As an African farmer and exporter, I know all too well the potential of agricultural trade for the development of my country Kenya and my continent. As the European Union and the African Union prepare to agree on their new joint partnership areas, leaders on both sides of the continent need to ensure that the agri-food standards work in the interest not only of Europeans but also of Africans. The danger otherwise will be the perception is that the EU is imposing its own interest on Africa moving away from a science-led approach to the detriment of Africans. The EU-African partnership needs to deliver a genuine partnership with policy objectives, standards and rules that are in the interest of both continents.
Okisegere Ojepat is the Chief Executive Officer of Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya.
Agriculture is a key industry in Africa accounting for a large portion of jobs and acting as the economic backbone of many countries in the continent. Pest infestations that Europeans do not have to struggle with like Fall Armyworm and Desert Locust infestations impacting key crops for food security like corn and causing a serious risk to food security and to the livelihoods of over 300 million people in Africa.
To put it into perspective, a Desert Locust swarm the size of Rome eats the same as everyone in Kenya, and East Africa has been suffering the worst infestation of locusts in a quarter of a century.
Asking African farmers not to use the necessary technology to manage the threat of current and evolving threats is the ultimate means of asking more Africans to go hungry and be left dependent on aid.
Personally, I would like to see my continent achieve its food production potential sustainably. We have around 60 % of the world uncultivated arable land but we also have some of the world natural beauties that need to be preserved. Agriculture should not be advanced to the detriment of our rainforests that are crucial for climate action, for example. The world’s second-largest rainforest is in the Congo Basin and is deemed crucial for regulating the world’s climate. Sustainable transformative technologies can help protect forestry while enabling Africans like myself to produce more food with existing farming land.
As the EU strives to pursue “green diplomacy” it is important that our European partners strive to support Africa in its efforts to produce more and be the trading partner that Europe needs. We all have growing populations and as a result, a growing demand for food production.
As Europe looks into how it can reduce its own use of pesticides, it is important to remember that Africa’s pesticide use and yields are not comparable to that of Europe. We are not talking about the same starting base. Africa uses less crop protection than Europe. Even in corn, a staple crop in Africa, more crop protection is used per hectare in Europe.
The average African farm performs at only around 40% of its potential, and on present trends, the continent is set to produce only 13% of its needs by 2050. Already in 2019, half of the world’s population facing food insecurity lived in Africa despite the continent containing 60% of the world’s arable land. Studies also suggest that in Africa, for every 10% increase in farm yields, poverty falls by 7%.
As African farmers strive to improve their farming practices to help them produce more, let us not forget that they are not able to rely on tens of billions of Euros of subsidies like their European counterparts.
I would like to see policy objectives, standards and rules improved in my continent but these need to be adapted to the reality of Africa. They also need to reflect our need to make better use of existing land without expanding into forest land. The African Continental Free Trade Area, the world’s largest free trade area, came into force on 1 January. Let’s talk about how our two continents can trade more so that trading opportunities can deliver inclusive and sustainable growth for all. Let’s avoid standards that would leave African’s worse off and fuel resentment. I’m ready for dialogue and positive negotiations like many other African farmers.