African farmers call for responsible EU policy

A solidarity rally close to the EU Council building recently saw dairy farmers from Burkina Faso, Mali, and three other West African countries standing with dairy farmers from all over Europe. In a common declaration, they called for sustainable production in Europe and Africa to ensure the survival of important farming structures. This is against the backdrop of European overproduction and current EU export orientation, which are having a disastrous effect on the local dairy sector in West Africa, they say.

“Many hundreds of thousands of families earn a living through milk production and processing,” said Christian Dovonou, country director of Veterinarians Without Borders in Burkina Faso, while explaining the economic importance of milk production in West Africa. “These local structures are put in danger as cheap imports from the EU increase further.” Since 2016, EU exports of fat-filled milk powder to West Africa have increased by 24%. “This mix of skimmed milk powder and vegetable oils is 30% cheaper than whole milk powder on African markets and is thus sold at a level that hinders the development of local milk and is similar to dumping prices.”

“The EU produces a lot of milk. Too much. To date, this problem has not been addressed at the source through appropriate instruments. Instead, export promotion, especially of cheap products, is seen as the only solution,” said Thierry Kesteloot from Belgian development organisation Oxfam-Solidarité while describing the current situation. “The victims end up being the people working in the dairy sector, especially women, who cannot compete with cheap exports from Europe,” said Kesteloot.

Milk powder is often imported in 25kg sacks and can thus enjoy the very low common external tariff (CET) of 5% agreed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). François Graas of SOS Faim said that imports should not be condemned en bloc as the demand for milk products cannot currently be fulfilled by local production alone. “But there must be a balance and cheap imports cannot have the upper hand. It is also necessary to support local structures through development cooperation policy, because the local dairy sector has great potential for job creation and income generation.”

Erwin Schöpges, president of the European Milk Board (EMB), highlighted the importance of an effective crisis instrument within the future EU agricultural policy. “We cannot simply export the problem of European overproduction to Africa,” said Schöpges. The EMB is calling for a market responsibility programme that monitors the market and reacts quickly to looming crises – for example, through voluntary production cuts. “As a dairy farmer, I wish for cost-covering prices, so that I am no longer dependent on direct payments that act as indirect export subsidies for our products in third countries,” he concluded.

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