Maybe this time Europe will answer Africa’s call
Helping Africa create more stable societies is in Europe’s self-interest
The European Commission’s Task Force on Rural Africa was asked to identify what role Africa’s agrifood sector and rural economy could play in meeting the challenge of a rapidly expanding population. Photograph: Trevor Snapp/Bloomberg
Africa’s population is projected to double over the next 30 years, to reach 2.5 billion by 2050. Its workforce – the population cohort between 15 and 64 years – will increase by 800 million over the same period, some 27 million people annually. Africa will account for three-quarters of the increase in the global workforce between 2020 and 2050. Generating sufficient jobs and income to meet the needs of an additional 1.25 billion people and 800 million seeking employment is one of the great political and economic challenges of our age.
The European Commission’s Task Force on Rural Africa was asked to identify what role Africa’s agrifood sector and rural economy could play in meeting this challenge. Its report, launched recently in Brussels, concluded that nothing short of a transformation of the sector is required. The report produced recommendations on what needs to be done – strategies and policies – and how it should be done – a partnership between Africa and Europe – to achieve this transformation.
The report is realistic about the scale of the challenges facing Africa. Climate change and extreme weather events are a major risk to Africa’s food security, illustrated to devastating effect by the loss of life and livelihoods caused by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. The report focuses on two cross-cutting issues to be tackled in parallel with the changes needed in the agrifood sector: improving governance and reducing the number of ‘fragile states’ and countries in conflict: and massive and sustained investment in the nutrition, education and health of Africa’s people.
This latter investment must include change in the status and education of women, reductions in child mortality, improvements in healthcare and family planning, reduction in child marriage and girls staying longer in school. All of which would assist in reducing birth and death rates and move Africa towards a demographic transition in line with other regions of the world.
Turning to the agrifood sector and rural economy, the report recommends four long-term policies – a territorial approach in planning for income and job creation; sustainable natural resource management and climate action; a transformation of African agriculture; and development of the African food industry and food markets – which should serve as the foundation stones for development.
Six short-term measures, consistent with the long-term policies, are recommended to kick-start the process, including an innovative local action programme (a type of African Leader programme), scaling up support for food-safety systems and regional trade integration, and twinning and exchange programmes between Africa and Europe.
The report recommends that Africa and the European Union should implement an innovative and long-term partnership in developing Africa’s agrifood sector and rural economy. It would be based on African political and policy leadership, supported by European experience, expertise and finance. It would operate at three levels: people to people; business to business; and government to government. Being long term in nature, it would involve policy dialogue, leading to policy consistency on both sides, and support for institutions necessary for the implementation of sound policy.
Many past reports on transforming African agriculture rest on dusty shelves, without any impact. So why should this report be different? Hopefully, the good sense of its recommendations is one reason. But even more importantly, its timing: we may be at a moment when there is political will in both Africa and Europe to act.
In 2015, more than a million migrants from Africa crossed the Mediterranean to Europe. This has been an important factor in the growth of populist parties in a number of EU countries. Policies to restrict the flow of migrants have been introduced, with arrangements between the EU, Turkey and a number of African countries. But even as such arrangements may become more restrictive, policies to address the root causes of migration from Africa are urgently needed.
Senior political leaders realise that Europe has a profound long-term self-interest in partnering with Africa to create more prosperous and stable societies on the continent. In his state-of-the-union address in September 2018, commission president Jean-Claude Juncker proposed a new Africa-Europe alliance for sustainable investment and jobs aimed at creating up to 10 million jobs over the next five years. The commission proposals for the EU’s multi-annual financial framework 2012-2027 foresees Africa as a foreign policy priority, with €32 billion of grants for sub-Saharan Africa and a further €10.5 billion for peace and security in Africa.
Launching the task force report, EU commissioner for agriculture and rural development, Phil Hogan and African Union commissioner for rural economy and agriculture Josefa Sacko pledged to work together to implement its recommendations. The commission will start immediately implementing some of the report’s short-term recommendations (a twinning and exchange programme between African and European agricultural bodies, an AU-EU agribusiness platform and innovation hubs). The two commissioners plan to bring a more substantial action plan to the next meeting of AU/EU agriculture ministers in June. Building support for this agenda among African political leaders is vital.
The simple and powerful statistic that the African workforce will increase by 800 million over the next 30 years, some 27 million annually, highlights the need for decisive political action, at African and European level. The task force’s report makes a compelling case that the agrifood sector and rural economy should be central to such action and at the heart of the relationship between the two continents.
Tom Arnold chaired the European Commission’s Task Force Rural Africa. He is a former chief executive of Concern Worldwide and a former chair of The Irish Times Trust