In West Africa, local milk production represents a major development issue and a significant potential for livestock farmers and other actors in the region. The project of a West Africa “milk offensive” supported by ECOWAS confirms this potential and shows support from regional and national authorities.[1] In parallel, civil society, regional farmers’ organizations and milk stakeholders from six countries in West Africa launched the “My milk is Local” campaign to promote and defend local milk in the region.

In this context, the European milk producers and the civil society organizations that support them organized a series of activities in Brussels from 8 to 12 April 2019 on the issue of agricultural, trade and development cooperation policies of the European Union that impact the lives of European and West African producers. To feed these different activities, a delegation of 18 representatives of West African peasant organizations traveled to Brussels; breeders from France, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany, not to mention Belgian breeders, were also present. Members of the European Parliament and representatives of the European Commission’s Directorates-General for Agriculture, Trade and Development Cooperation came to hear the claims of both European and African producers.

AEFJN was represented in the round table discussions and the public action before the European institutions. The scale of the problem was heart rendering. It was a moment of expression of a discontent of European and African breeders who have great difficulties to live from their work. The milk overproduction in Europe has caused prices to fall. The surplus is therefore transformed into skimmed milk powder and exported to West Africa. Most often, this skimmed milk powder is re-fattened with palm oil, 12 times cheaper than milk fat. The resulting vegetable fat blend (VFB) is sold 30% cheaper than whole milk powder in African markets. It thus provides a significant margin for companies importing the mixture VFB, since they imported it from the EU at a price 58% lower on average than the price of whole milk powder.[2] It is an unfair competition because this false milk invades and stifles the local sector and the African breeders.

The expression of the representatives of the African breeders revealed a deep sadness and frustration, in short a very painful experience to live. What was even more shocking was to hear a great deal of relativism about the situation in the speeches of some conference participants. For some, Europe does not export problems but dairy products because in Africa, the problems already existed.

And for others, it was wrong discussion or actors because this kind of discussion was to happen in Africa with leaders especially ECOWAS in this case. One of the representatives of the European Commission asked farmers to relativize because, according to him, only 5% of European milk production is sent to West Africa. And yet, there, it causes a huge damage as it was expressed by the West African representatives throughout their interventions. They expressed themselves energetically and with conviction that the EU has an important role to play in finding the solution because they know that the EU puts pressure on the ECOWAS states to lower their customs, so the responsibility is shared. A voice from the woman in distress was also heard in these terms: “Competition, is there, it exists and it plunges local production. Milk powder, in some countries, is sold 40-50% cheaper than local milk. It is impossible to face this unfair competition and women are the first victims: they are the producers, the transformers, the women entrepreneurs. And their income is first allocated to the needs of the family. “[3]

On the other hand, this so-called enriched milk is rather voluntarily depleted by pretending to add value. [4] The decision of the ECOWAS states to set the common external tariff at 5% on dairy products, has thus favored the import of milk powder and this has made the situation worse. But it must also be recognized that these decisions of African governments are not always free and farmers know that the pressure of the EU is significant.

It was emphasized that the coherence of EU policies will considerably contribute to support local milk in West Africa, to ensure food security and to fight poverty and migration.

This joint battle between the West African and European milk producers has shown how important it is to plan for a sustainable development for all. The scale of migrations these days talk for themselves because what happens in Africa will always have some implications to Europe.

[1] « Quelles politiques européennes pour contribuer au développement de la filière laitière locale en Afrique de l’Ouest ?»


[3] Amadou Hindatou, Coordinatrice de la campagne « Mon lait est local

[4] Philippe Collin, membre de la Confédération paysanne et ancien membre de l’Observatoire du Marché du lait

[5] Declaration commune des organisations paysannes et de producteurs laitiers pour le lait local et équitable en Afrique de l’Ouest et en Europe.