With a population expected to double by 2050 from 1.2 billion to 2.4 billion predominantly young people, the African continent will need to foster job creation and economic growth through sustainable development.
The agricultural sector can play a key role in this, having the capacity to provide jobs and growth in rural areas, taking into account that currently 60% of African populations come from rural areas. The EU is supporting the transition towards a stronger African agricultural sector. While previously based around trade and development, the focus of EU-Africa relations is shifting towards policy cooperation, knowledge sharing and promoting responsible investment.
A cornerstone of the Africa-EU partnership, the Joint Africa-EU Strategy signed in 2007 put the EU-Africa relations on a more formal footing, moving away from the donor-based model towards long-term cooperation on jointly identified, mutual and complementary interests. Five priority areas were identified, including sustainable and inclusive development and growth. In this area, agriculture has a crucial role to play.
The EU-Africa political dialogue on agriculture is gaining ground. Ten years after the adoption of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES), the African Union-EU agriculture ministerial conference in Rome in July 2017 took the Africa-EU partnership a step forward. In line with the JAES, a new logic to EU-Africa relations was put in place where policy dialogue is used as a tool for development. The meeting in Rome resulted in a list of concrete and realistic deliverables.
Research and innovation are key elements of these deliverables, including the promotion of partnerships between agricultural universities and research institutes using educational exchange programmes. In addition, with the aim of protecting and promoting African agricultural products, they include collaborating with African countries to develop and protect their geographical indications.
Aligned with the climate policies adopted by countries in response to the Paris Agreement (COP21), deliverables also focus on environmental aspects such as improving water use and management in the farming sector, action on climate change, food loss and food waste. For instance, the need to focus on regional climate smart initiatives is highlighted.
Finally, the promotion of a stable, responsible and inclusive business environment is stressed, with a particular focus on responsible investment from EU agri-businesses prepared to invest with African partners in the sector.
These outcomes fed into the African Union-EU summit of November 2017, which focused on investment in youth for inclusive growth and sustainable development, and defined priorities for the 2018-2020 period.
To further EU-AU cooperation and strengthen the partnership in food and farming, the European Commission launched the Task Force for Rural Africa on 24 May 2018. The Task Force, a group of 11 African and European experts, will provide advice and recommendations on further developing Africa’s agricultural sector and increase job creation. In line with the political dialogue in place, and the outcomes of the AU-EU meetings of 2017, the group of experts will focus on:
The conclusions of this task force will be communicated in January 2019, including recommendations and possible initiatives contributing to the Joint Africa-EU Strategy, the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Development cooperation remains an important aspect of EU engagement in Africa. Agriculture is one of the priority sectors for EU development assistance. Over the period 2014-2020 the EU has allocated more than €8.5 billion to food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture in 62 partner countries, of which 36 countries are in Sub-Saharan Africa. This assistance is helpings countries with the modernisation of their agricultural sector, increasing their productivity, developing new products and strengthening rural areas.
In addition, the EU has developed Economic Partnership Agreements designed to promote trade and development in developing countries, including African countries. Duty-free and quota-free access to all Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and unilateral concessions to developing countries are thus in place. This allows our partner countries to protect their sensitive agricultural products from liberalisation, either by excluding them entirely or by allowing robust safeguards that can be used to guard against sudden increases in imports.
For some time, the EU has been by far the biggest outlet for farmers in developing countries. Europe's imports from LDCs are more than the US, China, Japan, Russia and Canada combined. Europe and Africa trading together is a win-win situation for both regions. We import attractive products from Africa for European consumers, and, by buying local African products, we are contributing to the development of better conditions for local farming communities.
We are making continuous efforts to promote responsible agri-food investments in Africa. Responsible investments avoid land grabbing, pay a decent return to farmers and recognise their central role in the food value chain. The recently launched European External Investment Plan (EIP), which aims to leverage €44 billion of investment in Africa and the European neighbourhood by 2020, has set up a specific section for agriculture and agribusiness. A growing number of EU producers are engaging in joint activities with African farmers, promoting development of local production. With trade and investment, the EU is supporting sustainable development and poverty reduction in Africa.
In line with this work, President Jean-Claude Juncker has announced in his 2018 State of the Union speech a proposal for a new ‘Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs’. This alliance shall reinforce the Africa-EU partnership further through key actions such as boosting strategic investment, investing in people, and strengthening the business environment and investment climate.
In the challenging areas of food security, agri-food business, development of rural areas, and climate change, the EU and Africa are reading from the same page. To achieve common objectives, strengthening collaboration will be crucial. Recent years have brought forward a new paradigm in the EU-Africa relations in agriculture, focusing increasingly on policy cooperation and the promotion of a stable, responsible and inclusive business environment.