EU will focus on smallholder farmers

In its future policy, the European Union will take the interest of smallholder farmers more into account.

Sometimes, Africa’s population boom is seen as a threat to the future of Europe. Africa’s population will be doubled by 2050. This is one of the reasons the European Commission is reconsidering its cooperation with Africa.

The EU clearly notices the importance of increasing food production in a sustainable way. The focus goes more to change, human development and, of course, migration.

Agriculture is an important focus since many African countries depend for 30 percent of their GDP, sometimes even 50, on agriculture. In some countries, 75 percent of the population depends on agriculture. And all of those countries have a growing population.

Above that, also unemployment is rising. ‘Agriculture has a role to play in the production of food, but also in employment’, told Willi Schulz, head of the unit for Global issues and relations with ACP in the Direct-General AGRI of the European Commission.

He was one of the speakers in the run-up of the presentation of the recommendations of the Task Force for Rural Africa.

There is a huge migration from urban areas to cities, but also to other African countries and finally to Europe, he said. They do not come to Europe at once, there is time to intervene.

One important way is to de-risk agriculture, Leonard Mizzi, said. He is head of Unit at the European Commission, Directorate-General (DG) for International Cooperation and Development. In several programmes from different member states, there is an appetite for investing in digital innovations, energy and other sectors, but agriculture is complex. The African farmer needs it most. The smallholder farmer is squeezed from all sides. From politics, the local market, retail, et cetera.

He can understand this, because the risks are high. It hits on land issues, on water and energy stress. There are many challenges like tentions between pastoralists and smallholder farmers which is evolved because of climate change.

But this is a reason that especially smallholder farmers need support, Mizzi thinks. Also because of the food and nutrition shortages. ‘150 million kids below five are stunted.’

At the same time, there are also obesity problems. So a more diversified diet is needed urgently. ‘And farmers are the weakest link of the value chain.’ And than it comes to issues like access to land. And gender issues. Because many woman who work on  the land don’t get access to that land. ‘We can’t have a sustainable and valuable food chain if we do not involve smallholder farmers.’

Therefore, the EU will allocate more fundings to African platforms for small portfolio’s. In stead of investment starting at € 2 million the EU will make it possible to receive small ticket sizes. ‘And yes, this will be a major challenge for coping with risks’, Mizzi admitted.

So Africa’s population boom might be a threat for Europe, maybe, for African smallholder farmers it might become a bell ringing that is finally heard in Europe.

© Marc van der Sterren

Read also: Agriculture is the number one job creator

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