EU and Africa step up co-operation on agri-business amid pandemic

Rural farmers tilling land in Cabinda, Angola. [SHUTTERSTOCK/PINTO]

This article is part of our special report EU agrifood relations with Africa: what lies ahead?.

When the European Commission and African Union set up a 12-person joint rural Africa taskforce in May 2018, their priorities were to promote African food security, transferring skills, climate change adaption and investment in the continent’s agri-business.

The taskforce’s mandate was extended earlier this year and the work towards those aims in African agri-business has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In particular, the priorities of the taskforce were revised in order to take into account both the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the switch to more ambitious climate goals in the context of the EU’s Green Deal.

When the pandemic first hit Europe and Africa in March, there were fears that African agricultural production would be badly hit by supply chain disruption.

At the first meeting of a taskforce on the impact of COVID-19 on food security and nutrition in Africa convened by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the African Union in May, Wolfgang Burtscher, director-general at Commission’s DG Agri, stressed the importance of trade and of governments ensuring that supply chains are not broken.

In April, the FAO and the African Union described the food supply system as ‘an essential service that must continue to operate during periods of lockdown, emergency, curfew and other containment measures’, in a bid to ensure that farming communities and food supply are protected.

However, anecdotal evidence from a number of African countries suggests that despite drops in agricultural production of up to 25%, they have used the pandemic, and its disruption to their supply of food imports, to prioritise domestic agricultural production and food security.

Ghana is one of a number of African countries reporting a recent boost to the national production of staple crops such as rice and maize.

“The COVID-19 pandemic provides a golden opportunity for Ghana to optimise food production to meet domestic needs, grow our exports and create jobs,” its agriculture minister, Owusu Afriyie Akoto, said earlier this year.

“We are seeing a lot more companies go into food production,” Botswana’s trade and investment minister, Peggy Serame, told EURACTIV in an interview.

Meanwhile, prices for staple crops have tended not to follow the price drops seen by other commodities and Africa has seen a slight rise in farm trade as countries try to keep their food stockpiles.

“The issue is not the supplies but the transport of those supplies,” Arif Husain, the chief economist for the UN World Food Programme, told EURACTIV earlier this year.

The World Bank warned that disruption to production and supply chains could ‘spark a food security crisis’ in Africa, forecasting a fall in farm production of up to 7% if there are restrictions to trade, and a 25% decline in food imports.

The EU, meanwhile, has provided financial support and technical assistance.

Last week, the European Commission announced a €180 million support package for small farmers and fishermen in Tunisia.

In November, a similar €38 million funding stream was launched for Angola’s farming community for the purchase of corn, beans, sorghum seeds, as well as fertilizers, work tools and small equipment.

Elsewhere, initiatives such as the Europe-Africa Research & Innovation Partnership on Food and Nutrition Security and Sustainable Agriculture (FNSSA), focus on Africa’s long-term agriculture sector, while in June, the EU and AU launched a joint agri-food platform which aims to link African and European private sectors to promote sustainable and meaningful investment in the agribusiness sector.

“Agriculture is biology, and our agriculture is as good as our science. FARA drives the AU’s mandate to strengthen the application of science and technology to accelerate agricultural transformation in Africa,” said Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, executive director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa.

“As neighbours and, increasingly, as trading partners, Europe and Africa have many shared interests and much to learn from one another as our food systems face the challenges of the future,” he added.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Gerardo Fortuna]

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