There was a significant place for Africa in the recently held European Development Days[1]. Several African presidents participated in the inaugural session and the continent was visibly present in many of the workshops and speeches. This time the special focus was women in development and women’s empowerment. A wide range of European Commission representatives were sharing knowledge and defending EU policies. Regarding agriculture, we heard different approaches. On the one hand, some land, rural and nutrition panels shared experiences on women’s difficulties in accessing land and improved nutrition or in measuring the stunting of young girls and women in reproductive age. On the other hand, there were panels and roundtables with a clear narrative based on quantitative development and the benefits of industrial agriculture.

The business and private sector had a specific influence on agriculture issues, stressing the economic and employment opportunities from investments in agribusiness.[2] Alternatives or even criticism to agro-industrial plans, or public-private partnerships (should we say private-public?) were not heard. In the hall there were also stands for companies like Bayer, or Compagnie Fruitière.

Social Responsibility in business or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become widespread in the last 15 years. Moreover, foundations held by multimillionaire businessmen or transnational companies play an increasing role in development, acting not only as donors but as think tanks and lobbying for specific development policies. The so-called EU innovative financial instruments or blending are supposed to attract additional finance to drive economic growth, on the assumption that economic growth leads to development. Much was said about business opportunities, but not a word was heard about a binding treaty on business and human rights, not even about voluntary guidelines – even though civil society organizations are strenuously calling on the EU to set up an appropriate framework to address how corporations integrate human rights and social and environmental standards, and to hold them accountable for human rights abuses.[3]

Blending is seen as a vehicle for leveraging additional resources and increasing the impact of EU development aid. There are dazzling figures stating that 1€ of official development aid can grow into 25€ with these blending formulae. But again, what is the impact? Is it for the better? Giving the floor to the private sector in agriculture cooperation for development is standing up for agribusiness.[4] And agribusiness produces exclusively to cover the demand in the international market and does not respond to local food needs.[5]

Human development has given place to sustainable development. In fact, the main feature of this corporation for development trend is bending the meaning of words such as responsibility or sustainability. You can find them everywhere, with different and even opposite meanings, which is equivalent to meaning nothing. It is all about making speeches and softening the corporate image. Fearing a negative image and the impact of harmful investments in third countries, transnational companies go in for “vocabulary grabbing”.[6] Thus, they practise greenwashing (and now gender washing or even Fairtrade washing) to benefit from governmental support and client satisfaction.[7]

One of the main reasons for welcoming the private sector in development policies so warmly is that Official Development Aid (ODA) has fallen. Reasonable doubt comes up if this is used as an excuse for the private sector to invade development aid or for governments to reduce their ODA even more. The second reason given is that no one actor can succeed in ending poverty and therefore we need everybody’s contribution. This is definitely true but there is reason to think that corporations are bringing governments to their profit rationale rather than governments bringing corporations to the human development requirements. By doing so, international initiatives, European Development agencies, agricultural suppliers and producers and big distribution chains seem to join forces over policies for Africa, promoting agribusiness platforms and big agricultural processing parks.

Policy Coherence for development

Assessing systematically the likely effects of different policy initiatives on developing countries is a requirement based on Article 208(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. This stipulates that the EU “shall take account of the objectives of development co-operation in the policies that it implements which are likely to affect developing countries”. This means recognizing that some EU policy measures can have a significant impact outside the EU which may contribute to or undermine the Union’s policy objectives concerning development. And the primary objective of EU development policies is the reduction and, in the long term, eradication of poverty. Applying the “do not harm approach”, the EU should avoid negative consequences of inconsistent policies, while exploiting as far as possible the potential positive spill-overs and synergies of the consistent ones. It is scaring to observe that somehow the principle is turned upside down, practically reaffirming that the EU must take into account the objective of growing development in the cooperation policies that it implements. In a current survey on policy coherence for development application, the European Commission refers to article 208 as including a commitment to sustainable growth, which is not the case. [8] The European Commission betrays itself in stating clearly its primary objective on development policy: economic growth. However, it is proven that economic growth does not mean human development.

Particularly in the food sector some EU policies are having negative impacts on development issues in Africa. The EU is still dumping cheap dairy and poultry products onto West African markets, outcompeting local producers and undermining their livelihoods.[9] The EU is also promoting a model based on agroindustry imports of food from Africa, allegedly causing deforestation, evictions, pollution and rights abuses on intensive production plantations, while having harmful effects on local food security and water availability. These policies allow agro-industry mergers with huge price-setting power and capable of major influence over decision-making. They make the countries, and particularly peasants, less resilient by being more dependent on these foreign investment and development flows.

To conclude, growing grey zones between official development aid and private investment mean that the situation is not as good as official speakers enthusiastically preach. Coherence would prevail if we took into consideration the following facts:

–  There is food production for 12,000 million people.

–  Starving people are not accessing adequate food while nearby agribusinesses are growing food for export.

–  There is a huge energetic waste in international trade and especially in food related trade.

–  Africa is being chosen as a food producer for export while also being a net food importer.

–  Over-consuming societies are the core causes of climate change.

We will enhance coherence by giving top priority to joint strategies for agricultural development and fighting hunger and climate change – and taking seriously the ‘leaving no one behind’ slogan.


Alfredo Marhuenda

AEFJN Policy Officer


[1] EDD is an annual international forum organized by the European Union to share ideas and experiences in ways that inspire new partnerships and innovative solutions to the world’s challenges.

[2] This was the case in a high-level panel emphasizing agro-business as essential to addressing food insecurity and Africa’s economic transformation and the need of right business regulatory conditions for investment. With the participation, among others, of Phil Hogan EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Tom Arnold Chairman DG AGRI/DEVCO Task for Rural Africa and Yong Li Director General of United Nations Industrial Development Organisation and moderated by Mella Frewen the Director General of Food Drink Europe, the lobby of food and drink industry.

[3] More than 440 organisations including AEFJN have just signed a letter in this vein to the governments.

[4] A High Level Conference Jobs & Growth in West Africa followed the European development days reinforcing the idea of these days as a sparkling showcase. The European Commission, the ECOWAS and the WAEMU Commissions gathered more than 200 high level representatives from the European Commission, regional organisations, regional development banks, national authorities at Ministerial level, financial institutions and private sector. One of the three thematic areas of the conference was Agro-business, including the harnessing of the European Union External Investment Plan in West Africa that will further strengthen the already important EU-West Africa partnership. Participants agreed on concrete strategies encouraging private sector development and reforms such as access to finance and land.

[5] A different standpoint is suggested in What role for which private sector in agriculture and food and security nutrition?’ Concord report 2017.

[6] We and other organizations delivered a report on the label reputation of oil palm industry supposed to be sustainable: Le mithe de l’huile de palme 100% durable. Another report on the subject also refered to textiles and fisheries is been released by Changing Market Foundation: The false promise of certifications. May 2018.

[7] It would be prudent to analyse fair trade labels. Agrifood companies can have a fair trade label because they accomplish their standards once they have caused tropical deforestation and land grabbing, implementing big monoculture fields. On top of that, you can find fair trade Kenyan green beans carefully packed in a Brussels supermarket. Wouldn’t it be better, more sustainable and coherent to distribute them in the Kenyan market?

[8]Concord has very well pointed out in its reflection on the questionnaire

[9]See the statement of the Belgian coalition against hunger on the dairy products “Ensemble pour un lait equitable” The Belgian AEFJN antennae takes part in this coalition.