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December 30, 2010

Europe’s food security challenged by Africa’s growing trade with Asia

by Caroline Henshaw

Africa’s farmers will look to the east for new export markets as growing trade links with Asia trump Europe’s historical ties to the continent, according to a study from an influential Harvard professor.

In his new book, entitled The New Harvest, released on December 2, Professor Calestous Juma argues that with improvements in infrastructure, more sympathetic governments and new biotechnology, Africa could feed itself in a generation and become a major exporter.

But as concerns mount over increasing volatility in world food markets, Europe risks being left behind as a key partner to tap the huge potential of African agriculture.

Juma said, “Africa is going to turn more and more to Asia because of the change in traditional trading patterns.”

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates an extra six million hectares need to be brought under cultivation every year for 30 years to feed an additional 2.3 billion people by 2050. And with sub-Saharan Africa estimated to hold up to 60% of the world’s remaining uncultivated farmland, many expect it to become the driver of world food production.

Mineral-hungry Asian countries have dramatically increased their investments in Africa following the 2007-8 commodities boom, when prices for many products reached record highs. Bilateral trade between China and Africa has grown to more than $100 billion in the past ten years, while direct investment from the Asian giant increased nearly six-fold.

By comparison, Europe’s relationship with Africa has become more aid-centric, Mr. Juma said. The EU is responsible for more than 60% of overseas development aid worldwide, including around €800 million per year to agricultural development in sub-Saharan countries.

“What’s africa’s looking for is know-how, not money.”

Juma noted that other issues such as allowing the use of genetically modified crops, which has “become an ideological position rather than a pragmatic position,” are also barring farmers from accessing the EU’s market.

“If the EU does not change its position to reflect Africa’s interests in the way it designs its policies it is going to lose it as a partner.”

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