EU urges responsible foreign farmland investments


Foreign investors in agricultural land in developing regions such as Africa must respect local human rights, livelihoods and resources, the European Union said in a policy paper released yesterday.

Sharp rises in global food prices in 2008 prompted major food importers such as Saudi Arabia, China and South Korea to lease farmland abroad often in Africa to secure food for their populations.

But critics including the EU have warned that such deals, described by some as land-grabbing, are often not transparent and can compromise the livelihoods of local farmers in developing countries.
“The EU and its member states should support the development of internationally agreed principles for responsible investments in agricultural land,” said the policy document on food security drawn up by the EU’s executive European Commission.

The paper proposes a new EU policy framework for combating food security problems in developing countries.

Support should focus on increasing food production by small-scale farmers in countries at risk, particularly in Africa and South Asia, it said.

It called for an “ecologically efficient intensification” of food production by smallholder producers, especially women farmers, by providing better access to resources including land, water, credit and other agricultural inputs.

But it said such intensification should not promote technologies that are not sustainable or are incompatible with national capacity to regulated and manage risks.

Other EU priorities should include a 50 % increase in support to “demand-led” agricultural research, and a focus on improving the nutritional quality of food.

The new policy framework “does not directly imply an increase in EU aid funding,” the Commission said.

Last year the bloc pledged aid worth €3 billion from 2010 to 2012 under a $20-billion food security initiative by the Group of Eight developed nations.

Aid groups praise focus, also have concerns

Aid groups praised the policy’s focus on combating land-grabbing and promoting small-scale farming, but warned that other EU policies could work against its aims.
“Land essential for local food production in poor nations that suffer high levels of hunger is increasingly being seized from farming communities and turned over to biofuel production to meet EU targets,” anti-poverty group ActionAid said.

As a signatory to the United Nations’ decade-old Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the EU the world’s largest development aid donor has pledged to try to halve the number of people suffering from hunger globally.

But the Commission said the number of people suffering from hunger had risen to more than 1 billion and this was “affecting human development, social and political stability, as well as causing widespread suffering and loss of life.”

The new paper is part of a package of policy proposals on health, education and gender development expected in the next few weeks.

The proposals will form the basis of discussions by member states and the European Parliament on a common EU position on progress towards meeting the MDGs, which will be the subject of a UN summit in New York in September.