Food Security plans in Eastern and Southern Africa: COMESA or Tripartite?

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    This article is part of a five part series to share findings from a regional Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) mapping exercise undertaken by ECDPM. Each monthly article will highlight lessons learned from one of four African regions (COMESA, EAC, ECOWAS and SADC). A fifth final article will summarize and present crosscutting lessons relevant for successful implementation of the CAADP process at the regional level.

    Agriculture, food security, and rural development: buzzwords that seem to be trending in the last few years. Most would agree that this is a welcome development, especially after decades of relegating Africa’s agricultural development to the background. With the endorsement of the CAADP by African Heads of States in 2003, the continent’s agriculture and food security agenda started to return to the spotlight (see Box 1).

    Many stakeholders in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) agree on the importance of delineating a regional approach to food security in the region.(1) Acting at the regional level could help investing big sums of money in key strategic areas that individual countries could not afford by themselves. Agricultural growth could also benefit from regional spill overs and economies of scale in technology, human and policy development, trade and investment. Yet, the formulation of a regional investment plan in agriculture for the COMESA region, under the CAADP process, seems to be caught between a rock and a hard place. This article sheds light on COMESA’s current progress with the CAADP, and outlines some ideas for taking the process forwards. 

    To Tripartite or not to Tripartite? 

    The CAADP process operates in a unique way, seeking to place the national and regional reform and investment process firmly in stakeholder’s hands. A crucial part of this process is the formulation of national and regional compacts. Compacts are a form of ‘agreement’ amongst all agricultural stakeholders, outlining priority areas for action in each country and region (see Box 1), and are elaborated though national and regional consultations. Ideally, national compacts and regional compacts and the investment plans that accompany them operate in synergy.

    The regional COMESA compact is almost finalised and ready. It was prepared through the facilitation of the Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRAPAN), and further elaborated by the COMESA Secretariat. However, at their third joint meeting in July 2010, COMESA Ministers of Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources, decided that: “Given the progress made on the Tripartite Agreement between COMESA, EAC and SADC, COMESA Member States should take this development into consideration and approve further development of the COMESA Regional Compact within the Tripartite framework. The Tripartite CAADP Regional Compact will have to be approved and adopted by the three Regional Economic Communities (RECs)”.

    The momentum behind the Tripartite trade negotiations has thus spilled over to the CAADP process.(2) At a first glance, the next step for implementation of the tripartite CAADP regional plans could seem simple: submitting the draft COMESA compact to the SADC and EAC Secretariats and assess how this would relate to an hypothetical Tripartite compact. 

    However, the current situation is somewhat of a 'catch 22’. On the one hand, COMESA should design its own regional investment plans to show concretely the potential added value of a COMESA compact vis-à-vis the national CAADP compacts, something that is crucial given the low appreciation of regional level action by some stakeholders. On the other, designing credible and realistic plans would require knowing which programmes to undertake as COMESA and which should be undertaken jointly with other RECs as part of the possible ‘Tripartite’ compact. 

    The COMESA regional CAADP process is therefore caught between a rock and a hard place: designing an investment plan for food security first in order to fast-track the regional dimension of food security in COMESA, with the risk of seeing it poorly connected to the future Tripartite compact; or wait for the Tripartite compact to take hold, but loosing momentum on the COMESA regional front of food security. 

    After the decision by the SADC Council of Ministers in August 2011 that SADC should join the process for a ‘Tripartite’ compact, informal consultations between officials of the three RECs Secretariats started, with a view to agree on which specific areas of cooperation will be covered by a ‘Tripartite’ food security framework as well as on which REC will take the lead in the preparations under each thematic areas. Moreover, despite the temporary pause in the COMESA compact process, the COMESA Secretariat continues to implement its overall CAADP work plan, which includes contributing to the formulation of a regional compact. It seems, then, that both tracks are moving in parallel, increasing the risk of overlap and duplication. 

    Solving the situation: adopting a 'differentiated gears' Tripartite compact 

    This situation could be solved by adopting a flexible approach to the Tripartite compact, a sort of compact ‘à la carte’, allowing each region to go at its own pace, defining its regional priorities first and engaging others on issues of common concern. This would entail that the Tripartite compact is conceived in flexible terms. Concretely, it should have limited binding provisions, differentiated policies, programmes, rules and implementation time frames. 

    This would allow each REC to achieve a minimum level of internal coherence, defining first how its regional investments complement and contribute the ones already undertaken at the national level under national CAADP processes. It would also give RECs the time to assess how their own polices, beyond CAADP, should feed into the food security plans identified regionally. It would thus allow COMESA to go ahead with its regional compact and investment plan, while choosing which part of the food security agenda it wants to tackle jointly with other regions. 

    This would translate into a 'differentiated gears' ‘Tripartite’ compact, with RECs or blocs of countries entering different programmatic partnerships on specific sectors/themes, gradually, depending on existing progress of various parts of regional cooperation and on voluntary basis. This 'comprehensive, internally coherent and differentiated gears' ‘Tripartite’ compact can be realistically built around existing REC plans and groups of countries which already cooperate well in specific areas, even beyond activities belonging strictly only to COMESA or EAC or SADC programmes. 

    Such a gradual approach would allow SADC, for instance, to simultaneously formulate its part of the ‘Tripartite’ CAADP and complete its on-going process for the Regional Agricultural Policy (RAP, i.e. the SADC regional CAADP compact), maintaining the objective of having RAP as a legally binding framework for SADC, but without imposing on non-SADC countries the same degree of legal value for other programmes that will be common to all the RECs on certain shared challenges. 

    Similarly, if one REC does not have (yet) within its priority mandate a specific cooperation area, it can still achieve full multidimensionality of a ‘Tripartite’ CAADP at its own pace. This for instance would be the case of COMESA, which does not have regional water resources management in its draft CAADP framework. COMESA would require first an expansion of its traditional agenda, focused at present more on economic regional integration.

    Implementing and designing the approach

    The mechanisms behind this flexible, overarching, compact (i.e. long-term institutional arrangements/structures that can coordinate ‘Tripartite’ CAADP investment programmes), should consider the existing Tripartite structures as the starting point. Additionally, interesting proposals already on the table should be taken into account, such as the coordination structures proposed in the FANRPAN-led COMESA consultation process, for example the ‘Stakeholders Compact Review Platform’.

    The careful design of a 'comprehensive, internally coherent and differentiated gears' compact would also require a step-by-step multi-stakeholder consultative process, a ‘road-map’ facilitated through strong leadership, for instance by a Committee of the SADC/COMESA/EAC CAADP Focal Points; or a “Friends of the Tripartite Compact” group representing all key stakeholders. This lead group would have to start with identifying a minimum common ground among RECs and their Member State on what major bottlenecks and opportunities in each region are for food security, and define a constructive way forward. 

    Francesco Rampa is Head of the Food Security Programme at ECDPM. Quentin de Roquefeuil is Policy officer at ECDPM. 

    This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 1, Issue 3 (May 2012)

    1. COMESA is a free trade area covering 19 countries; Angola, Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
    2. The “Tripartite”, as it has been called, is a project process currently under development for establishing a Free Trade Area “from Cape to Cairo”, bringing together the regional markets of COMESA, the East African Community (EAC), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). 

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