Ad Spijkers worked as a representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), among other places.
Africa: from crisis to opportunity
The picture is grim. Millions of people displaced and driven into poverty by climate change, COVID-19 and international conflict. An escalating food crisis, resulting from crop failures and rising costs of living. Africa has been particularly hard hit by this. Ethiopia, Somalia and eastern DR Congo, among others, are facing major problems. High inflation reduces purchasing power and the family budget in many countries is now largely spent on food and energy. Due to the crisis, fertilizer has become too expensive, so that the extra kilograms of grain that farmers obtained from a kilogram of fertilizer are now lost.
Prolonged drought, heat, excessive floodings and epidemics of pests and diseases complicate food production for the 1.4 billion Africans. Nigeria – Africa’s most populous country – is facing increased insecurity, inflation and job losses. In addition, divergent views within the United Nations and other international forums disrupt the development of the African agri-food systems and undermine food security. These phenomena can fuel inequality, instability and mass migration to Europe.
For these reasons, it remains essential to support in Africa an agricultural policy that deals strategically and responsibly with water, fertilization, crop protection, available labor and sales opportunities. In order to meet increasingly pressing local food needs, above all local insights must be used to bring about a ‘transformation’ of Africa’s agricultural systems. Crucial to this is the sustainable intensification of small-scale agriculture in particular. Local food production (also on a large scale), local processing and shortening Africa’s food chains can significantly reduce the escalating transport costs.
However, technical solutions alone will not turn the tide. Political vision, will and power at all levels of government is needed to face the growing humanitarian crisis. It is also in our interest, the ‘Global North’, to respect and promote Africa’s self-reliance. At the level of the African Union (AU), Africa itself is in charge of agriculture and food supply. Africans are also increasingly taking the lead at national and regional levels on the basis of their own education, knowledge, skills and experience.
We must respect and encourage this ownership, because a paternalistic attitude of the West is no longer appropriate. Western ideas, which are still part of project proposals and conditions, no longer resonate in Africa. In addition, other major powers are now more in charge, leaving the West geopolitically behind.
Due to the colonial past of many member states and the current agricultural policy and the associated protection, the European Union does not always promote African agriculture. If the Netherlands and the EU want to pursue a sincere development policy based on current geopolitical events, they will have to leave the familiar ‘belittling finger’ at home. The free sharing of knowledge and skills, and entering into egalitarian trade relations must be given priority, based on a greater respect for African ownership and leadership.
Europe and other Western powers can help shape agricultural research, education and development with and for Africa. Preferably orchestrated by the African Union and national governments and where necessary with input from multilateral institutions, development banks and universities. The starting point must be the specific needs and potential possibilities of African farmers. Co-financed with proceeds from Africa’s wealth of primary raw materials, the living conditions of the rural population could improve dramatically. Africa is as big as China, India, the United States and most of Europe put together. In Africa food security is synonymous with human security. Investments, are not enough and resources are needed to address the growing humanitarian challenge–where big powers need to work more actively on peace, security, climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation.
What has succeeded elsewhere in the Global South during the past fifty years must also become a reality in Africa. African ownership, confidence in one’s own abilities, international cooperation and mutual respect are sine qua non. The continent embodies gigantic potential and the political class increasingly has the means to crank up its economic engine. The joint formulation of a ‘Marshall Plan’ for agriculture – the cornerstone of the African economy – offers Europe a golden opportunity to pay off its colonial debt and offer the continent a better future.
This article is a revision of a column which was published in the December 2022 issue of the Dutch magazine Vork (https://www.vork.org). Thanks to Orlando de Ponti, Martin Smith and Kris Wyckhuys.
About this 4SD Reflection
This article is a reflection by Ad Spijkers following the 4SD Foundation Open Online Briefings of Dr David Nabarro.Ad worked as Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. He is part of a group of Wageningen development veterans with extensive experience in Africa and Asia.
Participants of the 4SD Foundation Open Online Briefings are invited to share their reflections on how they are navigating complexities from their own perspectives. The views and opinions expressed in these reflections do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 4SD as an organization or it’s associated personnel. Any content provided by authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.