Something exciting is going on over at the Peace Corps. A major recruitment effort was launched last week in response to food shortages in Africa, and the response has been dramatic. The agency usually receives about 160,000 inquiries a year from prospective volunteers; in the last seven days, more than a thousand a day have been calling. This is a specially impressive response because only those with agricultural and related skills are being sought.

Peace Corps volunteers are now working in 24 African countries, but not in Ethiopia, whose Marxist government asked them to leave in 1977. Famine is a problem in many of these nations, and about half of the 2,500 volunteers on the continent are already working directly in agriculture. It is not enough, and Washington has received requests for 600 additional volunteers to begin work this spring and summer. Peace Corps Director Loret Ruppe launched an appeal for volunteers of all ages with work experience or degrees in agriculture, forestry, biology, health/nutrition, mechanics and water systems.

Many of those who've called Peace Corps headquarters are older than the average volunteer. One man, a 55-year-old farmer, is willing to leave his farm in the care of his sons for two years. Another caller offered a different skill. "I'm not a farmer," he said, "but I'm a diesel mechanic, and I can repair tractors." These are just the kind of people the Peace Corps needs in Africa, not only in the immediate future, but for a long-range project undertaken with the U.S. Agency for International Development to improve agricultural production on the continent.

American response to the human tragedy of famine has been remarkable. Not only has the U.S. government taken a lead in providing assistance, but individual Americans in every part of the country have acted as well. In a two-month period at the end of last year, private voluntary organizations received more than $60 million in individual contributions for Ethiopia. The thousands who called the Peace Corps last week are willing to give even more -- their time, their energy, themselves. They want to make a difference in the lives of people all over Africa, and they will.