One thing that puts the AEFJN at variance with the members of the corporate business world, policy makers and development experts is that it makes an effort to put human face on economic policies. AEFJN asks questions which are not so much about macro-economic indices, economic growth, the introduction of new technologies or return on investments as about the people – What is happening to the people, especially the poor and vulnerable, in the policy chains of nations and conglomerates? This is because our values impel us to look not at a GDP-oriented economy but at meeting human needs-oriented economy. In this vein, we are constantly driven to ask questions about what is happening to our human community, about Human rights, about human cooperation and solidarity, about gender parity/equality, about empowerment, about ecological respect, about distribution and, ultimately, about justice. That orientation came to the fore again in our recent conversation about the policy dimension of the food habits and distribution chain of the African Diaspora during the African Diaspora Food and Agribusiness Forum in Brussels.
Prior to the event, AEFJN in collaboration with Food Bridge vzw, the Federation of Anglophone Africans in Belgium and the other stakeholders undertook a survey to get a sense of the extent of participation of the African Diaspora in the agribusiness and the African food sector in Africa and Europe. The target is to help policy makers and development advocates map the trends and potentials in the African Diaspora food market and ensure that they benefit Africans. The insightful result of the survey reveals that there is huge potential relating to the African Diaspora food market that are yet to benefit Africa substantially.
A major insight from the survey showed that most of the Africans in Europe prefer African foods. Though they have lived in Europe for very many years, their taste buds have not completely adapted to the European food cultures. But what is astonishing is that, although most Diaspora complained that African food in Europe does not taste as good as in Africa – and understandably so because the food in Africa is still fresh from the source or garden, yet most of them are still ready to spend a very significant part of their food budget on African foods. Yes! They have left Africa for Europe, but Africa remains with them in Europe.
This underscores the often-made point that what people eat is closely tied to their sense of identity and strongly influences their food choices and preferences. The effort of the Diaspora in Europe to continually patronise African food despite the “devaluation” of its quality through the processing and distribution chain is an expression of the resilience of their African identity through their food choices.
The result of the survey draws attention to those international policies and economic programs that dangle food security for the African national governments without factoring in the cultural, social, and even religious values of food for the people because it is tantamount to a gradual and systematic erosion of the identity of the African peoples. The insinuation that the quest of the Diaspora for African food is nostalgia cannot but be worrisome. It strongly undermines the values of human cultural diversity, the ethics of internationality and the principles of globalization.
In this vein, we must be weary of those economic pacts and programs that promote industrial monoculture and genetically modified food (GMOs) in Africa to the detriment of African food diversity, food cultures and systems. It does not just destroy the African forests, contaminate the soil, food cultures and systems but also erodes the cultural values that are linked to them. Already, a number of Africa’s forest foods have disappeared because of the massive deforestation in Africa orchestrated by the so-called industrial agriculture. Africa does not just need food security; she also needs a food security that will be in sync with her cultural autonomy, values and identity.
What is even more interesting in this survey is that Africans born in Europe still show incredible preference for African food cultures. This trend is understandable because parents share their meals with their children. Tied to the food options of the African Diaspora are the economic indices of supply and demand. What this means is that with the growing African migration into Europe, the African diaspora food market will receive an unprecedented multiplier effect.
But how much does the African diaspora food market contribute to the African economies? The outcome of the survey shows two related insights that may require the interventions of policy makers and development planners. The first is the magnitude of price disparity between the costs of the sub-Saharan African foods in the European stores and their origin in Africa – in favour of the European stores. The second is that most of the vendors of the African food are Asians. The obvious implications of these findings are that the African food producers also suffer what has been the fate of the solid minerals extracted from Africa. While the African resources are contributing significantly to other economies, there are no substantial flows back to the African countries that generate the resources. The available statistics show that the primary African actors in this value chain live in penury. But why is it so? Our investigations show that while the sub-Saharan Africans are very keen to tap into the business of food distribution, they are systematically excluded through very stringent and sometimes ‘unwritten’ conditions from obtaining the necessary information, licenses and loans for the business.
Our survey reveals situations that call for serious examination and review because of their socio-economic consequences, not only in Africa but for the European Union as well. The dominance of African food vending by non-Africans raises questions about the ‘unwritten’ hurdles and what drives them. Is it a case of using subtle, unwritten different standards to evaluate different people for the same business? The EU ethical values and standards have consistently and manifestly rejected such institutional and social exclusions. There is a need to investigate the extensive and fast-growing network of demand and supply of African foods in the European market. It is imperative for the EU to develop a vision of the distribution of African food in the European Union that removes ungrounded limitations to sub-Saharan Africans so that it contributes more to the economy of Africa, and to the rural women and children who produce the food.
Among other things, AEFJN further contends that a clear definition of more inclusive policies guiding the movement of African foods into and within the EU countries, one that will contribute to poverty reduction in Africa, has become necessary. This, we believe, will reduce the desire of African youths to migrate to Europe and will also contribute to the quality of life of African food producers. Such a clarification will ensure that all the stakeholders get their due. It is a policy action that will constitute a true added value to the EU economic relations with Africa.