The EU must avoid the temptation to cut aid budgets and invest more than ever in the developing world’s agricultural and renewable energy sectors, writes Alioune Badara Camara.
Alioune Badara Camara grew up in Senegal and currently lives in Brussels, Belgium. He is a youth ambassador for ONE.
On 24 June I joined over 100 ONE Youth Ambassadors from across Europe to descend on to the European Parliament. We asked MEPs to sign the ONE Vote 2014 pledge and promise to help end extreme poverty. We, as the future generation of Europe, are soliciting a renewed commitment by EU decision-makers to ensure that their laws and practices make it easier for the world’s poor to lift themselves out of poverty, and to help eradicate extreme poverty completely by 2030.
Since moving to Europe, I’ve worked hard to change the image that so many people have of my continent. Of course there is extreme poverty in Africa, and we need to end this as soon as possible. But we Africans are looking for real change and sustainable solutions, not hand-outs or a continuation of the status quo. I went to lobby MEPs because I know we can end extreme poverty and, by getting European and African leaders on board, the ONE Campaign can achieve something concrete.
ONE is an international campaigning and advocacy organisation, whose nearly six million members act to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, with a particular focus on Africa. As ONE youth ambassadors living across the continent, we have worked tirelessly to spread the message that if EU continue their commitment to devoting 0.7% of their GNI to official development aid, it is possible to do this.
We are part of the generation that will contribute to making extreme poverty history. Young people are at the heart of contemporary prospects and challenges, from restoring equality in the global economy to protecting dwindling aid budgets in times of austerity. Although the temptation is there, cutting EU aid budgets now would be a terrible mistake for Europe’s position and prestige in an international system growing in complexity and new international players. By contributing to the eradication of extreme poverty, and honoring aid commitments, we can have an undeniable impact on international stability and prosperity. Most, if not all humanitarian disasters and conflicts in Africa are rooted in poverty.
The EU needs to build support for the poorest countries, especially through investment in agriculture, healthcare and access to energy, and to make governments and businesses transparent and accountable. Agricultural investment is a case in point – one that I feel extremely passionate about, and an area where the ONE Campaign is raising awareness. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), investment in agriculture in Sub-Saharan is 11 times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in others sectors.
Yet the African agricultural sector has been neglected for far too long, lacking in infrastructure, technology, and proper access to international markets. Without a functioning and flourishing agricultural system in place, Africans will continue to rely on imports to fulfill nutritional needs. If the 2008 food crisis taught us anything, it is that the status quo is not a sustainable solution. Agricultural investment is part of the real change that is needed. It will not only help us to achieve food security, it can also form the basis of developing our economic system and support other vital sectors such as our rising services industry. African leaders, donors like the EU, and the private sector need to invest in African agriculture in order to turn it into a lucrative and attractive industry, so that Africa has the potential not only to feed itself, but also to become a major food supplier for the rest of the world.
In areas like agriculture, the EU can play a major, if not critical role in ending extreme poverty. But political will, a balanced vision for the future, and real commitment is the only way that the EU can remain a major player. The youth ambassadors had the honour of meeting the EU’s Development Commissioner, Andris Pielbags a few months ago. He told us that the future EU aid agenda would make assistance ‘more strategic, targeted and results-oriented’ by focusing on better governance, protecting human rights and targeting crucial sectors like agriculture and renewable energy. If the Commission, together with the European Parliament, and member states can honour such commitments, we youth ambassadors will have achieved part of our mission. The other part will come when the policy agenda moves beyond aid commitments, towards long-term, innovative, and sustainable solutions to the challenges we will all face in the future.