As Europe and Africa agree their new partnership areas, agriculture will be key for Africa. For the sector to be an engine for sustainable development, generating inclusive and environmentally sustainable growth, the partnership needs to adapt the EUs Green Deal to the realities of Africa. Sustainable agronomic inputs, including synthetic and organic pesticides, are needed in Africa. The partnership must, however, focus on improved outputs. That is to say – an improved state of the environment, improved food systems and improved food security.
Fueling sustainable development through agriculture
Agriculture is the largest sector in Africa accounting for over 50% of the jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa alone. Yet, the average farm in Africa only performs at 40% of its potential. Eighty-four percent do not use agro-chemicals. Studies have found that by increasing productivity on farms, one immediately increases the incomes and livelihoods of about 60-70% of people. Studies also suggest that in Africa, for every 10% increase in farm yields, poverty falls by 7%.
Getting the sustainable growth agenda right in agriculture is essential. Africa is home to more than half of the world’s population facing food insecurity and yet is also the world’s fastest growing continent. Currently, Africa is the second largest continent in the world accounting for almost 17% of the world’s population. Africa’s population increases by roughly that of France every 2 years. By 2040, Africa will be home to the world’s largest labour force.
Sustainable technologies can protect and improve food security, incomes as well as the state of our environment. Nowadays, we are seeing European friends focus on the perceived need to reduce agricultural inputs. Yet, studies suggest that enforcing top-down reduction of inputs in Africa everywhere will only leave Africa worse off.
Studies done by a range of groups including the European Commission’s own study, one by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one by Kiel University, one by Wageningen University researchers and one by Egerton University’s Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy & Development of Kenya, all show that reducing pesticide use will lead to higher food prices and lower yields. A report from independent think tank European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) titled “A greener Europe at the expense of Africa?” also shows that there could be unintended consequence of worsening food poverty in Africa and increasing global warming outside the EU.
Innovating solutions to evolving challenges
The world’s leading research and innovation companies are striving to bring sustainable technologies to farmers, that increase yields sustainably, and to train farmers on the correct and safe use of technologies. As an industry, and together with local governments and technical institutes, and distributors and cooperatives, we are also giving agronomic advice so that yields that benefit the farmers, local communities and consumers, and the environment, can thrive hand in hand. Good agronomic practices like crop rotation and soil restoration, coupled with yield enhancing technologies that increase the health of a plant’s roots can help reverse soil erosion for example – a major threat to the sustainable future of our planet. We are also helping increase pollinators on farms, helping safely dispose of waste and helping connect farmers to market.
Technologies can help agriculture become more resilient to the realities of climate change and the evolving pests and diseases that keep threatening food security and livelihoods. These technology offerings can range from seeds that are more resilient to droughts for example, to those that are more resilient to the devastating Fall Armyworm. Crop protection and seed technologies are building resilience into our food systems.
The climate in Africa is causing Fall Armyworm to be a year-long challenge (cool, wet springs followed by warm, humid weather favor survival and reproduction of the pest). Based on 2018 estimates from 12 African countries, up to 17.7 million tons of a staple crop of maize, could be lost annually due to Fall Armyworm on that continent – enough to feed tens of millions of people. Overall, pests like Fall Armyworm and Desert Locusts, while not present in Europe, threaten the food security and livelihoods of over 300 million people in Africa every year. Technology, specifically good quality seeds and crop protection products, synthetic and organic, can help effectively tackle these challenges in an always more sustainable way.
Partnering for impact
The necessary sustainable future cannot be made a reality by any single actor alone. Public private partnerships are needed. Billions of dollars of investments are needed to achieve sustainable development, and that needs to be coupled with an enabling regulatory environment, policies that deliver, and rapid implementation.
Around 60% of the world’s arable land is in Africa, but Africa is also home to the Congo Rainforest – the world’s second-largest rainforest that straddles six countries in Central Africa. What nobody wants to see is lower input use leading to an increasing amount of land being used for cultivation to try to meet growing demands, and that in turn to increase deforestation. A green agenda for Africa must capitalise on the potential of sustainable technologies – increasing the access to these technologies and eradicating illicit and counterfeit seed and crop protection (synthetic and organic pesticide) products that pose a risk to human health and the environment.
My message is a simple one. Agricultural inputs and technology can and should be a core part of delivering sustainable development in African agriculture. Farmers on this continent have to manage pests, diseases and climatic conditions that require a broad range of effective tools, and it’s a shared endeavour to ensure that they have these tools, have access to high value overseas markets and use products in safe and sustainable ways.
Jerome Barbaron is President of CropLife Africa Middle East.