The evolution and structure of food imports

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The 31 FDCs considered in this review were selected from among the 88 LlFDCs on the criterion that their food imports absorbed one-quarter or more of their total export earnings during 1988-90.

Table 2 provides some basic information on FDCs. Most countries in this group are small in terms of population - only ten of them have more than 10 million inhabitants. However, their combined population rose from 270 million in 1972 to 400 million in 1991, implying generally high rates of population growth. These are also, by definition, low-income countries with per caput GNP less than US$1 000 in 1991. For some of them (Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Nepal) per caput GNP was $200 or less.

The magnitude of the food-import financing problem varies considerably among FDCs (Table 3). In 1989-91 the value of food imports as a percentage of total export earnings varied from 24.2 percent (Maldives) to 493.5 percent (Cape Verde). Other countries where total export earnings were insufficient to finance the food import bill included: the Gambia (with a ratio of food imports to exports of 168.8 percent), Lesotho (173.7 percent), Guinea-Bissau (109.9 percent) and Samoa (166.5 percent). In those countries it would appear hard to explain how food imports, let alone less essential imports, can be financed at all. However, explanations generally relate to the availability of non-export sources of financing, such as major net official transfers (that strongly benefited Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau but also many other FDCs); remittances from expatriates (e.g. Lesotho migrant workers, most of whom are in South Africa); earnings from tourism (such as in Samoa, the Gambia and other FDCs); re-exports not accounted for in official statistics (as in the Gambia); and a strong food aid component of total food imports in many cases.

As well as these extreme situations, there are many other countries that spend a very high percentage of their export earnings on importing food. On average, the FDCs as a whole spend a little more than 50 percent on food imports: 82.4 percent in the countries of the Near East and North Africa; 47.7 in those of sub-Saharan Africa; and about 33 percent in the other two regions.

Perhaps even more worrying is the rate at which these percentages have grown. In 1961-63, FDCs were spending on average 26 percent of their export earnings on food imports, half the rate of recent years. To a certain extent this trend could be sustained by larger revenues from non-export or unofficial sources, as mentioned above.

TABLE 2
Population and current per caput GNP of FDCs

 

1972

1991

  Population Per caput GNP Population Per caput GNP
  ('000) (US$) ('000) (US$)
Cape Verde 273 150 380 750
Gambia 489 130 958 340
Lesotho 1 110 110 1 812 580
Djibouti 198 ... 467 ...
Mozambique 9 845 ... 16 108 80
Guinea-Bissau 551 160 1 001 200
Somalia 4 559 90 7 805 120
Comoros 279 110 510 510
Sierra Leone 2 760 160 4 243 200
Ethiopia 30 476 70 52 954 120
Burkina Faso 5 848 70 52 954 120
Togo 2 121 150 3 770 410
Senegal 4 405 230 7 624 730
Benin 2 800 140 4 886 380
Rwanda 3 954 80 8 707 250
Mali 5 564 80 8 707 250
Mauritania 1 277 180 2 024 510
Haiti 4 677 100 6 593 380
Nicaragua 2 204 370 3 773 300
Dominican Republic 4 672 430 7 197 940
Samoa ... ... ... ...
Bangladesh 80 000 80 112 000 210
Cambodia 7 114 ... 8 774 ...
Afghanistan 14 356 ... 19 062 ...
Nepal 11 890 80 19 401 180
Laos 2 844 ... 4 384 250
Sri Lanka 12 861 190 17 247 500
Maldives 127 ... 227 ...
Egypt 34 253 260 53 571 610
Yemen 6 549 ... 12 999 520
Sudan 15 167 230 25 812 ...

Source: World Bank. World Tables, 1994; FAO.

TABLE 3
FDCs: selected indicators of food-import size and weight in total trade (by region)

  Value of food imports Food imports: total imports Food imports: export earnings Per caput food imports
  (US$'000) (%) (%) (US$)
1961 -63
Sub-Saharan Africa 136 132 19.0 27.9 2.2
Latin America and the Caribbean 29 091 11.7 10.2 3.2
Asia and the Pacific 237 337 24.1 27.6 2.5
Near East and North Africa 256 547 19.6 29.9 5.8
TOTAL 659 107 20.2 26.5 3.2
1975-77
Sub-Saharan Africa 604 016 18.8 32.6 6.7
Latin America and the Caribbean 188 456 12.1 13.2 14.9
Asia and the Pacific 652 072 28.2 46.0 4.9
Near East and North Africa 1 419 944 22.8 61.9 23.3
TOTAL 2 864 488 21.5 41.0 9.7
1989-91
Sub-Saharan Africa 1 626 928 20.8 47.7 13.1
Latin America and the Caribbean 452 089 15.9 36.7 26.1
Asia and the Pacific 1 197 395 14.9 31.2 6.6
Near East and North Africa 3 144 237 25.3 82.4 35.2
TOTAL 6 420 685 20.6 52.2 15.6

Source: FAO.

An alternative wav of assesing the food import issue in FDCs is to examine the share of their food imports in total merchandise imports. This is an important indicator of a country's overall import priorities or needs. A high share of food in total imports implies (apart from its difficulties to finance such food imports) that the country concerned is also deprived of the ability to finance the development process by importing productive inputs. This situation is typical of FDCs. On average, about one-fifth of their total imports are accounted for by food, with this percentage remaining relatively constant over the last 30 years. The comparable figure is about 10 percent for the developing countries as a whole. The severity of this problem varies considerably among the individual countries. In Mauritania and Sierra Leone, for example, over half of total imports are accounted for by food.

Cereals account for about half of the food imports to these countries (Tables 4 and 5). For the group as a whole the share of cereal imports in the total has remained fairly constant during the past 30 years except for in the mid-1970s (following the world food crisis) when the share of cereals rose to 60 percent of food imports. The share has tended to increase in the case of sub-Saharan Africa; has remained unchanged in Latin America and the Caribbean and the Near East and North Africa; and has declined in Asia and the Pacific.

Origin of imports

Table 6 shows the origins of total and food imports for the developing countries as a whole (see also Diversifying markets and intensifying intraregional exchanges, p. 214). Information on the origin of imports was not readily available for the group of FDCs alone, but patterns for this group can be assumed to be fairly similar to those for the developing countries as a whole.

In 1991 food imports originated mainly in the developed market economies (57 percent of the total), the developing countries accounting for only 35 percent and Central and Eastern European countries and the Socialist countries of Asia for 8 percent. Dependence on the developed market economies for food imports was a little higher in 1970 and 1980, but it should be noted that the developing countries depend even more on the developed market economies for non-food imports.


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