One of the highest-profile debates this autumn in European circles concerns glyphosate-based pesticides. The European Commission (EC) met with strong opposition from the European Parliament when it proposed to renew the license for glyphosate-based weed killers for 10 years, (initially the ask was 15 years). The European Parliament (EP) proposes to phase-out its use based on public health and environmental concerns. The EP calls on the EC to respect the precautionary principle, invoking the difference of opinion between the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the European Food Safety Authority related to the carcinogenic risk of these weeds killers to humans.
Similarly, member states were not in agreement as the Council was split; a first vote on the renewal of the license failed, with ten member states voting against. However, two weeks before the deadline of 15 December, the expiry date of the current license, an agreement was reached in the Council following discussions in the Appeal Committee. A narrow, qualified majority (10 in favour, 9 against, one abstention) voted to renew the license for 5 years, instead of 10 years, for glyphosate-based herbicides.
There is a case for applying the precautionary principle. Since there is no scientific consensus on the public health effects of the fertilizer, better safe than sorry. However, these questions were never raised when such products were promoted within the framework of agricultural development policies.
Promoting Herbicides in Development policies
The EU is evermore looking to the private sector to plug the gap in development finance, attracting private finance (for example blending instruments) and the promotion of Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) which are gaining ever more ground in development policy. For instance, in agricultural development polices, the EU and several of its member states are key partners to the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NASAN). The model is endorsing PPPs in African agriculture. This platform has invited several large international companies who have influence in determining the course of policy and programming through their funding. Some of these companies actively promote the use of glyphosate fertilizer in their operations and programs.
Let’s consider the national programme of Malawi for which the EU is the “Lead Development Partner”. One of the key policy commitments of the government of Malawi under the New Alliance framework is to review its seed policy. Further, in the Country cooperation framework 2013-2022 we read what kind of seed policy the country is heading towards. The expansion of hybrid maize and cotton varieties are actively promoted, for which evidently fertilizers are needed, and this is to be carried out by private partner Monsanto.
Clearly, such overarching international frameworks like NASAN have a bearing on the country’s national policies. Malawi is in the final stages of concluding a reform of its seed law and there is a clear preference for commercial seeds. The seed definition would be limited to certified commercial seeds. Such a disposition should clearly please Monsanto Malawi which produces and distributes a variety of hybrid maize seeds and the related glyphosate-based fertilizer ‘Round-Up’ in Malawi.
Firstly, the promoted policy is out of touch with local reality, since most of the crops (80%) in Malawi are derived from saved seeds exchanged between local farmers. Local farmers do innovate and improve their varieties. For instance, Malawian farmers created a native variety of orange maize which is rich in vitamin A and produces high yields without application of fertilizers. Moreover, it keeps well and seeds do not have to be bought every year, contrary to hybrid seeds of seed companies. Nevertheless, the government of Malawi with the support of the NASAN, is pushing for the latter model.
The policy commitments of Malawi in the NASAN framework revolve around a commercial approach to agriculture: improving its position in the ‘Doing Business’ ranking, reviewing the “taxation regime for promoting investment”, creation of a land bank for commercial agriculture, promotion of market-oriented agriculture and the production of high-value agricultural commodities for export. However, insisting on merely commercial criteria and economic growth to enhance food security ignores a significant part of the equation, since distribution of both food and wealth in the rural areas are crucial factors in reducing rural poverty and food insecurity. Nevertheless, rather than supporting local agricultural practices, the government is promoting the use of fertilizers, chemicals and hybrid seeds.
In addition, similar models are being implemented in other countries throughout the NASAN. For instance, the country program for Tanzania includes international seed and fertilizer agrifood companies looking to enhance agricultural growth through a public-private partnership (PPP), the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor (SAGCOT). However, the initiative has been criticized for not being inclusive, not respecting the rights of local communities and destroying the livelihoods of local communities.
So, while public health concerns do take centre stage in the public debate in Europe surrounding fertilizer-use on European fields, and rightfully so, the European Union has no problem in promoting the use of these products through the development programs in which it partakes. This is problematic from various perspectives. First of all, what is considered harmful to consumer health and the environment in Europe should not be promoted elsewhere and, since glyphosate is being pushed in wider commercial, export-oriented agricultural programs, it could still enter Europe through the backdoor.
 European Parliament, 2017, «European Parliament resolution of 24 October 2017 on the draft Commission implementing regulation renewing the approval of the active substance glyphosate in accordance with Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the placing of plant protection products on the market, and amending the Annex to Implementing Regulation (EU) No 540/2011 (D053565-01 – 2017/2904(RSP)) », to be consulted: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P8-TA-2017-0395+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN; European Parliament, 2017, « MEPs demand glyphosate phase-out, with full ban by end 2022», to be consulted: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20171020IPR86572/meps-demand-glyphosate-phase-out-with-full-ban-by-end-2022
 Politico, 2017, « EU vote to renew Glyphosate for 10 years fails »,to be consulted, https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-vote-to-renew-glyphosate-for-10-years-fails/
 Committee is composed of experts from both EC and Member states
 Euractiv, 27 November 2017, « Germany swings the Balance as EU renews glyphosate for five years », to be consulted : https://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/germany-swings-the-balance-as-eu-renews-glyphosate-for-five-years/
 G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, « Summary, New Alliance Letters of Intent », to be consulted : https://new-alliance.org/resource/summary-new-alliance-letters-intent-2012-2013
 G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, « Malawi : Country Cooperation Framework », to be consulted : https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=https://new-alliance.org/sites/default/files/resources/Malawi%2520Country%2520Cooperation%2520Framework%25202015_0.pdf
 T. Wise, 2017, « Did Monsanto write Malawi’s Seed Policy ? », to be consulted: https://foodtank.com/news/2017/08/monsanto-malawis-seed-policy/
 Malawi News Agency, « 3100 Farmers encouraged to plant hybrid maize seeds », to be consulted : http://www.manaonline.gov.mw/index.php/national/agriculture/item/3100-farmers-encouraged-to-plant-hybrid-maize-seeds
 T. Wise, Ibid.
 T. Wise, Ibid.
 G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, « Malawi : Country Cooperation Framework », loc. cit.
 G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, « G8 Country Cooperation Framework to support the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Tanzania », to be consulted : https://new-alliance.org/sites/default/files/resources/Tanzania_web.pdf
 Greenpeace, 2015, “Irresponsible Investment: Agricas broken Model in Tanzania”, à consulter: http://www.greenpeace.org/africa/en/Press-Centre-Hub/Irresponsible-Investment–Agricas-Broken-Development-Model-in-Tanzania/
AEFJN, 2016, « Video: The Impacts of Large Scale Farming in Tanzania”, à consulter: http://aefjn.org/en/video-the-impacts-of-large-scale-farming-in-tanzania/