Dear colleagues, I'm very happy to be here with you in Rome for the 2nd Agriculture Ministerial Conference between the African Union and the European Union.

It's good to see so many of you again, and I'm also happy to meet a number of you for the first time.

It is notable that there is a higher representation of Ministers from both the AU and EU compared to last year, as well as more stakeholders from international organisations, financial institutions, farm groups, and agribusiness representatives.

This highlights the growing importance of our cooperation, and the increasing prominence attached to many of the issues we will discuss today.

It is clear that in this time of global uncertainty, policymakers have placed agriculture and food security at the centre of many important strategic discussions.

That is why we are here - because all sides agree that Europe and Africa need to intensify our relations in the strategic area of agriculture.

We launched this Ministerial dialogue last year in the Netherlands. And we are meeting today in Rome. Neither the date nor the venue is a coincidence.

This year the Joint Africa-EU Strategy is celebrating its 10th anniversary and we are holding the 5th Africa EU Summit in November in the Ivory Coast.

And our meeting today is taking place in the headquarters of the FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – which leads international efforts to defeat hunger and help countries meet the demands posed by major global trends in agricultural development. 

I want to salute the FAO and its dynamic leader Director General Graziano Da Silva. Graziano, thank you for providing the facilities to organise the Conference. I would add that this event has clear synergies with the FAO Conference which starts tomorrow.

I am particularly happy too to be co-hosting this meeting together with the new African Union Commissioner Mrs Sacko. Welcome aboard Madame Commissioner! I look forward to working closely with you, and I would add that we have a solid foundation for further work as the agricultural policy relations already play an important role in the Joint Africa EU Partnership.

I am looking looking forward to working with you Commissioner Sacko to implement the Malabo Declaration and the UN's Agenda 2030. Our strong cooperation has been based on the principle of "Policy as a tool for development" and a partnership of equality.

I would also like to thank Estonian Minister for Rural affairs Tarmo Tamm for co-organising this conference in your capacity as current Presidency of the European Council.

Ladies and gentlemen, we all understand the importance of sustainable agriculture for the economic development and diversification of both Europe and Africa. The sector is strategic because of its capacity to provide jobs and growth in rural areas, and in Africa agri-food jobs are urgently required for a rapidly growing young population.

There is strong entrepreneurial spirit in Africa. And an undebiable potential to transform African agriculture to create more jobs and growth; but it is hampered by outdated farming methods, limited farming investments and a significant skills deficit.

These priorities are also high on the agenda of the G20 and G7. The key common element is the focus on "facilitating responsible investments in Africa to boost jobs and growth".

The European Commission is committed to developing of the African agri-food sector:

Firstly, the EU is helping overcome the structural factors inhibiting the development of African sustainable agriculture through our development assistance. EU strongly supports agricultural development across Africa as one of the priority sectors for the 11th EDF. Agriculture is at the core of current EU action in Africa.

Secondly, through different preferential trade arrangements, we are providing an important market for African agri-food exports.

But aid and trade are not enough. Aid budgets are under pressure. And trade only works when you have competitive products to sell.

So we need to consolidate a third front of action: we need to foster responsible investment in African agriculture.

Modernisation of African agriculture will be driven by entrepreneurs. The private sector is critical to scale-up quality investment in the agricultural value chain. This is the reason why both European and African private sectors have demanded to be at the centre stage of this Conference. This is a first and it is a great reflection of the fact that Africa is open for business and recognised as a good place to invest.

The European Union is preparing to launch the European External Investment Plan soon; an innovative instrument to leverage private investment.

The External Investment Plan (or EIP) provides a holistic framework to promote responsible investment in Africa and the EU Neighbourhood.

The EIP explicitly states that it will strengthen socio-economically important sectors. The agricultural sector as a whole, and especially the subject of sustainable agriculture, is of primary importance in the targets of the EIP.

The reason for this is clear: we know that 60% of African populations come from rural areas.

Research tell us that in total, over 350 million young people, up to 20 million per year, are reaching employment age in the period up to 2030 when the Sustainable Development Goals must be achieved.

Without decent jobs in the agri-food sector, these young people will migrate to cities and be lost to the rural economy. Therefore investment is an urgent imperative.

All EIP projects will be implemented in full respect of internationally agreed guidelines, principles and conventions including the FAO's Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems.

The flip side of the coin is the need to create an enabling environment for private sector to want to invest and contribute to economic growth. And here Agriculture Ministers have a crucial role to play.

I urge agriculture ministers and private sector stakeholders to hold open and frank discussions about the kind of agri-food policies and instruments that are needed to attract good investment. This will accelerate the agriculture transformation already underway in many African countries.

Investment should be targeted and tailored. By this I mean that what has worked in the past may not be the most suitable solution for the more complex issues of today.

I believe it it is time to introduce a new logic to EU-Africa relations. Ministers need to show leadership to provide a predictable, reliable and functioning policy environment if we are to attract greater private sector investments.

It is not incentives that are lacking, but a conducive business environment with the right regulatory framework.

The theme of the conference today is "Making sustainable agriculture a future for youth in Africa". Let me stress how important the emphasis on "Youth" is. We need to make agriculture an attractive economic activity for young people. A farmer should be seen as an entrepreneur. And now-a-days African agriculture is still too far away from being regarded as a business. Today, the bulk of Africans are subsistence farmer producing for themselves and their families.

So we can see there is a need for a radical change. Harnessing the entrepreneurial spirit of young Africans requires us to address the shortcomings in productivity.

By this I particularly refer to access to knowledge, finance and technology. These are the crosscutting issues that will be addressed today under 4 thematic panels:

  1. Responsible Private Sector Investment and Access to markets;
  2. Research and innovation and the role of digitalisation in agriculture;
  3. Agriculture water use and management;
  4. Climate Smart Agriculture and Food losses and waste;

So with all this in mind, let us dive into concrete and meaningful work.

The outcome of this conference will feed into the 2017 Africa EU Summit in November, featuring as many as 82 Member States. Our discussions today must assure follow-up and keep sustainable agriculture at the forefront of our Partnership.

Africa offers an enormous potential for those willing to forge partnerships in the continent.

I am confident that with this meeting today we can deepen and strengthen our relationships, working together to build a roadmap for the continuing agricultural transformation of Africa. Thank you.