African farmers say they must be trained for Farm to Fork

Farmers harvesting vegetables in a rural dripp irrigation scheme in Kajiado, Kenya. [SHUTTERSTOCK/MIARON]

This article is part of our special report EU-Africa: translating green agrifood ambitions.

African farmers fear being left alone in making sense of and applying environmental standards required by the European Union’s new food policy, said the voice of Kenya’s horticulture producers, who warned that without help, the new rules could jeopardise trade with Europe.

The European Commission’s Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy aims to make the European food system more sustainable through a set of stringent targets.

In order not to affect their competitiveness on the global stage, European farmers have asked that imported products should meet the same environmental standards they have to comply with.

The Commission is now also re-evaluating its trade goals to bring them in line with the EU’s ambition to become climate-neutral.

But African farmers say the requirement to meet those targets if they want to sell their products to Europe is fast becoming a major hurdle to trade.

In an interview with EURACTIV, CEO of Kenya’s Fresh Produce Consortium Okisegere Ojepat said farmers are struggling to understand this new regulatory framework and how this will influence the entire value chain in Africa.

“At the moment, it is scary and heavy. It is like interpreting the Bible within one or two months, while we are expected to understand it and live by it,” Ojepat said.

African farmers should be trained whenever the EU changes regulations within a short period, to ensure they are not shut out of the European Single Market, he added.

The biggest concern for African farmers is that the EU regulatory framework could become unfair because of the demands being imposed and the requirement to comply with no specific timelines to catch up with European farmers.

“Reciprocity is not one thing we refuse but European farmers are getting subsidies directly from the EU,” Ojepat said, adding that African farmers are not getting any training to raise their capacity to fulfil the F2F requirements.

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Africa’s uniqueness 

African farmers would particularly struggle to meet the EU’s new organic requirements, according to Ojepat. The F2F strategy has set a target of 25% of agricultural land in the EU being farmed organically by 2030, a three-fold increase.

Up to 90% of Kenyan fresh product output relies on smallholders owning land of between half an acre and five acres in size.

These smallholders will also struggle to meet the EU requirement to reduce pesticide use, Ojepat said, mentioning as an example the recent devastation caused by locusts.

“The African continent is between the tropics and, therefore, the pressure from plant pests is not going to ease,” he said.

East Africa last year experienced the worst locust plague in decades, with the Horn of Africa invaded by swarms of insects that destroyed entire crop harvests.

“When the EU says you need to go organic, you’re telling us we must stop using certain molecules. And yet, we’re not given an alternative to deal with locusts,” he said.

Ojepat said it is not possible to expect African farmers to meet the same environmental standards without any subsidies and with the pest pressure they suffer in the tropics.

“Going organic in compliance with the EU’s Green Deal is not something we can do, or not for free,” he concluded.

The lion’s share of Kenya’s exports to the EU is represented by agriculture commodities such as cut flowers, fruits and vegetables, accounting for more than 90% of the total export value.

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AU-EU summit

According to Ojepat, the African farmers are currently struggling to ensure they are able to produce sufficient food to even feed their families and the population in Africa.

Any standard proposed by the EU has to take into account the issues they have in terms of availability, affordability, and accessibility of food.

“We’re not against standards to ensure food safety, but the first challenge we’re dealing with is food security in terms of availability for our people,” he stressed.

The 6th summit between the African Union (AU) and the EU will be held in 2021 to relaunch the trade partnership between the two neighbouring continents.

Ojepat’s hope is that the EU will look at Africa as a trading partner and not as an enemy or a younger brother to order around.

“We are a growing continent that has the best available arable land that we can grow. We can supply the world with food if only we can be supported and be listened to,” he said.

The pandemic has also exposed Africa’s weaknesses, as farmers struggled to get to work on their farms and to move around in the countryside, leading to food loss and food waste.

For Ojepat, the AU-EU summit should discuss innovation and technology to empower African farmers with practical solutions for production and post-harvest handling.

“My prayer is that there will be sober minds in the room during the summit who will give sense when it comes to discussing food, science and agriculture trade in the world,” he said.

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[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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