African food systems and the EU Farm to Fork Strategy: (un)intended impacts?
The final session of 2021, which took place on 30 November, was virtually organized by foodFIRST and ECDPM. This concerned the second policy dialogue in our series on the external effects of the EU’s Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy. Our first session discussed the impact study of the US Department of Agriculture, which analyzed the economic consequences of several proposed targets in the F2F strategy based on three strategy adoption scenarios, finding a reduction in global agriculture production, higher food prices, less trade, and increased global food insecurity by 2030, particularly in Africa. Read our report of the first session with USDA here.
This session focused on the implications of greening Europe for Africa’s food systems, its food security and its smallholder farmers. Given the interconnectedness of the trade and food systems on both continents, we want to have a discussion about the (un)intended impacts for Africa and policy responses to any spillover effects of the F2F strategy. So as to promote this objective foodFIRST has teamed up with ECDPM.
Speakers for this session are Koen Dekeyser, Policy Officer ECPDM and co-author of the thought-provoking briefing note “A greener Europe at the expense of Africa” and Professor Ken Giller, renowned agroecologist and Professor Plant Production Systems within WaCASA (the Wageningen Centre for Agroecology and Systems Analysis) whose research has focused primarily on smallholder farming systems in sub-Sahara Africa. The session will be chaired by Gabriéla Versteeg, Manager Agri-advice at Agriterra.
Koen Dekeyser outlined the projected impacts of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy on African food systems and made policy recommendations to prevent and mitigate potential negative spillover effects. These projected impacts and limitations of the F2F strategy, for example, were discussed in USDA and other institutions' research. Implementing the F2F strategy's specific targets will provide significant environmental benefits to Europe, such as reduced GHG emissions, lower ammonia levels, and increased forestation. However, the various research models agree that the F2F strategy would result in less European production. If demand remained constant, this would result in more European imports and fewer exports. As a result, global food prices will rise, as will food insecurity, particularly on the African continent. A geographical shift in agricultural production, primarily to Latin America and Africa, will also occur, resulting in GHG leakages and biodiversity pressures in these regions. Over time, investments in productivity improvements could close the gap created by the F2F strategy in reduced production, but studies show that this would take an average of 27 years. However, the outcomes of these models may differ if dietary changes are taken into account; however, in order to make dietary changes, such as less meat consumption, possible, there must be a wide-ranging change, strong incentives, the right EU tools in place (info, procurement, standards, subsidies etc.), and a strong aligned ambition from EU Member States. Because the EU has generally more competencies to influence the production side of the food system rather than the demand side or dietary change, it appears that this would also be the case for the F2F strategy, so it is possible that these models – which also focus more on the production side – that their findings may occur.
So, what does this mean for the sustainability of African food systems? There are already a number of strong pressures on African food systems as a result of population growth and dietary change, climate-related shocks, conflict, economic shocks from the COVID-19 pandemic, and low productivity but increasing yield and land expansion. International trade is essential element for African food systems sustainability and reliance, even with strong productivity improvement, projections show that Africa would be more import dependent by 2050. With the F2F strategy, there would be less EU imports (especially cereals, dairy and poultry) and F2F measures would impact competitiveness. Food prices and the cost of compliance for African farmers with high export standards for food will increase, as this is what F2F aims. Africa imports a great deal from Europe; it is natural to assume that Africa can simply increase its imports from Latin America, which it already does. Too much reliance on a single region would raise concerns about sustainability (Latin-America already faces threats to biodiversity from agricultural production) and resilience (being dependent on a select group’s trading structure, agricultural policy and their eco-zones). Perhaps it will provide a boost to intra-African trade, which is still far below its potential.
Dekeyser made several policy recommendations, including inclusion and partnership with those most impacted, possibly even advocating for an Africa-specific green deal. The EU should also assess and monitor not only the domestic effects of the F2F strategy, but also the external impacts on other food systems, in order to be consistent with the F2F strategy's domestic and global ambition. Through dietary changes, the EU could avert negative spillovers. Additionally, the EU could mitigate negative spillovers and protect by investing in food systems research and assisting exporting SMEs in meeting the imposed high food standards. Dekeyser called for an inclusive public food debate that discusses the trade-offs while acknowledging the complexity and contextual factors.
Ken Giller argued that a continued focus on food production in Africa is needed to address hunger and poverty, as global food production for Africa cannot meet SDG1 and SDG2. Giller started his presentation with outlining the danger of increasing food prices on food security and poverty in sub-Sahara Africa. He zoomed in on the challenges of transforming African food systems such as the rapid growth of population in sub-Sahara Africa and that crop yields remain low in Africa. There is an immediate need to boost agricultural production, which may present opportunities for smallholder farmers. Giller underlined that while rising food prices will affect both rural and urban poor, current yield gaps represent a significant opportunity for increasing food production in Africa, and agricultural development is a proven strategy for poverty and hunger reduction. The growing population creates a demand for agricultural products in Africa.
African smallholders could produce much more for the African market given the right incentives. Most food in sub-Saharan Africa is produced on small farms. Small and declining farm sizes, due to subdivision, are a critical constraint. Median farm sizes are much less than 2 ha in many locations in sub-Sahara Africa, much smaller than previous estimates. There is a strong interplay between population density, farm size, market access, and agroecological potential on food security and household incomes. Within each location, farm size is a major determinant of food self-sufficiency and a household’s ability to rise above the living income threshold. Nonetheless, despite our best efforts to close yield gaps and push production limits, we will be unable to achieve food self-sufficiency for all households due to farm size and land scarcity. Closing yield gaps will also have some effects but will fall short of achieving the SDG of no poverty, and especially regarding living income. This issue of farm size is critical and often overlooked in discussion. What is required is an increase in productivity to constrain cropland expansion to maintain biodiversity. To accomplish this, we must utilize all available nutrient sources, which means recycling of organic resources combined with balanced fertilizer use.
Giller talked about what he calls the food security conundrum; There is a need for national food security in Africa in terms of affordable and nutritious food for the burgeoning rural and urban populations, recognizing that many rural farmers and SMEs are net consumers rather than producers. Agricultural is major contributor to the balance of payments of African economies and attracts more government’s attention than support for smallholders. Rural households lacks sufficient lands or economic incentives to invest in agriculture and then seek opportunities outside the farm.
Giller’s last point concerns the question of who determines the EU’s research agenda for Africa. EU’s research agenda for Africa is driven very much by European trends and interests, such as the current calls for agroecology to reduce inputs in Africa. However, according to Giller, more inputs are needed to raise yields. These are different starting points that necessitate differing approaches; thus, there is a need for increased local involvement in establishing joint research priorities. Giller argued in this Green Deal that we should take into account Europe's larger ecological footprint when it comes to consumption and greater focus should be given to decreasing the demand.
Both speakers highlighted that while the Farm to Fork strategy focuses primarily on production, more attention to the consumer side, as well as actions to facilitate the transition to healthy and nutritious diets, is required. The discussion itself centered on China’s role in Africa, soil fertility and fertilizers, land productivity and closing the yield gap, Africa's potential for food self-sufficiency and the African Continental Free Trade Area, and the role of other sectors throughout the value chain. Conclusions of the discussion were given by Wilma van Esch, Head food security division of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was concluded that while it is unclear what will happen in the following the implementation of the Farm to Fork strategy, the possibility of negative impacts on smallholder farmers in Africa is likely and should be carefully considered. Smallholders are already under pressure (due to climate change, economic shocks, population growth, and so on), and the risks of higher food prices, higher food export standards, and increased pressure on biodiversity, will exacerbate this pressure. It is critical to keep food security at the top of the agenda in order to avoid leaving anyone behind when discussing environmental arrangements such as the Green Deal and the F2F strategy, as well as to ensure that the SDGs remain aligned. There is no single approach; we require a range of approaches to address the complex challenges and trade-offs, which is why we require sound evidence and locally based research and innovation, as well as policy coherence and social protection. It is critical to continue discussing how we can coordinate these efforts to benefit local stakeholders. Finally, the discussion concluded that we should invest in local African food systems and explore ways for Africa to reclaim ownership.
There is still much to discuss regarding Africa's food systems and EU's policy coherence in areas such as trade, development, and agricultural policies. As a result, another session may be necessary to discuss how African national and regional food systems can be strengthened, made more resilient, and profitable in the face of global external trends such as the Farm to Fork strategy.