The joint meeting of the Commissions of the African Union and of the European Union earlier in April confirmed our common desire to place agriculture at the top of our respective political agendas. The stakes are high if we are to take up the challenge of food security and economic development in rural areas. But to truly achieve results, and finally liberate the 870 million people in the world who are still facing this terrible reality, for rural areas to become centers of growth and employment.
Agriculture must be and remain a priority, not only for the African Union, not only for the European Union, not only for the world’s other major regions, not only for intergovernmental institutions, but also for national, regional and local authorities in each major region. Food safety is everyone’s business.
Taking initiatives, launching local initiatives to fight against food insecurity, is a responsibility for all political and economic leaders in Africa, Europe and beyond.
And this general mobilization should take place over time. The return of agriculture to the spotlight cannot be seen as a one-off temporary crisis lit up by hunger riots in the years 2007/2008 and extinguished at the first rains promising good harvests.
Agriculture is a long-term business, a sector where investments pay off only years later. It is therefore essential to keep a favorable momentum for public and private investment in the agricultural sector on the long-term.
This mobilization must be built up in fields, in villages, in regions. The particularly promising projects I saw in the Dire Dawa region in eastern Ethiopia last month show how important it is to improve the livelihoods of rural populations and how necessary it is to support small farmers first, given that they account for only 60% of African farmers. These projects demonstrate that results are there when efforts are shared and when they are sustainable.
Today, African countries’ determination to address these agricultural issues, notably through the Comprehensive Program for the Development of African Agriculture (CAADP) needs to be translated into more concrete projects.
In 2003, in Maputo, African countries pledged to focus 10% of their budget to the development of agriculture as an engine for growth. With this program, Africa’s commitment is clear. It is now necessary to move to the next step, towards concrete achievements. And for this, Africa can count on the EU’s support.
My colleague Andris Piebalgs and I have underlined the importance of placing agriculture and energy at the heart of the European Assistance Program’s priorities.
For African governments who want to make it a priority in the coming years, for which Europe’s assistance is decided in the coming months, this is a real opportunity – an opportunity to fight against food insecurity, develop rural areas and, ultimately, fight against poverty, for development and for growth.
The EU-Africa Summit in April next year provides a new occasion to reaffirm our commitments and make them concrete, clearly displaying agriculture not only as a political priority, but also as a priority in terms of budget for the development agenda.
Africa has considerable assets, a dynamic population, know-how and resources to be valorized. The EU stands ready to respond, not only as a donor, but also with its experience in agricultural and rural development policies, with technical assistance, when the need and demand arises.
In this context, I welcome the decision of the African Union to make 2014 the year of agriculture and food security. This is a strong signal, which will go hand in hand with the United Nations decision to make 2014 the International Year of Family Farming.
These events will, I believe, highlight that agriculture is not a sector of the past, but an area of progress, provided it is given the means to modernize, to integrate into an agri-food sector, to carry out research and innovation and to turn to quality and added value.
Agriculture is at the centre of a number of tremendous challenges for decades to come, be they demographic, economic, climatic, technological or social. Agriculture is the future.
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