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Grandiose projects to build large-scale agriculture in Africa's Sahel region are hardly useful when so many of the zone's residents are small-scale farmers or semi-nomadic herdsmen.

Ben Curtis/Associated Press

The G8 is taking a mistaken approach to the severe drought in the Sahel region of Africa – which may well ripen into an outright famine. This is an error of emphasis. Droughts and famines are temporary disasters, and they need prompt, short-term remedies.

Long-term policies for the relief of poverty can of course have good results, too, but this is not the most urgent need for the Sahel, a geographical zone that includes parts of 12 countries in northern Africa.

On Friday, however, at the G8 summit, President Barack Obama announced what the White House presented as a "new approach to ending hunger": the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.

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Though this plan is being criticized because of the involvement of multinational corporations such as PepsiCo Inc. and E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., the corporate element does not in itself amount to a valid objection.

The real problem is that the New Alliance overshoots its goal. The people of the Sahel are largely small-scale farmers; many of them are semi-nomadic herdsmen. Major corporations may well have money to donate, which will be very welcome, but they do not have the expertise to build on the actual livelihoods of the inhabitants of the zone. Large-scale agriculture is viable in some other parts of Africa further south, but hardly at all in the Sahel.

Some areas of the Sahel are also undergoing warfare; in particular, the instability in Libya has had effects in Mali, aggravating its civil war. The conflict in Mali is in turn leading many people to become refugees in other poor countries, especially Mauritania.

Children are especially in danger of death from hunger. UNICEF's campaign to raise $120-million to feed and keep them alive has so far reached 66 per cent of its goal. Such short-term measures are what the Sahel needs, not grandiose development schemes.

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