EU agricultural policy contradicts its own poverty reduction assistance targets. Photo: Jed Owen / Unsplash

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EU agricultural policy hampers global development

The EU has strong support for its own agriculture and high demands on imported products. This makes it difficult for small-scale farmers around the world to enter the European market. Something that goes against the EU's own aid goals.

Of the 736 million people living below the poverty line, almost 80 percent live in rural areas. The number of people suffering from chronic malnutrition is close to 821 million and has increased since 2014, according to the United Nations Agricultural Fund (IFAD), latest annual report

Henrik Franklin, advisor for Southern and Eastern Africa at IFAD, says that farmers in rural areas in East Africa, for example, often suffer from malnutrition and hunger. This is despite the fact that small-scale farmers are the ones who produce the food. 

With EU assistance, investments are made for development and cooperation in food and agriculture. Among other things, the EU has recently invested EUR 45 million in an IFAD fund that invests in the development of small and medium-sized agricultural enterprises in rural Africa. At the same time, the EU is pursuing an agricultural policy that can counteract this very development.  

Annika Åhnberg, former Member of Parliament and chair of the organization Siani, explains that the EU's agricultural policy - like all agricultural policy - is about creating good conditions for its own agriculture. But politics is changing, she says. 

She believes that today agricultural surpluses are not dumped in other parts of the world to the same extent as in the 90s. 

During that time, EU farmers received financial support based on how much they produced - the larger the production, the more money. This led to the farmers producing as much as they could. In the end, the supply exceeded the demand of European consumers and the goods became unreasonably cheap. The surplus food was then sent to other countries to be sold cheaply or destroyed, but sometimes also as a form of humanitarian aid. Farmers elsewhere in the world were thus outcompeted both at home and in the European market. 

The financial support to EU farmers today is instead based on how much land the farmer owns. According to Annika Åhnberg, there are also problems with this that affect the poorest farmers in particular.

- Only the fact that you have extensive support for your own agriculture means that agriculture elsewhere is disadvantaged, she says.

Agriculture receives 40 percent of the EU budget

Today, 40 percent of the EU's total budget goes to agriculture and agricultural policy is pursued with a goal that the EU should be self-sufficient to some extent. It will also promote a competitive market and benefit the many jobs that the agricultural sector contributes - today around 20 million people in the EU. This financial support for own agriculture, together with strict legislation in the form of trade agreements, leaves many non-member countries out. 

- We have quantitative restrictions for imports, which is one of the more development-inhibiting initiatives we make, says development aid expert Lennart Wohlgemuth.  

These restrictions serve as a ceiling on the amount of agricultural products and foodstuffs allowed to be imported into the EU. Lennart Wohlgemuth, who is also a visiting professor at the Department of Global Studies at the University of Gothenburg, believes that the restrictions lead to non-European agricultural countries being prevented from exporting out of poverty. 

- The idea is that they should sell what they are best at and then buy other things, he explains.

Well-being believes that EU agricultural policy thus hampers the development of poverty in many countries. Like Annika Åhnberg, he says that European agricultural subsidies mean that agriculture in low-income countries competes with the European market. Something that thus runs counter to the goals of development aid policy there Poverty reduction is one of its main objectives.

The EU also has strict rules and requirements for food products such as are difficult for small-scale farmers in rural areas to achieve. This is something that the organization FIAN is trying to get around by supporting, for example, agricultural cooperatives, equivalent to Arla, in these areas. 

The high demands on food products can also have positive consequences. Henrik Franklin further develops the idea that EU requirements, together with high demands from consumers, lead to better products and more sustainable production. By spreading to other markets, both social and ecological sustainability are improved. Annika Åhnberg at Siani also believes that the EU here has the opportunity to take the lead and show the way.

Are there other markets than the European one

Henrik Franklin onpoints out, however, that The most important thing for small-scale farmers, for example in Africa, is financing and access to the marketone - and there are markets other than the European one. The economic development in Africa is enormous, he continues, and rather believe that in the long run it will be European agriculture that will have problems with competition. 

- The basic question is how European agriculture can become competitive, says Henrik Franklin.

The Global South may be the largest consumer today, but other parts of the world will catch up relatively quickly. Henrik Franklin explains that demand for food is expected to increase by 60 percent by 2050. He predicts that more local trade - and that this is the great opportunity in both Europe and Africa in the future. 

Aid expert Lennart Wohlgemuth doubts whether the EU's new long-term budget - which is currently being negotiated - will allow for any cuts in agriculture. The fact that the agricultural sector is such a large employer makes it difficult to implement changes. And many countries are strongly opposed. 

- The most cynical thing is that we have pushed hard against the poorer countries that the only way to get out of poverty is to liberalize their trade. While we ourselves have not liberalized an important part of ours, says Lennart Wohlgemuth. 

He finds it very strange that this contradictory policy has been allowed to go unnoticed. 

But Annika Åhnberg does not think it is a matter of course that the European market should be liberalized, as it can have negative consequences for the environment. If this is to happen, it must be in parallel with work for environmentally friendly development. Then it can give a positive boost.

- It will affect agriculture in other countries as well, she says.

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