Farm to Fork risks hurting the global south

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The strategy ignores the suffering of smallholder farmers and could create economic catastrophe for the Global South, writes Dayo Israel.

On 20 May the European Commission adopted one of the European Green Deal’s key initiatives: the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy . The Strategy is meant to demonstrate the EU’s commitment to fighting global warming in the agricultural sector by creating more just and environmentally friendly food systems.

However, environmental organisations have attacked the strategy for overlooking the main driver of global deforestation: industrial farming. Indeed, cattle farming, which is responsible for a disproportionate amount of global CO2 emissions, was curiously absent from the strategy, something that undeniably benefits the EU’s own cattle-farming industry (the EU is the world’s third largest beef producer, producing nearly 13 percent of all beef).

If the EU claims to be on the forefront of the global climate battle, how can it ignore industrial animal farming completely. Unsurprisingly, the F2F initiative has been critiqued as a thinly veiled attempt at agricultural protectionism.

But the negative impact for developing nations could be multiplied. The  Commission has proposed incorporating these Farm-to-Fork priorities into collaborations with third countries between 2021-2027. This is simply not enough time for nations in the Global South, still reeling from COVID-19, to make the seismic changes necessary to maintain trade with the EU. It certainly seems that the EU’s new strategy will advantage the ‘forks’ in Europe over the ‘farms’ in developing countries.

The net result of this policy will be to force those nations to diversify their agricultural exports and reach new trading partners (instead of the EU) that possess lower environmental standards, thereby undermining the very trade-leverage the EU uses to incentivise more sustainable practices worldwide.

In the case of my own country, Nigeria, F2F will likely hamstring our government’s plans to boost agricultural exports under its Economic Recovery and Growth Plan; something Nigeria desperately needs given the harsh economic impact of COVID-19. In particular, the short time frame will negatively impact local producers, who will be unable to meet the standards imposed, without consideration or consultation, by the EU. And Nigeria is not alone in being harmed by this EU protectionist strategy. Among the 54 nations of the Commonwealth, many are significant exporters to Europe and have deep and complex trade relationships with the EU.

Take the case of Malaysia, which has committed to transitioning to a 100 percent sustainable palm oil production, while also supporting small-scale farmers in meeting these new standards and accessing markets. Instead of acknowledging this progress and working to resolve any concerns, the EU has called for a ban on palm oil imports; effective from this year.

But by banning palm oil with no regards to environmental standards, the EU risks not only the sustainability of its food value chain but also puts palm oil farmers at risk. The COVID-19 crisis has put on a huge strain on smallholder farmers. The crashing crude oil prices have made palm biodiesel less competitive, and this year alone palm oil prices have fallen 30 percent, an all-time low. For many smallholder farmers the crisis has wiped out all the profits and the deep downturn will be difficult to recover from.

Rather than bans and unilateral policy declarations, the EU should find ways to work that enhance existing ties with Nigeria, Malaysia and other Commonwealth countries. This will make sustainable energy and food production more competitive and cleaner.

As the Coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated, the EU cannot go it alone. It must open dialogue with countries in Asia and Africa; working towards the same objective of a more sustainable future. It’s time for the EU to think about more than just its own farms and forks.

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