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In the preceding sections we have endeavoured to present in figures a very worrying situation: the significant backwardness of African agriculture compared to that of other regions of the world and, above all, the growing difficulty that this agriculture experiences in being able to feed the peoples of the continent.

Except for a few mineral- or oil-producing countries, in general development policy in Africa has consisted, and consists, in extracting resources from agriculture in order to finance the rest of the economy. This has meant that in the agricultural sector, efforts were for a long time concentrated solely on products for which there is a demand on the world market. From the colonial period down to the present day, this policy has led to a continual decline in the capacity to produce local foodstuffs in order to satisfy food requirements. The consequences of the strategies and policies that underpinned these development options reached their critical threshold in the early 1970s. The great famines that struck much of the region at that time simply revealed explosively a crisis situation that had in fact existed, at least latently, since the first contacts, or more accurately the first clashes, between capitalist systems and African traditional systems, essentially based on subsistence.

Table 9 Africa. Daily per caput calorie supply as percentage of requirements1

  Average 1969-71 Average 1972-74 Average 1975-77
North Africa: 89 101 105
Algeria 79 89 98
Sahel: 89 82 87
Chad 88 76 75
West Africa: 97 95 95
Guinea 89 85 83
Central Africa: 95 96 99
Angola 85 86 88
East and Southern Africa: 94 93 94
Mozambique 88 85 82
Total Africa region 93 93 94
Other countries2: 102 105 108
Somalia 96 96 92

1National food requirements are expressed in calories and are based on the approximate energy needs of working adults, taking account of height, age distribution and ecological factors.

2Invited members of the UN Economic Commission for Africa but not belonging to the regional conference.

In order to understand properly the nature of the crisis which is today assuming tragic dimensions, it is necessary to go back to the precolonial socioeconomic formations to try and understand the nature of the modes of production that developed there, how the capitalist mode of production acted on those precapitalist modes, the forms of extortion of surplus peasant labour that that gave rise to, the social stratifications and class relations that flowed from all this, and the economic basis on which these social relations were consolidated.

This is the only way to understand the negative evolution, occurring before our very eyes, of the economic situation of most African countries and also be able, if not to draw up programmes for alternative policies, at least to reflect on the conditions and possibilities of these alternatives.


1. H. Mendras and Y. Tavernier (eds.), Terre, paysans et politique, 3 vols. (Paris, Futurible S.E.D.E.I.S., 1969).

2. Ibid., pp. 256 and 257.

3. This process is well explained by Suzanne Berger in Terre, paysans et politique.

4. Studies of Trends in World Supply and Demand of Major Agricultural Commodities (Paris, OECD, 1976).

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