Commission: EU committed to guiding Africa in raising sustainable food standards

An African farmer in his cocoa plantation. [SHUTTERSTOCK/MEDIALENSKING]

The EU “is there” for African farmers and food producers with development support should the increased European green agriculture standards create trade barriers, according to a Commission official.

In the meeting of the EU’s and AU’s heads of states and governments that will close today (18 February), the EU is using the partnership to encourage African states to adopt the environmental policies in its Green Deal.

The agri-food part of it, the Commission’s Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy – which aims to make the European food system more sustainable through a set of stringent targets – may have a spill-over effect on African farmers even if they do not adopt parts of it.

African farmers fear that requirements to meet those targets to sell their products to Europe could quickly become a significant trade hurdle.

“We do not, cannot and will not wish to impose our own system on any other country in the world,” said at a recent EURACTIV event John Clarke, director for international trade at the Commission’s agricultural service (DG AGRI).

But according to the Kenyan farmer David Ndegwa, who spoke at the same event, although the EU is not directly imposing standards on African growers, the request for higher environmental and sustainable standards to sell products in the European single market indirectly leads to a request for compliance.

The EU official recalled that, however, all countries in the recent United Nations food systems summit took on several commitments to improve the sustainability of the food system from production to consumption, a concept that winks at the EU’s F2F strategy.

“We’re all rowing in the same direction. We may have different ways to get there. But the aims are all the same,” he said.

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EU is there for Africans

Another layer to the debate has been added by one of the main priorities of France’s EU Council Presidency. Namely the concept of reciprocity in agri-trade through introducing mirror clauses in trade agreements.

Reciprocity means that imported food products have to meet the same environmental standards European farmers have to comply with under the Green Deal as a way not to affect their competitiveness.

“We are unashamedly raising our standards. If that creates difficulties for African exporters, we are there with our development support to ensure that African farmers and the companies that are producing for the European market can meet those standards,” reassured Commission’s Clarke.

However, African farmers stressed that the current gap between the two continents in agriculture is also caused by external factors that are tough to cope with.

“The EU is able to grow even vegetables, especially horticultural crops in restricted areas, while in Africa, where crops are grown in open fields, pests and diseases cannot be controlled in any other way apart from chemical intervention,” said Kenyan farmer Ndegwa.

He referred to the ambitious goal of slashing the use and risk of pesticides in Europe by half by 2030 compared to the EU’s current level, which could have repercussions on African farmers exporting to the EU.

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But trade barriers are not only limited to sustainability aspects. From the other side of the Mediterranean, European farmers are seen as better organised, even in cooperatives and advocacy groups.

The rest of the gap is made by the lack of public support for agriculture and access to markets, affecting the competitiveness of small-scale African farmers.

“The EU cannot by itself remedy the situation – that would be neocolonialist. But we can, as a partner, help Africans in certain ways to improve the sustainable productivity in agriculture across the continent,” said Commission’s John Clarke.

Farm to Fork? Better farmer-to-farmer

While the focus from the EU side is on sustainability, competitiveness is a priority for Africa.

“Every farmer is every day in competition with the best other farmers in the world. But the playing field is not level,” said Theo de Jager, president of the World Farmers’ Organisation.

According to him, competitiveness is very much dictated by the latest technologies. “What we wish for in the EU-AU partnership is for more farmer-to-farmer engagement, in the sense of technology transfer and knowledge transfer,” he said.

The EU official John Clarke agreed that the future for a more productive agricultural sector in Africa, as in Europe, depends on technology, providing growers with more digital solutions and precision farming.

“We’re all engaged in not only a green transition, but a digital transition, both in Europe and with our partners, and in particular, Africa, who has a priority,” he said.

He recalled the EU’s flagship research project, Horizon Europe, has devoted more than €1 billion to looking at ways to improve production sustainably using innovative techniques – and these funds are also available to Africa.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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