UNITED NATIONS, Aug 06 (IPS) – Gilbert Bor runs a small farm in the highlands of western Kenya. The landscapes are hilly, the roads of the village lined with pines, its cows mostly of Friesian breed. He gets up every day at 6 a.m. to lead his animals through the woods to the valley below.
Most of the farmers in and around his village in Kapseret grow maize or beans for their livelihood. But that’s about to change, says Bor.
Regional authorities in East Africa have started promoting cash crops like avocados and coffee to increase Kenyan exports to the European Union and China. At the same time, local farmers are also getting organized, says Bor. Her own community has collectively invested in a milk tank to strengthen its position in regional dairy markets.
“For products like coffee, mangoes or peanuts, Europe is an important market,” Bor explains enthusiastically. “Crops exported from Kenya are exempt from taxation in Europe. This also applies to exports to Europe from Ghana, Nigeria and French-speaking countries.
The EU is a global agricultural power. The block of 27 countries feeds a constant flow of processed foods, grains, dairy products and meats into the global market while importing large amounts of raw materials like soybeans, sugarcane or palm oil , tropical vegetables and fruits like avocados.
Keeping an eye on EU policies
Globalization makes markets more accessible to farmers like Mr. Bor. He says: “Almost all EU countries buy Kenyan agricultural products. Who benefits the most will depend on what countries like Germany or the Netherlands decide. African farmers need to watch European policymakers more closely.
In particular, African farmers should keep an eye on the evolution of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which was designed in 1962 to provide affordable food to its people after World War II.
Under the CAP, the EU has become so efficient that surpluses have accumulated. The authorities subsequently introduced export refunds, paying international traders the difference between high EU domestic prices and lower world market prices.
These subsidies put pressure on food prices around the world, causing adverse effects on African agricultural economies.
However, the EU scrapped its trade-distorting subsidies in 2017. A year later, the EU Parliament, for the very first time, commissioned a study on the impact of the CAP around the world.
“In recent years, we have seen progress in better aligning agriculture with international development goals,” says Maria Blanco, senior author at the Technical University of Madrid, Spain.
However, the mere increase in international trade in agricultural products would not automatically lead to better incomes for African farmers, experts say.
If left unchecked, this trade could damage the environment, lead to displacement of local populations or human rights violations.
Ms Blanco warns: “Importing sugar cane from outside Europe would create economic activity in the south of the planet. But imports of raw materials from developing countries can also lead to land grabbing or environmental pollution.
The basic products are usually grown in large plantations. Once the money starts pouring in, the stakes, economically and politically, are increased, putting small farmers at risk. The shift to industrial-style agriculture usually puts enormous pressure on the environment in terms of chemical use, deforestation, or water pollution.
Research by the ARC2020 think tank and the German NGO Heinrich Böll Stiftung shows that EU agricultural policy is creating ripple effects around the world.
Trade deals with Honduras, for example, have concentrated the banana trade in the hands of a few multinationals while demand for grains and soybeans in Europe encourages control of land in Central Asia.
Despite the positive outlook, African farmers are under relentless pressure from EU exports. After markets inside Europe were inundated with milk after the bloc abandoned its quota system in 2015, Dutch and German producers quickly looked for other export opportunities.
Global dairy players like Danone or FrieslandCampina have increased their processing capacities in West Africa. FrieslandCampina’s subsidiary, WAMCO, controls as much as 75 percent of the milk market in Nigeria.
In Ghana, the increase in frozen chicken exports, from 13,000 metric tonnes in 2003 to 175,000 in 2019, has affected local production.
Over 90 percent of chicken meats in supermarkets in Ghana are imported from the United States or the EU.
“Poultry has the highest turnover and its short production cycle is intended to generate income for farmers in Ghana. But European exports of frozen chickens negatively affect our own meat industry ”, worries poultry farmer Anthony Akunzule.
Africa’s free trade area
The new African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) could boost the efforts of African farmers to compete with the EU. The trade deal, which eliminates tariffs between African countries by 90 percent and tackles customs delays, could boost intra-African trade in agriculture.
European agricultural policy professor Alan Matthews of Trinity College Dublin says attention is rightly distracting from the idea that the CAP alone is responsible for Africa’s agricultural woes.
Mr Mathews said African governments had not prioritized investing in rural areas, although most experts now believe the AfCFTA will be a game-changer for Africa’s development.
What African farmers need are favorable policies and actions in Europe and Africa, says Bor. For now, he says, “the opportunities are all there for small farmers like me, mainly in the organic niche.
Source: Africa Renewal, United Nations
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© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service