By Priya Nath, Global Policy and Advocacy Advisor (Post-2015)
Last week, the UN released a ‘zero draft’ document outlining how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will look. At the same time, thousands of people gathered in Brussels to discuss the big global development challenges as part of the annual European Development Days and this was a hot point of discussions by experts.
The Zero Draft gives us a sneak peak at what we can expect heads of state to sign off in September this year. It’s the product of two years of discussions pulled into one comprehensive global agenda to address poverty. For those of us in the development sector it was great to see that there is a high level of ambition in the draft SDGs but this ambition cannot be allowed to waiver over the next few months while the finer details are agreed in tough negotiations still to come in June and July.
VSO is among groups that believe that the SDGs should be driven by people, not by governments or politics. The draft alludes to this, way down in paragraph 43, by stating that this is “an agenda by and for the people” but it would be better if these seven short but important words were closer to the top of the agenda.
People in this context include the millions of volunteers who help to support vulnerable members of their communities with things such as access information, undertaking everyday tasks or getting their voice heard. The new agenda is a great opportunity to recognize and support these vital, yet often invisible individuals. To help support volunteers to continue to play this important role, they will need to be acknowledged in development plans and resourced so they can continue to help provide extend basic services to some of the most marginalised communities on the planet.
The other key area of ambition that needs to be retained is the aspiration to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. This is currently up front in the preamble where it is great to see that gender equality is being recognized as a basic human right, not just as an instrument to help achieve other things. But to achieve this goal, we’ll have to tackle the very ingrained power structures across all our societies which continues to put men at the head of almost every decision making table if not surround it completely.
What really matters now is how these words translate into action. The zero draft has yet to nail the ‘how’ question: How will governments be held account in a meaningful way? How will resources be directed? How do we ensure that people themselves, especially those experiencing poverty and marginalization, have a say in assessing the progress of this agenda?
Member states are among the key players at the Intergovernmental Negotiations in New York later this month and the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa in July. Both forums must produce implementation, accountability and measurement plans that match the ambition of these goals and targets. This relies on inclusive open dialogue with everyone sticking to the task until the end so that we get the best deal possible for people and planet.
Team Europe: EU seals agreements to generate €10 billion in investment in Africa and the EU Neighbourhood and stimulate global recovery
During the Finance in Common summit, the European Commission took a major step forward in boosting investment in Africa and the EU Neighbourhood, helping to stimulate global recovery from the pandemic, by concluding ten financial guarantee agreements worth €990 million with partner financial institutions that complete the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD), the financing arm of the External Investment Plan (EIP).
Together, these guarantees are expected to generate up to €10 billion in overall investment. International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen said: “By signing these agreements today, the EU has concluded the implementation of the External Investment Plan's overall guarantee almost two months early. Now our partner financial institutions can make use of all of the Plan's individual guarantees to generate billions of euros in much-needed investment, in particular across Africa. These agreements will directly support people who face some of the biggest challenges because of COVID-19: small business owners, the self-employed, women entrepreneurs and businesses led by young people. They will also help to fund a major expansion of renewable energy generation, ensuring that the recovery from the pandemic is green, digital, just and resilient.”
Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi said: “The guarantee agreements that we sign today clearly show the effective partnership established between the European Commission and the International Financial Institutions in support of our partner countries. Investments have become even more necessary in light of the pandemic. With today's signature, the European Commission is securing more than €500m to support EU Neighbourhood countries. These guarantee agreements will stimulate their economic recovery and make them more resilient to future crises.”
Guarantees agreements include the earlier announced €400 million guarantee – that complements the additional €100 million EU grant announced today – for the COVAX Facility, to develop COVID-19 vaccines and ensure fair access once they are available. Other agreements for guarantees amounting to €370m will help small businesses stay afloat and continue to grow in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information see the full press release.
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Investment, connectivity and co-operation: Why we need more EU-African co-operation in agriculture
In recent months, the European Union has demonstrated its willingness to promote and support agricultural businesses in Africa, under European Commission’s Africa-EU Partnership. The Partnership, which stresses EU-African co-operation, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, aims to promote sustainability and biodiversity and have championed promoting public-private relationships across the continent, writes African Green Resources Chairman Zuneid Yousuf.
Though these commitments apply to the entire continent, I would like to focus on how increased African-EU co-operation has helped Zambia, my country. Last month, European Union Ambassador to Zambia Jacek Jankowski announced ENTERPRISE Zambia Challenge Fund (EZCF), an EU-backed initiative that will award grants to agribusiness operators in Zambia. The plan is worth an overall total of €25.9 million and has already launched its first call for proposals. In a time where Zambia, my country, is battling serious economic challenges this is a much-needed opportunity for the African agribusiness industry. More recently, just last week, the EU and Zambia agreed to two financing agreements that hope to boost investments in the country under the Economic Government Support Programme and the Zambia Energy Efficiency Sustainable Transformation Programme.
Europe’s collaboration and commitment to promoting African agriculture is not new. Our European partners have long been invested in promoting and helping African agribusiness realise their full potential and empower the sector. In June of this year, the African and European Unions launched a joint agri-food platform, which aims to link African and European private sectors to promote sustainable and meaningful investment.
The platform was launched off the back of the ‘Africa-Europe alliance for sustainable investment and jobs’ which was part of European Commission President’s Jean Claude Junker’s 2018 state of the Union address, where he called for a new “Africa-Europe alliance” and demonstrated that Africa is at the heart of the Union’s external relations.
The Zambian, and arguably the African agricultural environment, is dominated largely by small-to-medium sized farms that need both financial and institutional support to navigate these challenges. In addition, there is a lack of connectivity and interconnectedness within the sector, preventing farmers to connect with each other and realise their full potential through cooperation.
What makes EZCF unique among European agribusiness initiatives in Africa, however, is its specific focus on Zambia and empowering Zambian farmers. Over the past few years, the Zambian farming industry has grappled with droughts, lack of reliable infrastructure and unemployment. In fact, throughout 2019, it is estimated that a severe drought in Zambia led to 2.3 million people requiring emergency food assistance.
Therefore, a solely Zambia-focused initiative, backed by the European Union and aligned with promoting increased connectedness and investment in agriculture, not only reinforces Europe’s strong connection with Zambia, but will also bring some much-needed support and opportunity for the sector. This will undoubtedly allow our local farmers to unlock and leverage a wide range of financial resources.
More importantly, the EZCF is not operating alone. Alongside international initiatives, Zambia is already home to several impressive and important agribusiness companies that are working to empower and provide farmers with access to funding and capital markets.
One of these is African Green Resources (AGR) a world-class agribusiness company of which I am proud to be the chairman. At AGR, the focus is to promote value addition at every level of the farming value chain, as well as look for sustainable strategies for farmers to maximise their yields. For example, in March this year, AGR teamed up with several commercial farmers and multilateral agencies to develop a private sector financed irrigation scheme and dam and off grid solar supply which will support over 2,400 horticultural farmers, and expand grain production and new fruit plantations in the Mkushi farming block in Central Zambia. Over the next few years, our focus will be to continue promoting sustainability and the implementation of similar initiatives, and we are ready to invest alongside other agribusiness companies that seek to expand, modernise or diversify their operations.
Though it appears that the agricultural sector in Zambia may be facing challenges in the years to come, there are some very important milestones and reasons for optimism and opportunity. Increased cooperation with the European Union and European partners is an important way of capitalizing on opportunity and ensuring that we are all doing as much as we can to help small and medium sized farmers across the country.
Promoting increased interconnectedness within the private sector will help ensure that small farmers, the backbone of our national agricultural industry, are supported and empowered to collaborate, and share their resources with larger markets. I believe that both European and local agribusiness companies are heading in the right direction by looking into ways of promoting agribusiness, and I hope that together, we can all sustainably promote these goals on the regional and international stage.
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