is Malawi. In direct contrast to Malawi is the case of Liberia, which bears brief mention. Liberia has never in the past—I speak of 10 years ago—required food aid. It now has a devastated economy as the direct result of civil war. Internal production and distribution of food are totally hampered. Ships are unwilling to use the harbour at Monrovia for fear of their safety.

In my view there can be no resolution to those problems until political stability exists in the country. In the 1960s Africa produced more food than it could eat. As has been made clear by the speeches today, that is no longer the case. Over the past decade farm output in Africa grew by 1.5 per cent. a year while the population swelled at least twice as fast. The Save the Children Fund organisation estimates that up to 12 million children in Africa face food shortages caused by drought, war and economic problems.

In the debate on population growth initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, in May last year, it appeared that the general consensus of those who spoke was that population growth rates in developing countries will not go down without improvements in standards of living. Those improvements can be achieved with relative ease, particularly in the fields of basic health care and primary education. However, there is a lag period between the basic improvements which lower mortality rates and their positive influence in reducing birth rates.

In Africa today 45 per cent. of the population are children. It is noteworthy that immunisation rates of children in the developing world improved dramatically during the 1980s from 10 per cent. in 1980 to the present 75 per cent. It has been estimated that well over 1 million children who are now living active lives would possibly be crippled by polio were it not for the efforts of UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and other agencies.

The 1990 United Nations population statistics showed that there has been a slower drop in birth rates in Africa than was previously forecast. That indicates that the lag period, after improving standards of living in developing countries, will be longer than expected. As a consequence upward revisions have been made to world population forecasts.

That brings me to the subject of the effect on the environment. Increased population pressures have exacerbated soil erosion problems resulting in massive environmental degradation in the third world. That is compounded in Africa by the physical geography of the continent. It lacks an abundance of valley sites suitable for storing water. As a result only 3 per cent. of farms are adequately irrigated. By contrast, the geography of India, for example, provides many suitable sites. It is said that up to 30 per cent. of farms in India are properly irrigated. One of the consequences of inadequate water supplies in Africa has been massive malnutrition problems, which obviously affect mostly the children and the elderly people. At the same time half of the continent of Africa's forests have been chopped down this century to provide fuel and shelter or new land for the plough. It is said that the Sahara is spreading southwards sometimes as quickly as 90 miles a year.

In assessing the scale of the problems of food shortages, the environment and overpopulation in developing countries, I have been stimulated by the arguments in the excellent recent book by Jean Dréze and Professor Sen on Hunger and Public Action, where they address practical action to be taken for the avoidance of famine and hunger. They claim that famine is nearly always avoidable, even after gigantic natural disasters. Sensible public action, including appropriate legislation, can eradicate large scale starvation. To this end they draw parallels between India and certain famine stricken countries in Africa.

India relies extensively on cash for work programmes to help those without food. Their prognosis is that if the government of developing countries were to be accountable to the public through elections, free news reporting and uncensored public criticism, then the government also would do its best to eradicate famine. It is not surprising that in the terrible history of famines there is hardly any case in which a famine has occurred in a country that is independent and democratic, with an uncensored press.

In short, their desire is that the governments of even the poorest countries should and can protect and promote the entitlements of the very poor. In their view the solution does not lie in giving more food to developing countries or encouraging them to grow more of their own. Instead they believe that it depends on governments protecting the rights and incomes of their most vulnerable people. One of my concerns which has been well illustrated by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson of Kiddington, is that all too often we hear of reports of food aid not reaching those to whom it has been targeted. For example, in Ethiopia time and again it has been proved that once the authorities get their hands on the international charity, it stands little chance of reaching its proper destination but is diverted to the army and the open markets.

I wish to ask the Minister a number of questions. First, what are Her Majesty's Government doing to encourage the effective distribution of food aid through, for example, food corridors such as those which have been established in the Sudan and Ethiopia? To what degree are Her Majesty's Government working in tandem with the independent aid agencies such as Oxfam and the Save the Children Fund which, as other noble Lords have mentioned, are achieving brilliant work in delivering food to war-torn countries in Africa?

In conclusion, there is a lesson of obvious importance for sub-Saharan Africa where the lack of overall economic growth and political instabilities have been major causes for the deprivations experienced. Attention needs to be paid to the creation of stable political environments promoting peace, economic growth, jobs and an overall better environmental planning policy. The aid agencies with which I have had some contact also recognise these long-term requirements and apportion their funds in an attempt to accommodate not just emergency requirements but also these long-term challenges. In his concluding speech, will the Minister indicate what assistance and pressure Her Majesty's Government are bringing to bear on strife-riven governments in Africa to resolve their internal problems and to face up to these long-term solutions?

5.42 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, when we in the Liberal Democrat Party were discussing how we should use the afternoon when we had the opportunity of deciding the subject for debate, we reckoned that, quite properly, over the past months the minds of most Members of your Lordships' House and of the people outside have been focused on the immensely important, threatening and then encouraging events in the Gulf. That has understandably distracted our attention from many other issues which in the longer-run are certainly as important, if not more important. It is for that reason that we chose this subject for this afternoon's debate. We are very grateful to my noble friend Lord Donaldson for being prepared to lead on it.

As noble Lords have emphasised, there are two parts to this debate. They are the immediate emergency of famine and the longer-term issues which are referred to in the title of the debate regarding the environment and over-population. The first point is that both these issues are of the greatest possible urgency. It is easier to focus on the urgency and the tragedy of famine in Northern Africa. Many noble Lords have spoken about what needs to be done. There is the absurd fact that if it were a rational world—which only the most foolish person believes that it is—there should be too much food in one part of the globe and so devastatingly little in others. There are also the problems of conveying the food which is in surplus to the places where it is grossly in need.

Those are issues which everybody can understand. It has been emphasised by speaker after speaker that one solution is to find the money which is required. In comparison with money spent on other causes, particularly that spent in the Gulf of which I make no complaint, it should not be impossible to find the sums required to transport the surplus food in Europe and America to those needing it in Africa. Perhaps noble Lords will deny that it is simple and straightforward because I am sure that the problem is shot through with difficulties. However, the food is available. I am the last person to suggest that money can always be found when a suitable case is recognised; but the sum involved is not vast in comparison with the amount of need with which we are confronted. If the sense of urgency were there the money would be found.

I do not wish to carp, but it is sad that the Chamber has been so empty during most of this debate and that there has only been one speaker, excellent though he was, from the Government side. That does not suggest that there is the sense of urgency about this issue that we should all like to see. I see the noble Lord shakes his head. That is no answer to the fact that there has been nearly an empty Chamber this afternoon.

I am not going to say any more about famine because so many other speakers have spoken so very effectively on the subject. They have pointed out both the urgency and the ways in which the matter can be dealt with while recognising the reality of the difficulties.

I wish to concentrate more on the longer-term issue and to make the point that this is as much an emergency and a matter of urgency as the famine. I remind noble Lords very briefly what the population figures are. The world population now is in the region of 5 billion. It is "guestimated" that in the 2020s it will be 10 billion or even more unless action is taken. These figures are so astronomical and terrifying that people will just bring down the blinds because they do not want to consider the figures. It is at least a doubling of the world population by that date. Thank heavens I shall not be here when it gets to that figure! and neither will most people here. The noble Earl who has to reply may well be here. We have to get the significance of those figures appreciated because they are terrific. Ninety-four per cent. of the increase is in the developing countries.

As the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, said, in African countries and in Kenya, for example, over half the population is under 15 years of age. When I was there less than a year ago I was told quite openly that they had no doubt in their minds that in 10 years' time there will be no work for them, and it will be impossible to feed them. The measure of the seriousness of the problem simply cannot be exaggerated. It is a problem connected with those of the environment. I am not for one moment saying that all the problems of the environment can be linked directly to the issues of over-population and the developing countries. There are tremendous environmental difficulties coming from the developed world. It would be very easy for people in the developing world to say "It is easy to blame the problems on us; but look at what you in the industrial societies have contributed".

The fact that that is true does not make it any less true that doubling the population, or 94 per cent. of it in the developing countries, must be an environmental threat. What can we do about that? The rapid growth in population is linked with poverty. It has both an effect on poverty and in turn poverty is a cause. In countries where there is no old-age pension, unemployment pay or national health service, there is no one to come to your aid during life's inevitable catastrophes. You have to have children. That is undoubtedly the view taken by people who are too poor to provide for life's emergencies in any other way. As long as that is so, they will go on having children. So it is in our interest as well as theirs that we should tackle the problem of poverty. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, is right in saying that this will be done only if the developing countries are seen as part of the world economy in which we trade and from whom we buy. That means that we cannot allow catastrophes like the breakdown of the Uruguay Round. I know there are difficulties—of course there are—but what those countries need is for us to buy goods from them. Aid is fine—I shall come to that in a moment —but what they need is trade. They have to get the money. As Job said, money does not make for happiness. It does, however, ease the pain. More money in the developing countries would ease the pain quite a lot.

Trade and an attack on poverty is of the first importance. There is also the whole question of family planning. I know it can be said that this is a controversial issue and that it is neo-colonialism to try to encourage family planning in developing countries. But unless there is family planning, there is not the faintest chance that the figures I have given can be curtailed. All the consequences that they imply will then follow. There is the element of education. Other noble Lords have spoken about this. I want to underline once again—I shall not go into it in detail because other noble Lords have done so—the importance of the education of women. The increased literacy of women correlates with the voluntary restriction of family size. It is a matter of the greatest importance. There is a time lag. There is a tremendous time lag between educating women and having the required results in family planning.

In addition, we have to put more resources into family planning. I shall use a word which has not been used in the debate this afternoon in connection with aid and family planning. We have to face the issue of conditionality, of saying that we will give aid—indeed, increased aid—provided some of it is devoted to family planning and some of it is devoted to women's education. I am well aware of all the arguments that can be made against conditionality, but it is a choice between two evils. If one does not do anything, the evil resulting from not doing it seems far greater than the evil resulting from doing it. Therefore I urge that it should be so.

We need family planning in connection with attempting—this is where it links with women's education—to delay the age at which a woman has her first child, and to encourage longer spaces between the births of children. The large number of children born in the very early years of a woman's child-bearing life can then be reduced. The effects of excessive child births in the early years of a woman's life—on population, on the woman and on the standards of family life—are quite horrifying.

We have today in the ODA an outstanding Minister who fully understands these matters. She fully recognises the needs. She recognises it as much or even more than anybody in your Lordships' House. She also recognises that a great deal of the work has to be done through the NGOs for a whole variety of reasons. I have gone on too long and I must not elaborate them. I beg the noble Earl to accept that this problem will not just go away, that the action we are taking at the moment is not enough and that we need combined action between the Government and government agencies working through the NGOs to tackle the multiple problems that we face in this area.

5.56 p.m.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject. The response from all parts of the House indicates its importance.

Problems of world food shortages, over-population and the present famine in parts of Africa are by any standard daunting. We are entitled to ask ourselves whether current "food surpluses" in North America, Western Europe and the Cairns group of countries are real or not. They are real enough in the context of the needs of the populations for whom food was grown in the first place. They are not so when measured against world population growth, both actual and projected.

These surpluses can play a vital role in relief work. Yet when sold on world markets they destabilise prices and paradoxically make it harder for poorer countries to earn a living from exports. In developed countries, farm support policies, whatever their form, bedevil the situation. Improved growing methods, aided by new technologies, further aggravate the position.

The resumption of GATT talks on agricultural support distortions is welcomed. The discussions should also take account of the need to let developing countries earn a living on world markets. GATT talks are not just about the European Community versus the United States and the Cairns group of countries. For example, in the Australia News for week ending 8th March 1991, there is a record of a multi-party delegation to the United States, led by the Australian Minister for Trade and Overseas Development, to put Australia's case against the United States export enhancement programme which threatens to damage Australian grain exports to the Middle East, including Egypt. Such cases can be repeated worldwide: the problem is considerable. It is not helped in any way by high interest rate policies.

Restraining population growth in developing countries is a major aspect of solving problems related to present levels of subsistence living in so many areas of the world. Encouraging viable forms of food production by under-developed nations is the other great challenge facing the world, especially our supranational institutions such as the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the European Community. Most observers agree that, if living standards could be raised, population growth would slowly reduce, although improved mortality rates would then probably discount benefits, at least for some time. That point has been well developed by several speakers in the debate.

It is something of a chicken and egg situation, but there is no present alternative to encouragement of population control. As to the form of that encouragement, we can all learn from the instances which have been discussed by several speakers.

Helping local food production depends on many variables. Climate, especially rainfall, presents a major impediment and challenge. Irrigation schemes are expensive but unavoidable in many regions, even allowing for the beneficent effects of biotechnology. Advice on good farm methods is essential. Food aid programmes are still in need of greater co-ordination while attempts to channel aid through particular sources are not always successful. For example, the European Court of Auditors in its latest report, is critical of the Community's administration of recent projects, especially in West Africa and Bangladesh. Such deficiencies are partly due to local conditions—not always conducive to honest dealing—and partly to the lack of a permanent framework to distribute fairly. Civil strife can also undermine aid programmes as can poor communications.

Food shortages are regrettably a permanent feature of the world scene. Can the noble Earl who is to reply say whether relief structures are generally of such a nature as to best undertake current and possible future tasks? Are voluntary organisations given the right place within such structures? Are they well supported in the work they undertake? Do they report to the Minister for Overseas Development on their experiences?

Civil war is a wretched factor in causing starvation, a point rightly brought out by several speakers today. How active is the United Nations in attempting to end such civil wars? What standing does it seek in such disputes when innocent people are put at risk by small groups of merciless protagonists? Has the United Nations the peace-keeping resources for such tasks, and does it intend at any future time to deploy those resources accordingly?

In promoting best assistance for agriculture in developing countries, co-operatives have an on-going part to play. Viable farmers' co-operatives can also help to achieve stability in rural areas. As farmers may follow extensive growing systems, the co-operatives may also help arrest the drift of population to the towns where social and housing problems may be great, a problem not unknown even in developed countries.

At one time, the Minister for Overseas Development was assisted by both an adviser on co-operatives and a small consultative committee. The granting of independence to former colonies resulted in a scaling down and eventual abolition of such work. Self-government for former colonies was thought to have eliminated the need for advice on co-operatives. Yet rural problems in developing countries abound; so the opportunities for agricultural co-operatives arc still there. These may be of growers, marketeers, requisite suppliers and even credit societies. Multipurpose types usually come later. How can this need for co-operatives be addressed?

The current change of emphasis in United Kingdom farming is likely to lead to less intensive methods here. The ADAS organisation, which functions at the moment under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture, is now promoting extensive methods both on their merits and on environmental grounds. Also under the wing of the Ministry of Agriculture is the recently restructured Agricultural Training Board. A year or two ago, at the Government's request, I took a Bill through the House to permit the Agricultural Training Board to engage in paid overseas work. The board has a good record in basic training skills and ADAS has considerable expertise in almost every agricultural department.

ADAS is scheduled to become an executive agency in a couple of years or so and is obviously looking for clients in the field. Could not the Minister for Overseas Development find a joint overseas role for both these bodies as advisers and in practical promotional schemes abroad? Forming and supervising local co-operatives plus training would he a natural field for joint action. Perhaps I may suggest that there should be discussions on this matter between the Minister for Overseas Development, the Ministry of Agriculture and the two bodies I have mentioned.

No one addresses these problems without a total and devastating sense of inadequacy. Yet the challenge does not diminish. One consolation is that there is basic support for action to alleviate and, it is to be hoped, in time to eradicate the worst features of hunger in the third world. This debate has been useful to that end. I hope that the Government will capitalise both at home and abroad on the many views that have been expressed and will bear them strongly in mind at discussions within the European Community, the Commonwealth and the United Nations and the specialist organs of that body.

6.2 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the wide range of contributions which this debate has provoked. The concerns expressed by noble Lords who have taken part reflect the concerns of Her Majesty's Government. That is why I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, for initiating the debate and to all noble Lords who have contributed to it.

The Motion refers in particular to the present famine in parts of Africa. I shall deal with that complex problem, but before doing so I shall make one or two points about the Government's long-term development programmes in sub-Saharan Africa.

The UK delivers a high quality, growing aid programme. In this financial year, we are spending £1.62 billion—the sixth largest Western aid donor. Within the aid programme we aim to support effective policies in developing countries, built around open, accountable government and sound economic management with respect for the needs of the poor. We do so through well designed and well managed projects, with a commitment to environmental sustainability, combined with a realistic approach to population issues.

These are the priorities in our long-term development assistance programmes in Africa. Without sound macro-economic and sectoral policies, there is a high risk that development resources and efforts may be wasted. Structural adjustment programmes seek to help countries to improve their fiscal and monetary policies. More than 40 per cent. of total British aid goes to the region. Our bilateral programme to sub-Saharan Africa rose from £267 million in 1986 to £496 million in 1989. In 1989, more than half of all our bilateral aid went to Africa. But we must recognise that in countries where famine and civil war o rage, long-term development has to take second place to humanitarian assistance, designed to meet immediate needs. It is this type of assistance which we are providing to help alleviate famine in sub-Saharan Africa.

The food crisis in sub-Saharan Africa is extremely serious. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, was absolutely right to say that there is a growing risk of tragedy in Ethiopia and Sudan, and possibly also in Somalia, on a scale even greater than that of 1984-85. In these countries, environmental factors, particularly climatic change—one of the factors mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe—and high population growth rates have served to aggravate and deepen a perennial crisis. But they are not the sole reasons for famine. The disaster of 1984–85 had its roots in high rates of population growth, poor farming techniques; misguided, wrong and unsuitable agricultural policies; and environmental degradation. Unfortunately. little has changed since 1984.

Two successive years of poor rains and crop failures in 1989 and 1990 have deepened the region's problems. In addition, continuing civil wars have frustrated relief efforts and development aims alike. Economic mismanagement, political repression and abuse of human rights have also driven some, notably Sudan and Somalia, further from the international development community, the very community whose help they need to break the recurrent cycle of drought and famine. Because of these factors, about 29 million people in 25 countries in Africa are facing the threat of starvation. Upwards of 15 million of them are in the Horn of Africa—7.5 million in Ethiopia and 7.7 million in Sudan.

In Ethiopia the threat of famine is greatest in the north and Eritrea is most at risk. Crops have failed for the second successive year and farmers have no reserves to fall back on. There are similar problems in Tigre and North Wollo as well as in other regions, which are not traditionally famine areas. The situation is as grave in Sudan. There are food shortages in all regions except the East, but the situation is most severe in Darfur, Kordofan and the Red Sea hills.

Undoubtedly, the scale of the problem in the Horn is greater than in 1984-85, but I am pleased to tell the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, that we are better prepared now than we were then to cope with it. Information from British relief organisations and satellite imagery gave us earlier warning of serious crop failures in 1990 and impending food shortages in 1991. The donor community has used this time to preposition food stocks and organise transportation. Thus we have already saved lives. We must now keep the food pipelines evenly stocked through to October, when the next harvest is due, and ensure that the food provided is distributed to those who need it and for whom it was intended.

The World Food Programme estimates that almost 4 million tonnes of food aid will be needed in Africa this year; 2.2 million tonnes for Ethiopia and Sudan. About a third has been pledged so far but its distribution poses major problems.

In Ethiopia, the regions hardest hit by drought are the areas where civil conflict is most intense. This makes food delivery difficult. But we have achieved major improvements in the channels for transporting food to the needy. Early last year, under pressure from the international community —the House will be pleased to hear that it was the British Government who played an important role in this—the southern line was opened. It is working remarkably well. It has moved well over 125,000 tonnes of food from the port of Assab to Tigre's northern border.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene on that point. I heard today that it has been discontinued because of political reasons and fighting. It is very sad.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I was coming on to that precise point. The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, and the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, wondered whether airlifts could be used to help in this process. Indeed, we have already done so. Throughout 1990 an expensive airlift was mounted to reach the vulnerable groups in the Asmara area. It has reached up to 700,000 people. The House will be pleased to know that we have just provided a further £200,000 for the Juba airlift.

Perhaps the most important recent breakthrough in the relief effort has been the reopening of the port of Massawa. Relief operations were greatly hampered when the EPLF took the port in February last year. In December, both sides agreed to accept a UN vessel shuttling between Djibouti and Massawa with food shipments. There have been five sailings. So far, 32,200 tonnes of food have arrived at Massawa and have been distributed equally between the EPLF and government relief agencies.

If the use of Massawa can be expanded it will provide a cost-effective way to reach more people. We shall be pressing for improvements but they will need careful negotiation. The new northern line has begun well but there are still problems. Asmara has been shelled by the rebels. There are worries that the land route between Massawa and Asmara may come under fire. Renewed military activity could also affect the prospects for the southern line.

I turn now to deal with the point just made by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. I can confirm that we have today heard that the southern line has been closed. However, I can assure noble Lords that we shall be making strong representations to the Ethiopian Government to reopen it as soon as possible. The situation is delicate, but, in Ethiopia, there is relief machinery in place.

The prospects for Sudan are less optimistic. There is continuing civil war in the South, the government continue to mismanage the economy, and they have been slow to acknowledge the scale of the impending food crisis or to seek help from the international community. The UN Assistant Secretary General, James Jonah, visited Sudan last month. The communiqué which he agreed with the Sudanese was promising. However, there have been setbacks. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that we still need assurances on distribution mechanisms; without these, relief supplies simply cannot be delivered.

Our role in this new crisis in the Horn of Africa has been a major one. We have taken prompt and effective action on two fronts. We have provided food and relief assistance. We have also acted through diplomatic channels, together with our European partners and others, to try to ensure that an adequate flow of supplies reaches those at risk, unhindered by continuing civil wars. The speed of our response owes much to the expertise and experience of the British and international NGOs through which we work. They are a vital asset.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, spoke about the good work of NGOs, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield who mentioned a few of them. In fact, there are rather more than a few of them. In 1989-90 we supported 510 projects with 70 NGOs in Sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, that we are in regular and daily contact with the voluntary agencies. My right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development—in respect of whom the tribute from the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, was most welcome; it will of course be passed on to her—holds regular meetings with the main British agencies working in the Horn of Africa. I can tell the House that she last met with them on 21st February and that she plans to do so again in due course.

As soon as the first warning signs of food shortages appeared last autumn, the Government reacted very quickly and committed 24,000 tonnes of food and other relief assistance worth £1.1 million to Ethiopia and 10,400 tonnes of food to Sudan. In December, we announced a package of £7.2 million of emergency relief for the five worst affected countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. That was three weeks before the Disasters Emergency Committee launched its "Crisis in Africa" appeal, which so far has raised a magnificent total of £6 million.

Since the beginning of this year my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development has visited Ethiopia and announced further emergency relief. In January, a package worth £8.75 million was agreed for Ethiopia and 20,000 tonnes of food aid announced for Sudan, worth at least £4 million. Last month, a further 1,300 tonnes of food was agreed for the Ogaden; £200,000 for the Juba airlift in Sudan; and £180,000 to help with the new influx of Somali refugees into Kenya. Last week, we made a further allocation of 6,500 tonnes of food, worth £1 million, for the northern line through Massawa. This week, £430,000 has been provided through UNHCR for Somali refugees in Ethiopia. This brings to £860,000 the total amount the Government have allocated for Somali refugees in Ethiopia and Kenya since the beginning of this year.

In summary, since the beginning of 1989, we have provided £145 million of humanitarian assistance to Africa, of which over £123 million has gone to the five worst affected countries and £80 million to the Horn. We expect to provide more in the course of 1991.

The noble Lords, Lord Donaldson and Lord Hatch, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, suggested that the Gulf War had diverted the Government's attention and their resources away from the needs of Africa. Clearly, that is not the case. Not only did my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development visit Ethiopia and a number of other African countries during the course of the war, but we also pledged considerable extra assistance to famine relief.

Since the autumn of 1990, when the first signs of famine emerged, we have pledged more than £25 million in humanitarian and emergency assistance to Ethiopia and Sudan. Some of that assistance has already been provided, but the rest will follow during the course of the 1991-92 financial year. I should point out that £16 million of the sum which I mentioned will have been spent by the end of the 1990-91 financial year and £9 million —that is 20,000 tonnes of food aid for Sudan and 25,000 tonnes of food aid for Ethiopia—will be available in 1991-92. Our aim is to deliver that food aid in the second quarter of 1991.

Those who know about food provision will know that food aid has to be planned well in advance. Food will be needed in Ethiopia and Sudan until October. Its purchase and delivery must be phased to reflect both needs and storage capacity in the countries concerned. Our food aid is channelled through British and international relief agencies. In order to help them plan their efforts, we have given as much notice as possible of our intentions.

I am sure your Lordships will welcome Britain's leading role in mobilising this new relief effort. But a long-term solution to the problems in the Horn depends on ending the civil wars. They have not caused drought and crop failure, but they cripple efforts to help. We have urged all parties to seek peaceful solutions to their differences and we shall do more where we can.

Apart from the crisis in the Horn of Africa, there are crises in countries such as Angola and Mozambique. Here years of internal conflict have brought misery to millions of people and made refugees of thousands more. Again the British Government have responded generously. Since the beginning of 1990, we have pledged food and other emergency assistance totalling about £7.5 million for Mozambique and more than £1.5 million for Angola, with around a further £5 million going to support Mozambican refugees in neighbouring countries.

Another major emergency where we have helped is in Liberia. Since February last year, Britain has provided over £4 million. We are probably the second largest contributor to this emergency after the United States. However, as noble Lords will recognise, the British Government cannot do everything. We have tried to mobilise the international community to follow our lead and respond swiftly and generously to the crisis facing Sub-Saharan Africa. My right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development has discussed the issue of famine in the Horn many times with fellow European Community development Ministers. She has also written to them, to the Commission itself and to her colleagues in Washington and Ottawa stressing the need for urgent action to ensure food supplies are in place in time to feed those in need. I am glad to say that there are signs that those actions are bearing fruit. The Community has pledged 320,000 tonnes of food for Ethiopia and Sudan since November 1990.

As I have pointed out, the food crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa has some, but not all of its roots in problems of environmental degradation and high population growth rates. The linkages are complex and bear some explanation. The world's population has doubled since 1950. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, reminded the House that it would double again to 10 billion or probably more by about the year 2050. The greatest percentage increase will occur in Africa where the population growth rate is about 3 per cent., compared to a global rate of 1.7 per cent. and 2.1 per cent. for developing countries as a whole. I am sure the whole House noted what the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, said. He reminded us that children represent 45 per cent. of the population of Africa.

The rapid growth of the world's population raises questions about the capacity of the environment to support it. I believe that there are two important considerations in this respect. First, there is the growth of per capita incomes; and. secondly. there is the Government's policy towards the environment. The first is important because environmental degradation is closely linked to poverty. Among the reasons for which people clear forests, for example, is to provide land for agriculture and wood to burn as fuel.

The second consideration is also important—a government's policy may be critical. Policy changes. such as removing financial incentives for deforestation, or charging economic prices for energy, fertilizer or water, can help promote sustainable economic growth and protect the environment. Societies are beginning to make decisions on how they allocate resources among investment, consumption and the maintenance of the environment. Those choices affect the delicate balance of population growth, economic growth and the environment. We must influence them.

The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, said that the main problem to be solved was that of agricultural production. We do not necessarily disagree with him. About 30 per cent. of UK bilateral aid to Africa goes to agriculture and related activities. On that point, my noble friend Lord Selborne was worried about the research needed. The ODA is seeking fully to involve the overall science base in the universities and research institutions in its long-term research strategy for renewable natural resources. However, we must not overlook the difficulties of implementing any remedies or aid that we may propose.

The noble Lord, Lord Walston, was one of many of your Lordships who reminded us that many of the countries most seriously threatened by famine have chosen to give priority to military aims. Internal wars cripple the economy, disrupt vital transport routes, and drain the countries' material and human resources. We are encouraging all sides to settle their differences by peaceful means. In the meantime, we are looking ahead to times when more rational priorities for public expenditure may prevail. That is not easy. It is especially difficult in countries such as Sudan where economic mismanagement and human rights issues have convinced us and others that we can no longer provide effective long-term development aid.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, asked about women becoming trainees. The noble Baronesses, Lady Robson of Kiddington and Lady Seear, mentioned the position of women. We agree that literacy is an important aspect in enhancing women's role in development. They often grow crops, as the noble Lord reminded us. If productivity is to increase women must become literate to enable them to understand basic information about fertilisers, equipment and the techniques necessary to gain access to credit facilities. The ODA is increasing access to training for women. The female percentage of the Technical Co-operation Training Programme arrivals in 1988 was 19.7 per cent. In 1989, it was 21.5 per cent. In some countries, women account for 50 per cent. of in-country trainees. Let us think about literacy. It is a vital ingredient in democracy. To keep women illiterate is to disfranchise half the world's population.

The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, referred to the need to help women with facilities to market the produce that they are encouraged to grow. She mentioned a project in the Gambia. I happen to be well briefed on that project. It was supported through the Heads of Mission small projects schemes and it funded a marketplace of which the noble Baroness told the House. I believe that it was at Sankandi. The person who handed over the cheque is now my private secretary.

The noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, reminded the House of the importance of child health care. I am pleased to be able to tell him that the ODA's priority on health assistance is to strengthen the provision of primary health care and to help developing countries establish sustainable and effective health services for their poorest people. We focus our assistance upon women's and children's health services and the development of services that prevent disease and disability, including family planning and child immunisation programmes. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, reminded the House of the terrible AIDS. Important though that is—it is something of which we must not lose sight —we must also not lose sight of the more mundane (if that is the right word to describe them) less high-profile diseases which affect the people of Africa and elsewhere. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, brought that matter to our attention.

I have one last answer for the noble Lord, Lord Hatch. I have answered all his other questions. He asked about the funding for the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Its budget in 1990 was 40 million dollars and the UK payment during 1990 was 4 million dollars. We are tackling the underlying causes of famine, including high population growth and environmental degradation. I hope that I have convinced the right reverend Prelate that we care and are acting, but that we are by no means complacent. We know that we need to do more and that no one donor can do all that is necessary. We shall continue to encourage other donors to follow our lead. We shall urge governments to persevere with peace negotiations and adopt sensible and economic social policies. We know that those tasks are not easy but they will help achieve, on a sustainable basis, better living standards for their people. They are their only hope.

6.25 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I have the right of reply, but I do not want to do more than thank the Minister for a full reply and to thank everyone who has spoken. We shall all read the debate with great interest. I hope that it will lead to four or five different subjects being pursued in greater detail here or elsewhere. The only question that remains is whether the Minister—I shall write to him about this —is satisfied that enough food will be available to help in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.