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The agri-food chain in the ACP countries

Annual meeting of the ACP/EU economic and social partners

Representatives of the ACP/EU economic and social interest groups held their annual meeting in Brussels on 6 8 December. They focused on ways of increasing and improving food production in ACP countries, and there was widespread agreement that something needs to be done to strengthen the food chain system; from the time the food is produced on the farm to the point at which it is consumed.

The general consensus was that farmers in the developing countries did not have a level playing field, and were therefore unable to compete with their developed country counterparts. They lacked the modern technology which would help them become efficient food producers, and did not receive state subsidies. In developed countries, it was noted, agriculture makes a relatively small contribution to the overall economy but productivity levels are very high. In ACP countries, the reverse is the case.

The meeting heard how the problem of food production was particularly acute in Africa. In the past two and a half decades, the total amount of food produced on the continent has increased but it has failed to match population growth. The result has been a long-term decline in per capita food output. Dependence on imports is high and increasing. And this growth in imports obviously cannot be associated with positive economic developments - too much of the continent is suffering from chronic poverty and associated food shortages. Indeed, much of the increase is accounted for by food aid supplied by donors to help tackle emergencies.

Threat from damping

Dumping was seen by a number of speakers as a widespread problem. It was suggested that farmers in developing countries were not able to become price competitive because of restrictions placed on them by the IMF through the various structural adjustment programmes (SAPs). Peter King of the Jamaican Agricultural Society spearheaded a resolution on dumping which was subsequently included in the final declaration adopted by the meeting. In this text, the participants recognised 'that the practice of dumping constitutes a grave threat to ACP efforts to improve agricultural production, marketing and the efficiency of the agrifood chain by bankrupting enterprises and causing job losses.' They went on to recommend the establishment of a data bank of dumping incidents, arranged by product and by ACP State, so that an analysis could be made of dumping trends. The resolution also recommended the creation of a pool of experts that ACP States could consult to assemble evidence on the existence of dumping. The aim here would be to gather sufficient information to allow action to be instituted in acordance with the provisions of the World Trade Organisation, as well as to help in capacity-building.

Mention was also made of the need for developing countries to create a solid infrastructure if they are to sustain a progressive food production system. It was recognised that governments had a role to play in this area in providing suitable roads to transport goods on time, a steady supply of electricity and reliable access to water. These are seen as critical aspects which need to be put in place in order to improve production.

The farmer is obviously a key participant in the food chain. Representatives expressed the view that not enough attention was being paid to peasant farmers in particular. In the first instance, they cultivate crops and rear animals for their own subsistence needs and they then sell their surpluses. The meeting agreed that action was needed to help these producers address the many problems they face. It was also important for their opinions and recommendations to be sought before programmes were initiated. The bottom line is that if they receive help, they will be in a better position to help others.

Another problem raised was the fact that ACP countries often did not benefit from the food produced by their commercial and plantation farmers, which is sent for export after processing. The result was that local people did not have access to what was being grown locally. The situation was neatly summarised by the Rapporteur, Mr Kabuga: 'They are consuming what they do not produce and producing what they do not consume.'

Unease over food aid

A number of representatives expressed unease about the present food aid system. It was pointed out that such aid tends only to be given in times of emergency, when the problem has reached a critical stage. It does nothing to prevent the crisis from arising in the first place. It was generally agreed that food aid should take a more 'developmental' form, with a view to ensuring food security and developing the agricultural sector. In reply to this point, a Commission representative acknowledged that food aid operations were far from perfect and a lot still had to be done.

Turning to the role of the private sector, speakers stressed that this should not be taken for granted, and should be looked at more closely. Historically, farmers' cooperatives and associations have played a leading role in championing and protecting producer interests In many ACP countries these bodies were initially state-sponsored because peasant farmers lacked the means to articulate their concerns. Most of the cooperatives have now been dismantled, due to the implementation of SAPs. A Danish representative pointed out that in his own country, cooperative played a key role in improving food production, assisting farmers in areas were they faced difficulties. He recommended that ACP delegates should seriously consider reinforcing the role of cooperatives in their respective countries.

Decentralised cooperation

Decentralised cooperation was another issue to come under scrutiny at the meeting in the context of the overall theme of food production. Five new articles on this subject (251a-251e) have been added to the Fourth Lomonvention as a result of the mid-term review process, and on the first day, a Commission representative explained the objectives that lay behind the new approach.

This form of cooperation is viewed as a further step towards enhancing the involvement of those who are directly affected by development programmes. The idea is to establish direct links with local representative bodies and to stimulate their capacity to design and implement development initiatives. A key element is the direct participation of the population groups concerned. These include local authorities and representatives of local interests such as non-governmental organisations, trade unions and cooperatives. All are seen as having a role to play in the advancement of food production in their regions. The Courier