The European Union is moving ahead with its green transition, putting in place new legislation to back-up the new Green Deal, the Farm2Fork Strategy and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). As a strong economic block and world leader on climate action, Europe should support its global partners to do the same.
With a growing population, estimated to reach 2.5 billion people by 2050, Africa has a fast-growing challenge to feed its own population, while continuing to supply the rest of the world with key commodities, including Europe. This rapid population growth and the need for more land and more food will drive up GHG emissions. Africa’s development needs to be green too, and the agriculture sector will play a huge part in that.
To date, European policy has focused on the “stick” rather than the “carrot”. The EU regulation on deforestation-free products (EUDR) is a milestone regulation that seeks to ensure the EU no longer imports commodities directly linked to deforestation. However, as the EUDR enters into force, it is clear that ending deforestation requires engagement and investment in sector-transformation, not in the micro-management of specific, limited volumes. There is a risk that companies use the EUDR to clean supply chains, excluding any non-compliant suppliers, especially smallholders, without incentivising progress towards better practice.
For the African agricultural sector, this policy puts more than 250 million smallholders at risk, as an industry that employs up to 65% of the population and generates 23% of GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa.
However, there are initiatives and platforms that can support implementation of the regulation while providing a much-needed connection point between what can feel like two disconnected sides of what must be the same coin.
The Africa Sustainable Commodities Initiative (ASCI) provides a single set of principles for the responsible production of agricultural commodities in Africa. It puts producer countries in Africa at the forefront in defining the principles which should underpin the sustainable development of cocoa, rubber, palm oil, coffee and other commodities, in a way that improves livelihoods and protects natural resources, including forests.
The ASCI builds and expands upon the ‘Marrakesh Declaration for Sustainable Development of the Palm Oil Sector’ signed by seven governments from West and Central Africa at CoP22 in 2016, which acknowledged the role of agricultural commodity development as a driver of deforestation, while emphasising the critical role of forests and forest conservation in addressing climate change.
The Marrakesh Declaration has been implemented through the Tropical Forest Alliance’s signature initiative, the Africa Palm Oil Initiative (APOI), comprised of ten countries in West and Central Africa: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Edo State (Nigeria), Gabon, Ghana, Liberia, Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone.
At CoP26, ministers agreed that the issues being addressed for palm oil were the same in other commodities, catalysing the transition to the expanded Africa Sustainable Commodities Initiative (ASCI) to ensure all sectors are aligned to drive positive outcomes for people, nature and climate.
These ten governments have recognised the potential for growth in production of palm oil, cocoa and other agricultural commodities to meet increasing global demand, and to contribute to food security and better livelihoods for millions of Africans, while protecting the region’s remaining rainforests. Diversification of food production also provides resilience and improves each country’s food security as well as helping to offset the impact of climate change.
At CoP27, the ten governments came together again to sign the new declaration for the Africa Sustainable Commodities Initiative (ASCI). A truly multi-stakeholder platform from inception, every national platform has formed its own membership inclusive of national governments, civil society organisations, traditional leaders, local communities and Indigenous Peoples, donors, technical partners, investors, producers, manufacturers, traders, and many other stakeholders.
We need all these different stakeholders to achieve a just transition and drive systemic change on the ground. The Africa Sustainable Commodities Initiative is embedded in agricultural commodity production in West and Central Africa, and this institutionalisation has created significant opportunities and identified important milestones for us to reach.
In Liberia, which exported $60m of rubber to Europe in 2022, Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is now legally required for all developers and investors on customary land.
In Ghana, which exported $1.11 billion of cocoa alone and $67m of rubber to Europe in 2022, the Tree Crops Development Authority was established as a new legal entity to regulate six commodity supply chains – oil palm, coconut, mango, shea, rubber and cashew - enabling a $100m facility from the World Bank, through the institutionalisation of the ASCI principles.
In the Republic of Congo, where there is currently minimal production of palm oil, but great potential, a ministerial order was signed to orient all future palm oil plantations to be developed in the country’s savannah regions, thus reducing pressure on forests in the Congo Basin.
In Edo State, Nigeria, a forest cover analysis conducted under APOI was the catalyst for a new Forest Law to replace the existing 1968 law, and for the launch of a new Forestry Commission in June 2023, dedicated to ending deforestation and actively restoring degraded forests, conservation and wildlife resource management. In terms of private sector engagement, the Produce-Protect-Rehabilitate framework mandates companies to achieve sustainability certification, integrate smallholder development into operations, protect forest areas within concessions and provide resources to restore degraded forest equivalent to up to 25% of their land holding.
However, technical and financial support is needed to make the shared vision of a prosperous and productive sector a reality, one that brings jobs and wealth to local communities, is environmentally and socially sustainable, and protects Africa’s rich tropical forests.
There is no single route to ending deforestation in commodity supply chains. A global and collaborative approach is required to address commodity-driven forest and ecosystem conversion. This requires action by consumer countries in Europe and beyond, as well as investment and partnership to support action within producer countries.
ASCI has a vision and an action plan and has made progress in starting to implement the principles of responsible production on the ground. We now need support from European countries to build on this momentum to scale implementation, launch new pilots and continue to share lessons between Europe and Africa. Together, we must continue to build the enabling environment to safeguard the livelihoods of millions of farmers throughout the continent, strengthen the sustainability of food supplies from Africa to the rest of the world, and protect the remaining areas of Africa’s large and diverse tropical forests.