European farmers and African food security

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    ECDPM's Francesco Rampa interviews Phil Hogan, EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development.

    The agricultural sector is key to addressing food security and 2015 will be a crucial year for its development.

    Francesco Rampa: How can the European private sector support the objectives of CAADP and the implementation of the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods in order to boost food and nutrition security and promote agricultural development on the African continent?

    Phil Hogan: In my view it is the agricultural sector that holds the key to resolving food security and banishing hunger by 2025 – the date set by African governments in the Malabo Declaration. Agriculture has to deliver increased incomes across the board, especially for smallholder and women farmers, increased production to feed the growing African population, and do so in a way that conserves the natural resources for future production needs. This challenge – these demands for higher performance of the sector – creates tremendous opportunities for private investment to contribute to and share in the growth. But that has to take place within a stable legal and policy framework; it must be in partnership and not in opposition to farmers in the countries concerned, respecting traditional land rights and local aspirations, and delivering growth, jobs, prosperity and economic prospects for rural Africa. The national policies that have grown out of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) framework over the last 11 years have been evidence-based, subject to public consultation, and developed by the African countries themselves. I welcome the emphasis that the African Union has put on the role of the private sector in building a brand for agriculture that attracts youth and investors. One of several major steps taken in the Malabo Declaration of 2014 has been this recognition of the role of the private sector. It is very much up to us in Europe to deliver.

    FR: What role do you see for the use of financing instruments by DG AGRI (e.g. under the Common Agricultural Policy, but also other instruments), the European Commission in general and European member states to promote trade and investment linkages between European and African SMEs in the agricultural sector? Can public initiatives such as Ireland’s Africa Agri-Food Development Fund promote food security in Africa?

    PH: This is really a question for my colleague Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development. The EU and member states are the largest donors to sub-Saharan Africa, and agriculture and food security has been selected as the leading priority sector by far in the current 2014-2020 period – after many years of neglect. I think it is important to keep the sector – its challenges and opportunities – in the limelight so we are not confronted again by the situation during the 2007-11 food price crisis when our resources and energies were committed elsewhere. Out of that crisis came the EU’s €1 billion Food Facility for which the EC was given the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Jacques Diouf Award for Food Security, and specifically for helping to reverse the tide of deprioritising agriculture in development policy. 

       The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has no scope for expenditure in Africa, but we do have a major constructive role to play in ensuring the essentially non trade-distorting, and non market-distorting, nature of the CAP and the openness of the EU market to African exports. I also have a role to turn to EU agribusiness and underline to our sector the opportunities and responsibilities for contributing to growth in Africa. We are looking at private investment in many forms – including supported to an extent or guaranteed by public schemes – through the European Development Fund and member states’ development agencies. There are many successful initiatives for agribusiness-farm organisation partnerships, including from our own European Investment Bank, and many others. 

        An example I am indeed familiar with is Ireland’s Africa Agri-Food Development Fund. The Irish government has developed this fund recognising that skills developed and experience gained in the establishment of the Irish agri-food industry could potentially be transferred to assist in the further development of the food industry in African countries. Its aim is to develop partnerships between the Irish agri-food sector and African countries to support sustainable growth of the African local food industry. Specifically, it aims to build markets in African countries for local produce and to facilitate exports to regional and international markets. It is a flexible instrument that can support capital investment, capacity building, technology transfer, business advice or training and mentoring.  

        Sustainable development in African countries will be largely driven by the private sector and it is these types of initiatives which can encourage the European agri-food sector to develop linkages with Africa for mutual benefits.  Sustainable development of agriculture production in Africa is of particular interest to me. Partnership and cooperation is exactly what is needed: investments with African enterprises and in partnership with farm organisations. I think initiatives which seek to build these types of partnerships have a lot of potential.  

    FR: Where do you see specific opportunities for mutually beneficial engagement between European and African enterprises, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, in agriculture? Will DG AGRI support engagement in these areas and how?

    PH: One of the great dangers is to try to impose solutions from outside. European agribusinesses have to work in partnership with local businesses. I favour cooperative investment projects with farmers’ organisations. We see too often, in Europe as much as elsewhere, farmers being squeezed by market players with greater bargaining power. That’s why farmers’ organisations are so important and why agribusiness investment needs to deliver in cooperation with local farmers’ groups.

        I would like to see a focus on delivering on the trade ambitions of the Malabo Declaration. Tripling intra-African trade by 2025 is achievable and necessary given the current level is widely seen as too low. That requires investment in value chains – one of the pillars of the CAADP policy framework – access to markets, handling, use of standards, and market intelligence, as well as reducing post-harvest losses through better storage and transport. I am very pleased that Mehmet Eker, Turkey’s Minister for Agriculture, is using his country’s G20 Presidency to focus on reducing food losses and waste and to give a new political impetus to the G20’s work on food and nutrition security, with particular attention on smallholder farmers, youth and women.

       There is also a complementary but crucial role for trade facilitation and breaking down barriers. For example, shea butter is produced by some of the poorest farmers in West Africa and sells to some of the wealthiest consumers in Europe. There is an opportunity to increase the returns to farmers through investment and trade facilitation – but the trucks from landlocked Burkina Faso have to navigate up to a dozen road blocks, inspection points and charges before they reach the ports.  

        All across sub-Saharan Africa we are seeing the political need to create free trade areas, not least the ambitious Continental African Free Trade Agreement. The EU has some experience with the particular difficulties of creating a single market in the agricultural sector and it is clearly this sector that will lead African economic integration.

    FR: In the context of the implementation of CAP reform and an increasing emphasis in the EU on promoting European business, how do you intend to ensure policy coherence for development and, in particular, that support to the European agricultural sector does not conflict with efforts to promote food security and sustainable agricultural development in Africa and other developing regions?

    PH: I am paying close attention to the development impact of our policy. The CAP has come a long way. After successive reforms, subsidies are no longer coupled with production, we have set export subsidies to zero, we have an agricultural policy which is essentially non-market and non-trade distorting requiring European farmers to be more market-oriented. With 2015 being the European Year of Development, we will use the opportunity to better explain all these aspects, to explain the progress made so far, but also to listen and see if there are other areas we should work on.  

        Opportunities and security for developing country exporters and for agri-business investors have been greatly enhanced by the conclusion of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) in all sub-Saharan African regions. After a decade of negotiations has successfully concluded, it is essential to see successful implementation, delivering growth and jobs for our African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) partners in the agricultural sector. EU agribusinesses must be made aware of these investment opportunities and take advantage of the stability and guarantees offered by the EPAs.

        It is only in our relations with our neighbours and with the ACP that we offer such open terms. The EPAs also set up partnerships on agriculture in which we can ensure policy coordination and deal with any difficulties that arise. In short, these agreements have changed the agricultural relations with the ACP from one of donor-recipient to that of equal partners.

    FR: As African countries move closer to establishing single markets at the regional (and ultimately also at the continental) level, does Europe’s experience of using the CAP to overcome certain integration-related challenges hold any important lessons for Africa and for African farmers in particular?

    PH: The CAP was one of the pillars of the single market. It is very difficult to imagine a single market for agri-food products including countries having different agriculture policies, with different objectives, with different access to resources and incompatible programmes. The single market needs coherent, common policies, common principles, and common objectives. We also had to deal with divergent product standards and hygiene criteria. These are the same issues faced by any region in a process of integration, and nowhere more so than in agricultural products. The rewards are huge: prices and efficiencies for consumers and growth and jobs for the rural economy.  

        I hesitate to offer EU experience as Africa has already made significant strides and is home to the world’s oldest customs union in southern Africa. Regional integration is proceeding rapidly in the East African Community, West Africa and at a continental level towards the tripartite FTA and, ultimately, the Continental FTA.

        The EU can assist this process primarily through the regional EPAs. These agreements will assist integration as access to your main trading partner is a logical component of creating regional economic interdependence. Through our policy cooperation measures, we are also willing to share experience of building a single market in agricultural products.

    FR:Does DG AGRI, or the EC in general, intend to contribute meaningfully to debates on improving nutrition and sustainable agriculture at Expo Milano 2015? If so, how? What should the legacy of this Expo be for future generations?

    PH: We will have a strong presence at Expo Milano with a series of events addressing stakeholders, general public and engaging partner organisations in the EU and Africa. On the agricultural side, we will be very active especially during October, with a focus on food security issues – this being a thematic month also under the European Year of Development. The EU will make a strong contribution to the Milano Charter. 2015 should be a crucial year for development with the expected sustainable development goals of the post-2015 agenda. We will focus our efforts on the contribution the EU can have in areas such as responsible investments in and for agriculture, rural infrastructure, research and innovation, and access to markets - all crucial for ensuring food and nutrition security.  

    Phil Hogan is an Irish Fine Gael politician, and has been the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development since November 2014.

    This interview was conducted by Francesco Rampa, Head of the Food Security Programme, ECDPM. 

    This article was published in GREAT insights Volume 4, Issue 2 (February/March 2015).

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