EU-Africa partnership must reflect ‘realities of African agriculture’

Stakeholders at a recent event stressed the need for an "equal" partnership where all voices have a voice around the table. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

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

Future agrifood partnerships between the EU and Africa must take into account the realities of farming in Africa, especially in the context of a drive for a greener transition, agrifood stakeholders have warned.

The comments come in the context of talks between the two continents aimed at agreeing a new EU-Africa ‘strategic partnership’.

Although discussions between the European Commission and African Union have stalled in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the pandemic has also underscored the need for stronger cooperation between the bloc and the African continent, highlighting both the growing urgency of the climate crisis and food security, and the interdependence of the two continents.

Portugal, which holds the rotating EU Council presidency until July, is keen to push the agenda, with a Portuguese diplomat stressing back in January that “Africa should and could be a key partner of the EU”.

Agriculture is one of the key focus areas of the partnership, with the EU’s focus being on facilitating a green transition in line with its Green Deal ambitions.

EU agrifood relations with Africa: what lies ahead?

The European Union is reshaping its approach to Africa, hoping to promote long-term sustainable food systems and help their people cope with the side-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, visions for a green transition must be keeping with the specific circumstances on the African continent, stakeholders highlighted during a recent event on sustainable food systems and trade.

“It is important that the strategy and partnership areas are adapted to the reality on our continent. We need an African green transition that takes into account the ongoing yield gap and the lower use of modern innovative practices and instruments in Africa,”  Antonie Delpot, head of South Africa and strategic partnerships for Africa and the Middle East for Syngenta, highlighted.

“Compared to Europe, we need an African green transition that enables Africa to make the most of technology and innovation, but in a sustainable way and in partnership with the different parts of society, including the private sector,” he said.

Delpot highlighted that Africa’s main trading partner is the EU, with trade with the EU accounting for 31% of Africa’s exports and 29% of its imports, and stressed the importance of regulation impacting both continents being “fit for purpose” in order for to maximise the potential for free trade agreements.

Climatic, pest pressure

One way in which differences must be acknowledged between the two continents is in climatic and pest pressures.

Highlighting the difficulties that Kenyan producers face in adapting to changing regulatory frameworks elsewhere in the world, Okisegere Ojepat, chief executive officer of the Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya said that the country’s unique geographical location straddling the equator creates challenging climatic conditions throughout the year.

Pointing out that the warm climates are the perfect breeding ground for pests, he said that for Kenyan farmers, any limitation or withdrawal of certain molecules without offering alternatives can leave the farming sector vulnerable.

“So whereas we want to produce more, to feed ourselves and then export, we are not able to do that,” he said, highlighting that frequent regulatory changes are the “biggest barrier” facing producers in the region to enter the marketplace and to trading with the EU.

“We see notifications of certain molecules withdrawn without being given an opportunity to discuss and to agree on how we are going to have ways of working together,” he said.

EU-Africa partnership needed for transformation of food systems, says experts

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the need for EU-African collaboration is more important than ever in the drive to strengthen and transform food systems, but care must be taken to make it an equitable partnership, experts have stressed.

‘Equal’ partnership 

As such, Ojepat stressed there was a need to have a “more accommodative global space” for discussions that have far-reaching consequences on producers.

“What I want to see in this strategy between EU and Africa is a more acceptable partnership, where there’s no big brother, where we all partners, where we all have in roles to play,” he said, adding that he wants to see a “win-win situation across the globe”.

“For me, the best way forward at the global level is to appreciate that we are all participants, in whatever level you are, that we are passionate, and we bring to the table unique products, unique characteristics. And we bring to the table unique opportunities that are open to each one of us,” he stressed.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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