Statement to the 5th AU-EU Agriculture Ministerial Conference, Rome – 30 June 2023

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African civil society organizations and people’s movements have come together to address our concerns related to food and agriculture in Africa. We highlight the historical imbalance in relations between Europe and Africa, where African perspectives are often sidelined.

Our organizations and movements have actively participated in past AU-EU initiatives but we express dissatisfaction with the outcomes, particularly regarding growing corporate control of our food systems. We call for reorientating discussions between Africa and Europe to genuinely consider African perspectives, especially on food systems, agriculture, fisheries, and land and water usage.

Our collective analysis has led to some important conclusions and recommendations regarding the achievement of food sovereignty in Africa. The AU-EU Partnership needs to give central importance to a shared vision and binding commitments to sustainable, diverse, and rights-based systemic approaches to African and European food systems. These must be rooted in democratic, human-rights based policy frameworks. They must respect the rights of small-scale producers and indigenous peoples, enshrined in the UNDROP (Peasant Rights Declaration) and UNDRIP (Indigenous Peoples Rights Declaration). 

Financing must shift towards the peasant agroecological transition,  phasing out toxic farming inputs, and promoting truly sustainable alternatives to soil health and fertility, biodiversity and pest management, all ultimately aimed at strengthening our pillars of food sovereignty rather than investing in the globalized agro-industrial model, thereby reducing Africa’s dependency on food imports. 

Building food systems that are sustainable and resilient requires decisive promotion and amplification of bio-fertilizer production (reducing dependence on imported toxic fertilizers), farmer-managed seed systems, territorial markets, family farming, and protecting peasant seed rights. We denounce GMOs and corporate capture of our seed systems. We call for trade justice that protects our territorial food systems from imports which undercut local products. 

This agroecological transition provides a unifying vision needed to re-orient public strategies related to food systems, offering a way to build policy coherence for development among sectoral policies. Central to this is the promotion of gender equality, inclusivity and the integration of youth in territorial food systems, empowering women and youth as key actors in food production.

It is urgent that we stop land and resource grabbing, and protect access to and control by African peoples. Governments in Africa and in Europe must address the structural causes of migration and conflict. Participatory and inclusive approaches are crucial for this.

We emphasize the need for inclusive and equitable approaches that prioritize local knowledge and resources. This calls for meaningful engagement with people’s organizations and civil society in decision-making processes. The goal is to build resilient, sustainable, and localized food systems in Africa, prioritising justice, food sovereignty, and the right to food. By addressing the real needs and concerns of the African people, Africa can lead the transition to sustainable food systems through peasant agroecology. 

As we celebrate the rising common vision among the people of our two continents, we urge African and European governments to take charge of the food sovereignty of the two continents and work towards a more equitable, prosperous, and sustainable future for all. Our statement identifies actionable recommendations in this direction.

  1. Preamble

We, networks of African peasants, fisherfolk, pastoralists, agricultural workers, urban and rural food insecure, consumers, indigenous peoples, women, youth, faith communities and civil society, have come together to exchange and discuss the situation and concerns related to food that we are experiencing now in our territories, our countries and our different regions in Africa. 

Relations between Europe and Africa have historically been imbalanced, often with African perspectives and concerns overlooked in dialogues and policy formulations. African people’s organizations and civil society have actively participated in numerous initiatives, including the 2019 Task Force Rural Africa (TFRA), the AU-EU Agriculture Ministerial Conferences of 2019 and 2021, and the Sixth EU-AU Summit of 2022. We have expressed our concerns about the inadequacy of these outcomes in addressing some of the major issues confronting Africa today, such as the corporate concentration and takeover of food systems, which threatens Africa’s environmental and nutritional health. On the occasion of the Fifth AU-EU Agriculture Ministerial Conference on 30th June 2023, African civil society and people’s organizations are voicing a powerful call for change. We call for re-orienting the discussions between the continents to genuinely consider African perspectives, especially the pressing issues related to food, agriculture, and land usage in Africa. As the primary actors of food production and security in Africa, we strongly call on our governments to engage with us to truly take charge of the food sovereignty of our continent. 

  1. Introduction

African countries are affected by structural inequalities introduced from the time of colonisation and reinforced by neoliberal policies. Our countries suffer today from food import dependency and unsustainable levels of debt which gravely affect the governments’ abilities to put effective social protection and people-centred development measures in place. The COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war have added significant new stresses and further exposed the fragility of global supply chains. Africa is paying the heaviest price of climate change that it has done least to generate. Extractivism and corporate resource grabbing are expanding, and armed conflicts are multiplying. These conditions are the breeding ground for the frustration and despair of the youth and their engagement in dangerous and illicit routes of survival. Women are particularly affected, and their burden is compounded by gender-based violence and inequalities.

This situation has further exposed the urgent need for profound change towards more resilient, sustainable, localized and equitable forms of provisioning healthy and nutritious food based on principles of justice, the right to food, and food sovereignty, which enhance the local know-how and resources in the territories and the different countries. Small-scale family-based producers and territorially-embedded provisioning arrangements are already responsible for most of the food consumed in Africa. With appropriate support, they could do an even better job of nourishing Africa’s cities and caring for the continent’s land, seeds and biodiversity.    African governments are increasingly calling for breaking dependency on food imports. However, most of them are implementing, at the same time, an agenda of ‘modernizing’ African agriculture by concentrating investments in specialized export-oriented commodities, based on corporate seeds and technologies that destroy our continent’s capacities and possibilities to limit food dependency effectively. This tendency risks reinforcement by European policies and programmes that prioritize large-scale business interests over Africa’s agriculture and food systems.

The Fifth AU-EU Agriculture Ministerial Conference has selected ‘Resilient food systems and sustainable agri value chains’ as its theme. In our view, it could have better been phrased: ‘Attaining food sovereignty: sustainable, inclusive, equitable and resilient food and agriculture systems and sustainable local consumption’. Nonetheless, we feel that the current situation could be improved by appropriate action in the four areas on which the Conference will concentrate:  sustainable investment, research and innovation, climate resilience, and regional trade integration. We hope and expect that our recommendation will be considered in the discussions and decision-making of the Conference. African civil society and people’s organizations believe that by addressing the real needs and concerns of the African people, Africa can lead the world in the transition to sustainable food systems through peasant agroecology, helping to build a more equitable, prosperous, and sustainable future for all.

  1. Recommendations to achieve food security and food sovereignty in Africa. 

3.1 Ensure that sustainable, diverse and rights-based food and agriculture be given central importance in the AU-EU Partnership.

Family farming provides up to 80% of the food consumed in sub-Saharan Africa, according to FAO figures, maintains its biodiversity and creates employment and wealth. Yet small-scale producers do not receive the support they need to perform their functions. African governments do not respect the Malabo commitments, and the consumer is not at the centre of debates. Yet national food systems could become the central motor of economic, social and environmental development with proper attention and support.

We regret the fact that food and agriculture and food systems received no specific mention in the final declaration of the 6th EU-AU Summit and only marginal attention in the investment packages at the heart of the Partnership, despite the importance of this sector in providing food, employment, social protection, defence of biodiversity and the environment, and other common goods. 

  • The Fifth AU-EU Agriculture Ministerial Conference and the AU-EU Ministerial Follow-Up Committee should take steps to enhance the centrality of food and agriculture in the AU-EU Partnership and investment packages, building on the recommendations in this statement. An inclusive task force on issues related to Food Sovereignty and Security should be established alongside existing AU-EU expert dialogues on energy, infrastructure and science, technology and innovation.

3.2 Support democratic policy decision-making rooted in a human rights framework.

Producers’ rights are essential to build resilience and long-term adaptation to climate change. Sustaining their livelihoods, developing territorial markets and ensuring food security and sovereignty requires respecting their rights to participate in decision-making on policies affecting their lives, land, and livelihoods. Transparent, inclusive, self-organized participation by civil society – particularly those sectors most affected – is essential to ensure the legitimate and effective functioning of the AU-EU Partnership.

  • The AU-EU Partnership should respect existing international frameworks to which all parties have subscribed, including the UN Decade for Family Farming (UNDFF), the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP). 
  • We strongly recommend the enactment of the proposed Civil Society mechanism for engagement with the AU EU Partnership, which African and European CSOs have developed in follow-up to the AU-EU Summit, and the promotion of consultation frameworks and accountability mechanisms involving civil society actors for monitoring public commitments and financing mechanisms aimed at supporting and guiding the development of the food and agriculture sector. Ensure, as of now, that our organizations and movements participate meaningfully in discussion and decision-making on national and regional plans and programmes promoted through the AU-EU Partnership. Operationalize this, for example, by devoting 30 percent of work for peasant agroecology under an inclusive task force set up to address food sovereignty and food security related issues.
  • Defend the inclusive multilateral intergovernmental UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) against the threats of corporate capture of global food governance through multistakeholder approaches which allow participation in policy decision-making by those very economic interests whose power needs to be regulated. 
  • Support the Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights and abrogate the Investor State Dispute Settlement to strengthen the power of the public sphere against that of corporations. 

3.3 Shift financing towards the agroecological transition and reduce African dependency on food imports.

The corporate industrial agricultural model has failed. It does not nourish us but continues destroying the environment and small-scale producers’ livelihoods. Yet the EU dedicates only a tiny percentage of its agricultural budget to transformative agroecological approaches while the bulk of the funding supports conventional agriculture. 

The AU EU Partnership should adopt a more inclusive and equitable approach aimed at mitigating the current crises and envisaging a future that is resilient to climate change, values indigenous knowledge and practices, supports sustainable farming, and promotes food sovereignty. The focus is on agroecology, which combines traditional knowledge and scientific innovation, as the way forward for resilient and sustainable food systems in Africa. The AU EU Partnership should seek to reduce African dependency on food imports by promoting peasant agroecological food production with a holistic approach at local, national and regional levels rather than investing in the globalized agro-industrial development model.

  • Make full information on all specific funding schemes under the Global Gateway initiative publicly available.
  • Redesign EU investment policies, Global Gateway, and public development finance to include a target of 30 percent on funding for agroecological transition. Ensure funds are made accessible to small-scale farmers’ organizations for food security/sovereignty and climate adaptation. 
  • Strengthen existing programmes supporting agroecology, as in the ECOWAS region; set up an AU-EU task force on Agroecology to discuss findings and challenges identified in African small-scale producers’ practices and in AU and EU research and programmes on peasant agroecological approaches and practices.
  • Conduct an evaluation of the comparative impacts in terms of food security /sovereignty and reducing dependency on food imports of using public funds to support small-scale producers or to de-risk and entice corporate agri-business investments.
  • The EU should lead the way in the G20 in finding ways to cancel African debt and should avoid adopting financing systems that increase it. 

3.4 Promote farmer-managed seed systems! 

Peasant seed systems are among the collective peasant rights. They are a primary component of the entire food system and determine which type of agriculture will be developed, particularly regarding peasant agroecology. Worldwide, 90 percent of seeds come from peasants’ seed systems, and their professional agricultural activity of selecting, choosing, and producing peasant seeds is key to local communities’ resilience and climate adaptation. Peasant and small-scale food producers need a specific legal framework that decriminalises the use of farm-saved peasant seeds. Farmers and peasants need to have access to locally adapted quality seeds, by building a proportionate and adequate regime for the exchange and/or marketing of seeds belonging to varieties or populations that are not distinct, uniform and stable, and that are adapted to local conditions and based on peasant agroecological practices. Current EU and African seed policies must be reformed to halt instead of causing loss of agrobiodiversity,  legislative frameworks that support peasant seed systems must be put in place, and corporate-friendly policies inspired by UPOV principles must be rejected.

  • Incorporate farmers’ rights to seeds into national seed policies, as stipulated in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture – ITPGRFA (now recognized in UNDROP).
  • Decriminalize the use of peasant seeds, farmers’ collective seed rights, and their seed systems in legal seed frameworks.
  • Ensure that peasant seed systems are outside of the scope of (commercial) seed marketing rules. 
  • Support the call on EU seed marketing reform to provide for specific adapted rules including the diversification of seed market offers adapted to the needs of peasants. 
  • Protect peasant seeds from biopiracy.
  • Adopt and enforce a legal framework that promotes peasant seed systems in the national State patrimony of natural resources to protect them against all forms of patentability.
  • Refuse the use of GMOs and all other associated biotechnologies in food and agriculture; suspend existing free trade treaties which introduce the use of homologated seeds using CRISPR technology.

3.5 Phase out highly hazardous pesticides (HHP) and other dangerous chemicals such as herbicides. Respect the human right to a healthy environment, healthy food, and safe and healthy work.  

Pesticide manufacturers sell and export highly hazardous pesticides to developing and emerging countries where regulations are weaker, and risks are higher. Soybeans, rice, maize and cotton – all grown in Africa – are associated with the highest use of HHPs. WHO task force data on Acute Pesticide Poisoning records about 385 million cases occurring annually. 

  • Phase out highly hazardous pesticides to significantly reduce the burden of human poisoning by pesticides, as recommended by the FAO Council in its Guidelines on Highly Hazardous Chemicals from 2016.
  • Develop integrated biological pest management as an alternative to toxic pesticides.
  • End export double standards on HHPs as announced in the 2020 EU Chemical Strategy for Sustainability.
  • Institute regulatory frameworks and appropriate controls for Highly Hazardous Chemicals. Ensure robust and performing sanitary and phytosanitary governance system at the African continental level to ensure robust monitoring of the sale and use of pesticides and hazardous chemicals.  
  • Ensure rigorous monitoring of the sale and use of pesticides and hazardous chemicals, respecting the Maximum Residue Levels of pesticides. 
  • Support the call to include a new Annex VIII on hazardous chemicals in the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade that implies explicit consent from the importing country trading dangerous chemicals.
  • Write the human right to safe and healthy work into domestic law as agreed in the ILO Convention 155.
  • Enact strict measures in the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive to guarantee that EU-based companies respect human rights and the environment in all the countries where they operate. 
  • Invite members of the Agroecology Coalition to share and compare research and practices on pest management. 

3.6 Promote bio-fertilizer production and phase out imported chemical fertilizers.

Synthetic fertilizers cause nitrate pollution and depend on high energy use. They kill beneficial microorganisms, leach into groundwater, increase toxicity, and cause damage to respiratory systems. Plants that grow in overly fertilised soils are nutrient deficient. As farmers struggle to cope with increased fertilizer prices, the world’s nine largest fertiliser companies are making record profits, up more than fourfold in 2022 as compared with two years earlier.

  • Rapidly replace chemical fertilizers with agroecological bio-inputs and organic fertilizers, taking advantage of the current scarcity of imported chemical fertilizers as an opportunity for African countries to promote domestic bio/agroecological-fertilizer production rather than increasing their indebtedness by taking out loans to finance continued dependence on fertilizer imports.
  • Prioritize productivity gains generated by peasant agroecological approaches and by reducing food loss and waste.
  • Acknowledge and exchange good practices such as Malawi’s experiences with agroforestry and intercropping, as compared with its negative experience with synthetic fertilizer subsidies resulting in high dependency on expensive inputs without significant long-term productivity gains while ignoring local agroecological soil conditions.
  • Invite members of the Agroecology Coalition to share and compare soil fertility management and crop fertilization practices.

3.7 Block land and resource grabbing and ensure access to and control by African peoples.

Land is the first vital resource on which small-scale food producers depend for their livelihoods, especially women. Agroecological food systems depend on sustainable land management. Resource extraction and dispossession of peasants from their land promotes deep inequality in developing economies. Securing community and family lands will bring diversity back to the land. The goals of moving away from standardised, uniform monocultures, halting deforestation, preventing land degradation, and regenerating African soils through agroecological practices must guide public investment policies to contribute to reducing poverty and improving living conditions and social peace. 

  • Immediately end financing Large-Scale Land Acquisition projects and speculative investments by public finance and development banks. Ensure that no taxpayer money ends up in land grabs. 
  • Support land laws to secure communities’ land assets, based on the AU’s land policy initiative, the  CFS/FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure (2012) and the UNCCD, particularly the decision 26/COP.14.    
  • Respect the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) in all finance measures, in line with public development finance guidelines.; incorporate FPIC into domestic laws and ensure effective follow-up on implementation measures.
  • Provide communities with access to justice in cases of adverse human rights impacts or social and environmental damages caused by private entities or public development bank investments. 
  • Stop criminalizing defenders of land, water, seeds and natural resources, including communities and, on the contrary, protect them. 
  • Revise Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, whose approaches contribute to reinforcing the commercialization of natural resources, including land, to the detriment of communities.

3.8 Promote territorial markets and family farming for territorial food systems.

Territorial markets, as compared with agribusiness-led value chains, can advance food sovereignty and women’s economic inclusion and strengthen rural economies by retaining the value added in the territories. Urgent decisions on which crops, staples, and food processing and provisioning arrangements African countries focus on in their national action plans are key to markets that incentivize the adoption of agroecological practices and unleash the potential of equal economic opportunities. 

  • Develop coherent and inclusive cross-sectoral food strategies linking urban and rural areas with pertinent and adequate infrastructure, making it possible for African producers to continue to supply territorial markets and cover most of the needs of urban people and local industry with healthy and nutritious food.
  • Effectively protect territorial food markets from imports that compete with and undercut local products.
  • Promote public procurement policies and food reserves that privilege local agroecological sourcing to ensure healthy diets and improve women’s and small-scale food producers’ livelihoods.
  • Promote regional market integration in ways that promote territorial food markets and agroecological pathways rather than enhancing access of European economic interests to a hastily constructed AfCFTA.

3.9 Promote gender equality and empowerment of women

Women are the main food producers and the key actors of family food security in Africa, yet they continue to be discriminated against in terms of access to land, finance, training and other resources. They also suffer from gender-based violence in the family, a deplorable situation that was exacerbated by the Covid 19 pandemic.

  • All activities and investments undertaken in the context of the AU-EU Partnership and all implementation of the recommendations put forward in this statement should be subjected to analysis through a gender lens to ensure that they enhance, rather than worsen, the agency, empowerment and livelihoods of women.

3.10 Address the structural causes of migration and conflict

A ‘partnership of equals’ between Africa and Europe will require a participatory, inclusive and rights-based approach that incorporates African priorities on free movement and involves civil society and people’s organizations in the entire process, from policy and programme design to implementation and monitoring.   

  • Recognize that using European cooperation funds to stem migration to Europe is not constructive and that addressing the root causes of migration requires redressing the impoverishment of rural communities and family farms that has left the majority of Africa’s youth without a sufficiently solid economic and social basis on which to construct their futures.
  • In developing migration policies and programmes, ensure priority voice for young people and family farmer organizations, who are most interested in providing their youth with meaningful livelihood options in their places of origin.
  • Include the respect of the international humanitarian law in conflict-affected countries, given the risk of fossil fuels and raw material extraction acting as a driver of armed conflicts. 
  • The EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive should specify that all companies must conduct conflict-sensitive due diligence focusing on FPIC on land when operating in high-risk areas.

3.11 Ensure Policy Coherence for Development

Experience demonstrates that lack of coherence among sectoral policies such as agriculture, trade, energy, environment and others can have devastating impacts on food security and sovereignty objectives in Europe, Africa and the relations between the two regions. Maintaining coherence among sectoral policies, and between short-term responses to crisis and longer-term transformational change, must be at the centre of the AU-EU Partnership’s efforts in food and agriculture.

The statement emphasizes the need for inclusive and equitable approaches that prioritize local knowledge and resources. It calls for meaningful engagement with civil society and people’s organizations in decision-making processes. The goal is to build resilient, sustainable, and localized food systems in Africa, prioritising justice, the right to food, and food sovereignty. 

African civil society believes that by addressing the real needs and concerns of the African people, Africa can lead the transition to sustainable food systems through peasant agroecology. The statement urges African governments to take charge of the food sovereignty of the continent and work towards a more equitable, prosperous, and sustainable future for all.

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This statement was prepared by a task force of African civil society organisations:

  • Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA)
  • Biodiversity and Biosafety Kenya (BIBA Kenya)
  • East & Southern Africa Small-scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF)
  • Global Convergence of Struggles for Land and Water in West Africa (CGLTE-AO)
  • Habitat International Coalition (HIC)
  • Institut Panafricain pour la Citoyenneté, les Consommateurs et le Développement (CICODEV Africa)
  • L’Institut de recherche et de promotion des alternatives en developpement (IRPAD)
  • La Via Campesina Southern and Eastern Africa (LVC SEA)
  • Network of Farmers’ and Agricultural Producers’ Organizations of West Africa (ROPPA) 
  • Plateforme Régionale des Organisations Paysannes d’Afrique Centrale (PROPAC)
  • African CSIPM Popular Consultation Space

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