Ad Spijkers worked as a representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and is now part of a group of Wageningen development veterans with extensive experience in Africa and Asia. This article is a revision and english translation of a column, pictured below, which was published in the December 2023 issue of the Dutch magazine Vork (https://www.vork.org).
A prosperous Africa has a lot to offer Europe. Stable food production and food security are the basic conditions for prosperity for our southern neighbors. An attractive, resilient economy in Africa is also essential for Europe.
Africa has a plethora of assets: half of the population is under 25 years old, the continent has a quarter of global farmland and its gigantic rainforests act as the world’s ‘green lung’. The continent has traditionally maintained good relations in food production and trade with many European countries and universities.
African science is flourishing and several countries have acquired robust research capacities, also in the agricultural domain. For instance, institutions such as Kenya’s ICIPE (insect research) and transnational research bodies such as the CGIAR lead the way in sustainable crop protection and biological control. Their activities not only benefit Africa, but are also pertinent for the envisioned pesticide phasedown within Europe’s Green Deal.
Securing a thriving agricultural sector and a stable food supply in Africa is not easy. The big cities beckon and exert a relentless attraction for young, dynamic workers. The global climate crisis and the increase (food) price volatility and production shortfalls all highlight how vital a close cooperation with Africa is for sustainable growth, stability, peace and security. Europe can play a pioneering role, provided that African countries are at the helm.
The days of charitable funding are long gone but are still reflected in the attitudes of many European countries. Partly because of this, Europe has wasted influence and goodwill on the continent. Recent military coups signal how Africa’s youth are rejecting colonialism. Colonial thinking is firmly rejected by all ages and ‘handouts’ are no longer appropriate.
Thanks to education, technological advancements and social media, today’s Africans know better. They also prefer to define their own future. A new paradigm is emerging in which African leadership, mutual respect, equality and shared perspectives must form the basis of international cooperation.According to a recent interview with the President of the African Development Bank; “the highway to wealth is through global value chains”. “One needs to add value to everything you have, from oil to metal ore and food.” However, Africa would be hampered in its sustainable development, if too much emphasis is placed on the next outflow of primary raw materials.
In contrast, value-added manufacturing can absorb young workers and lift the continent out of poverty. In close cooperation with the Netherlands and the EU, Africa can invest strategically in food, agriculture and growth-promoting chains/sectors.
Although starting points differ, important lessons can be drawn from Asian countries such as Vietnam, Bangladesh and others. Over a span of decades, these countries lifted large shares of their population out of poverty and managed to achieve steady economic growth. Much can be gained through South-South cooperation and Europe could play a pivotal role in orchestrating such knowledge exchange or mutually beneficial ‘cross-pollination’.
Europe must also realize that its relationship with the countries in Africa has changed dramatically. For example, the African Union recently became a member of the G20. It is taking on the role within the multipolar and multilateral world order that it envisioned when the organization was founded in 1999 (Sirte Declaration).
The advisory letter ‘Urgency of a new Dutch Africa Strategy’ from the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) can – given geopolitical changes – serve as a starting point to bring about a paradigm shift in the attitude of the Netherlands and other countries in Europe. Yet, these are not easy messages.
Other positive signals could be sent. For instance, Europe can point out even more emphatically to African countries that they have the right to end food imports from Europe at ‘dumped prices’. During this consultation, agreements can also be made about the use of natural resources and investments in the processing of natural raw materials. This contributes to ironing out bilateral issues regarding mutual access to the EU market and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
It takes two to tango. The mutual interests of both Africa and Europe are best served by developing agriculture. Doing so can end hunger and poverty and provide much needed stimulus for sustainable economic growth. If Europe does not step to the fore and assume its role, it might lose more than a mere supplier of cheap raw materials.
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