Countries that are not self-sufficient in food have to rely on imports to feed their people. Developed countries in this position can generate foreign exchange to buy food by exporting the products of their industrial sectors. In contrast, non-oil-exporting developing countries have a limited capacity for earning foreign exchange, as the terms of trade of their main, primary commodity exports have generally declined. The balance of payments position of most developing countries has become increasingly serious. The value and volume of their own agricultural exports have not kept pace with the amount and the cost of the food they need to import. Recent trends in world commodity prices have generally not favoured developing countries.
The increasing imbalance between agricultural exports and imports is particularly serious in Africa, where agricultural exports declined in constant value by an average of 3% per year during the 1970s while the value of imports increased by more than 7% per year. The medium and long-term debts of the non-oil-exporting developing countries increased nearly fourfold between 1973 and 1980.