COVID-19 African Union and FAO Ministerial Meeting

I wish to thank the African Union and the FAO for calling this timely and highly relevant Ministerial meeting. Let me first wish that you, your teams and families are all in good health.

The coronavirus knows no borders. It impacts on every country and threatens the health, lives and livelihoods of people around the globe. The pandemic calls for strong international cooperation to fight the virus and care for the sick and to alleviate the socio-economic effects of the pandemic. It risks creating a deep recession and affecting the food security and food systems of many millions of people.

The coronavirus COVID-19 started as a health challenge, but is quickly developing into an economic crisis. Therefore we, Agriculture Ministers, have an important responsibility: not to allow it to become a worldwide food security crisis.

Today’s discussion is particularly pertinent focusing on the essential measures allowing to minimize disruptions to the food and agriculture systems and to support the livelihoods and food security of the most vulnerable. 

We must safeguard the uninterrupted flow of both production and trade allowing farmers to farm and food produced to reach local, regional and international markets. Hence, we all need to maintain domestic and international food supply chains functional.

Within the EU we quickly understood how vital it is to keep food production, trade and distribution functional. As European Commission, we have therefore proposed far-reaching support to farmers and rural areas, for instance by providing financing at favourable terms. We keep our borders open for trade, and have instituted at the borders ‘priority green lanes’ for food and other essential goods, while confinement measures restrain the movement of people between countries.

As this crisis is truly global, the European Commission last week announced a significant global response package of well over 15 billion Euro. In a true ‘Team Europe’ spirit the volume has already increased to more than 20 billion Euro through EU Member States’ contributions. This joint effort allows us to work closely with partners, particularly in Africa.

The package includes support for health, for medium and small enterprises and for the economy at large. For agriculture and food security, it supports farmers to grow and people to buy food. This support is additional to what we mobilised earlier to tackle the desert locust invasion in Eastern Africa and in the Horn. It will step up the support that was already in the pipeline to address the various food crises and will contribute to bridge the humanitarian-development-peace nexus in food crisis hotspots, with special emphasis on the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. The EU will also continue to support the most vulnerable.

Fighting this pandemic and avoiding shocks in food supply chains will require appropriate agriculture policies to be put in place. Africa and Europe have already a well-established Agricultural Ministerial Policy Dialogue.

Last year, in Rome, the EU and the African Union Ministers of Agriculture agreed to a Joint action agenda for cooperation on agriculture. This agenda, built on the recommendations of the Rural Africa Task Force, remains relevant and we stand ready to enhance our cooperation and revisit this agenda to take into account COVID-19.

Considering the importance of agricultural research and innovation for resilient food systems, the European Commission will continue to invest through its research programmes with a strong focus on Africa. 

Never before could we better appreciate how important our cooperation on agriculture is. We look forward to work with all our African partner countries addressing the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and start planning for medium to long-term solutions that make our food systems truly sustainable.

Robust agriculture and trade policies can also be an important contribution to ensuring an effective exit from the crisis. The EU firmly supports African efforts to implement the Africa Continental Free Trade Area.

Now it is time for more international cooperation. We need to take a collective approach to challenges as great as this pandemic.

As a global actor and a major contributor to the international aid system, the European Union is working in partnership with the United Nations (notably with FAO and World Health Organisation), International Financial Institutions, the OECD as well as the G7 and the G20.

I take this opportunity to highlight the important work carried out by AMIS (Agricultural Market Information System platform), whose contribution to a better understanding of the global food market situation is particularly valuable at the current times.

Preserving access to safe food and nutrition is an essential part of the health response to this global pandemic. In that context, FAO’role as a knowledge-based organisation shall foster its advice and support to governments. For instance, I would highlight the importance of expanding social protection measures targeting the poor and vulnerable ones.

This unprecedented pandemic highlights the importance of robust and resilient food systems that continue to function under all circumstances, capable of ensuring access to a sufficient supply of affordable food for all citizens.

In this context, the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit assumes an increasing importance worldwide. The European Union is working to ensure that the objectives of the Green Deal and the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy are delivering their full benefits at global level.